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Mathematical Treasure: Demonstration Metric Grain Measures

Peggy A. Kidwell (National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution)

Metric Volume Measures Made by the Shakers

Volume Measures Made by the Shakers, 1877-1900, Smithsonian Institution negative number 92-14244.

The metric system of weights and measures developed in France in the wake of the revolution of 1789. During the early years of the American Republic, the United States also adopted national standards, but these were based on British units. Meanwhile, the metric system was widely adopted in Europe. In 1866, the United States government approved legislation making the metric system legal but not mandatory in the United States. New metric standards were prepared for the states.

To teach the system, an organization known as the American Metric Bureau encouraged production of special apparatus. This set of grain measures was made by members of the United Society of Believers, or Shakers, a group known for its skilled woodworkers. From March of 1877 until at least 1900 the Shakers of West Gloucester (later Sabbathday), Maine, sold demonstration metric measures like these.

The metric system was widely adopted by scientists and doctors in their work. However, some Americans strongly opposed metric units and many were content to use familiar measures, so metric units did not become common throughout American society.

For further information about and images of objects relating to the history of the metric system in the United States, see the website for metric system demonstration apparatus at the National Museum of American History,

Peggy A. Kidwell (National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution), "Mathematical Treasure: Demonstration Metric Grain Measures," Convergence (October 2014)


Mathematical Treasures: Smithsonian National Museum of American History Object Groups