How the Meter Became the Meter

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The meter is the world’s ultimate measure, but how did it become “the” meter? What is this measurement based on? The story of this revolution in measurement traces its roots to the French Revolution. Scientists decided that an equal and united people should have equal and united measures. So they sent a pair of young astronomers out to measure the world, and invent the meter. Little did they know they’d find nothing but war, deception, and strife along the way. As a result of this ill-fated mission, the meter carries an error that still persists today. Still think the metric system is so perfect?

This episode would not have been possible without one incredible book: “The Measure of All Things” by Ken Alder.
There’s so much more to this story that we couldn’t fit in the video, and this book has it all. War, madness, deception, shame, spies, the dawn of the Enlightenment, the birth of modern economics, lots more beheadings… Highly recommended!
Public library:

Interesting chronology of the meter:

Calculating the length of a meridian arc:

Williams, Jeffrey H. “Quantifying Measurement: The Tyranny of Numbers.” Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2016

Murdin, Paul. “Full meridian of glory: perilous adventures in the competition to measure the Earth.” Springer Science & Business Media, 2008.


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It’s Okay To Be Smart is hosted by Joe Hanson, Ph.D.
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Video “How the Meter Became the Meter” Author: It’s Okay To Be Smart