• Sandeep Nair

History, trivia on Metrology and Calibration

King’s nose, imperial system, metric system, and more


How about a little bit of history and some fun facts about measurements, units, and standards?


Measurements in early civilizations

Standardization of measurements started during early civilizations. Need for calibration arose because without standardization of measurements it was difficult to communicate and exchange measurement data. We have evidence that suggests early Egyptian, Middle Eastern, Indus Valley, and Greco-Roman civilizations used standard measurements in construction, weight and quantity. These were done based on the then available scientific methods, sometimes even using size of body parts as reference. We all know what a ‘foot’ is, right?


The ‘One Measure’ plan of the English

It was during the reign of Henry I of England (12th century) that we find the first recorded definition of a measurement unit. He decreed that:


Yard is the distance from the tip of the King's nose to the end of his outstretched thumb.

How cool 🙂 !!!


100 years later Magna Carta envisioned ‘one measure’ throughout the realm. Towards this, the clause 35 directs that:


There shall be one measure of wine throughout our whole realm, and one measure of ale and one measure of corn – namely, the London quart; and one width of dyed and resset and hauberk cloths – namely, two ells below the selvage. And with weights, moreover, it shall be as with measures.

Measurement, unit and calibration had evidently become the core basis for governance and public trade.


World still does not agree on a common measurement system

Post-dark ages in Europe saw an increased scientific temperament, resulting in more research, and thus the need for improvements in metrology. The initiative came from French after French revolution. The French Academy of Sciences proposed the Metric System in 1791. In 1826 Britain announced the British Imperial System to standardize measurement across the British Empire. Most of the world, UK and commonwealth included, adapted to the metric system. Imperial System continues to be used in USA, Libya and Myanmar.


It is shameful that even in 2021 the world cannot agree on one common measurement system, is it not?


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