:: The "mesures usuelles" in 1812 ::

From 1800 on, each annual circular from the Department of the Interior deplored the delays: "The effective use of the new measures could have made better progress. It is time for such an important institution to no longer be a vain and useless theory. It is time, above all, that commercial transactions stopped being hindered by the mixture of the new measures with the former ones" (1805 circular). This text seems to admit that the 1800 return to former names was not a good decision. Nevertheless, the government was to do it again…

It was then thought that "the resistance to the adoption of the new measures is not due to the system itself but only to the fact that the everyday units that were deducted may not be enough appropriate to people everyday needs. The division by ten is very favourable to calculation, but it is not to the operations that people have to do everyday" (1812 circ.).

Consequently, former names will be used again and it will be allowed to give up the decimal division and to return to former subdivisions.

The measure is decided by the 12 February 1812 decree: "there will be no change in the French units of weights and measures" but "some weighing and measuring tools will be created for commercial use; they will present either fractions or multiples of these units, which are the most used in trade and suitable to people's needs".

The implementation texts - 28 March and following decree and circular - stressed on the fact that "because these clauses are only linked with the use of measures and weights in retail business and in everyday use, the legal measures will still be the only ones to be used in civil engineering, wholesale trade and all the transactions in trade and other areas. The legal system will be the only one to be taught in public schools too." They are just "allowed measures" that always mention their relation with metric values. Besides, the use of these measures will have to be subjected to another examination within ten years.

Thus, from 1812 on (and until 1839), retailers were allowed to use:

  • A 2 metre high gauge, dividing into 6 feet. The foot - that equals therefore one third of a metre - divides into 12 inches and the inch divides into 12 lignes.

  • A 120 centimetre aune, dividing into halves, thirds, etc.

  • A bushel equivalent to one eighth of hectolitre, which has its double, its half and its quarter.

  • A litre which can be divided into halves, quarters, eighths and sixteenths.

  • A 500 gramme pound, which can be divided into 16 ounces; an ounce can be divided into 8 gros; the gros can be divided into 72 grains.

This "mesures usuelles" system intended to have the metric system accepted by replacing it in a "well-known to people" framework, but this framework was only well-known to the Paris area inhabitants. Moreover, confusion could worsen. For exemple, the pound, which was equivalent to nearly 489 grammes in 1789, then to 1000 grammes in 1800, was now 500 gramme heavy!

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