weights and measures

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Weights and Measures

A comprehensive legal term for uniform standards ascribed to the quantity, capacity, volume, or dimensions of anything.

The regulation of weights and measures is necessary for science, industry, and commerce. The importance of establishing uniform national standards was demonstrated by the drafters of the U.S. Constitution, who gave Congress in Article 1, Section 8, the power to "fix the Standard of Weights and Measures." During the nineteenth century, the Office of Standard Weights and Measures regulated measurements. In 1901 it became the National Bureau of Standards, and in 1988 it was renamed the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The states may also regulate weights and measures, provided their regulations are not in opposition to any act of Congress. Legislation that adopts and mandates the use of uniform system of weights and measures is a valid exercise of the Police Power, and such laws are constitutional. In the early twentieth century the National Bureau of Standards coordinated standards among states and held annual conferences at which a model state law of weights and measures was updated. This effort has resulted in almost complete uniformity of state laws.

Though U.S. currency was settled in a decimal form, Congress has retained the English weights and measures systems. France adopted the metric system in the 1790s, starting an international movement to make the system a universal standard, replacing national and regional variants that made scientific and commercial communication difficult. Thomas Jefferson was an early advocate of the metric system and in an 1821 report to Congress, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams urged its acceptance. However, Congress stead-fastly refused.

Despite hostility to making the metric system the official U.S. system of weights and measures, its use was authorized in 1866. The United States also became a signatory to the Metric Convention of 1875, and received copies of the International Prototype Meter and the International Prototype Kilogram in 1890. In 1893 the Office of Weights and Measures announced that the prototype meter and kilogram would be recognized as fundamental standards from which customary units, the yard and the pound, would be derived.

The metric system has been adopted by many segments of U.S. commerce and industry, as well as by virtually all of the medical and scientific professions. The international acceptance of the metric system led Congress in 1968 to authorize a study to determine whether the United States should convert. Though the resulting 1971 report recommended shifting to the metric system over a ten-year period, Congress declined to pass appropriate legislation.

Further readings

Bartlett, David F., ed. 1980. The Metric Debate. Boulder: Colorado Associated Univ. Press.

weights and measures

the long-established body of law which relates to weighing and measuring. It mainly provides protection to the public and protection for honest traders from loss of custom to the dishonest. Such legislation will normally approve a particular system of weights and measures and outlaw others. This may change over time as when the UK moved from the pound avoirdupois to the kilogram, from the gallon to the litre. Now enforced by trading standards departments. See e.g. PRICE MARKING.
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