A Short History of Meter

The word ‘meter’ has been echoing in our ears since childhood. Yet most of us do not know what a meter is or how it came into existence? You do not need to worry, let’s together look into it!

After centuries of research, human development, advancements in science and changes in socio-economic structures starting from Egyptians and Mesopotamian, passing on to Greeks, from whom Romans took the lead to finally reaching Europe the way we measure a length has been overhauled completely. The earliest standard of length measurement is believed to come from Egypt, where a cubit was a merit of quantifying length. The cubit as defined by Egyptians was a distance from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow. It is also known as Royal Cubit and its usage could be traced back to as early as 2700 BC. Cubit was also used by other civilizations like Greeks and Romans, though they expounded it differently from Egyptians, for instance, the cubit in the Roman Empire was equal to six palms width.

Later on, other units of determining length such as hand and foot were used for bartering trade and other day to day activities. Each civilization had made their own recognized way of calculating dimensions of objects. Such units are imprecise, inaccurate and vary from person to person so efforts were made to develop a uniform and meticulous method of appraising the dimensions. It was not until 1791 when for the first time a system which was not based on the human torso was proposed by a group of prominent scientists and mathematicians, Jean-Charles de Borda, Joseph-Louis Lagrange, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Gaspard Monge, and Nicolas de Condorcet and the system is known as Metric System.

The ten-millionth of the length of polar quadrant passing through Paris was termed as the meterat the beginning. A platinum bar of this length was made, used as a reference to fabricate meter scales which were subsequently used in laboratories and became a go-to unit for scientists. In 1889 a rod of the size of a meter was manufactured from a superior Platinum-Iridium alloy which went on to dwindle the erosion of the rod over time. Therefore, ensuring the uniformity of the rod for a longer period.

Afterward,within twenty-three years the standard meter definition was renewed twice. Firstly in 1960 when 165,076,3 wavelengths of the radiation from krypton-86 in vacuum were called a meter. Secondly, in 1983, the meter was stated as the distance traveled by light in an interval of 1/299,792,458 seconds, as of today this the most rigorous definition of length humans have ever developed. Today meter and its multiples like kilometer, centimeter, etc. are the most widely used terms all over the world. They have made life easy for everyone, ranging from academics to businessmen to common people by removing cumbersome multiples in unit conversions. The journey to make it happen is nothing but fascinating.

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