History Timeline 1860s

Photo above: President Abraham Lincoln. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Lithograph of Fort Sumter. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

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U.S. Timeline - The 1860s

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  • Timeline

  • 1866 - Detail

    July 28, 1866 - Weights and measures are standardized in the United States when the Metric Act of 1866 passes Congress.

    Table of Weights and Measures


    It was, in many ways, important legislation, to have a standard way of measuring things for commercial reasons. However, while the legislation, introduced by John Kasson, an Iowa Congressman, and sometimes referred to as the Kasson act, an official conversion table, somewhat accurate, from traditional weights and measures used in the United States (feet, inches, pounds) to the metric system preferred by much of the world, it was, in some ways an attempt to convert the United States over to the metric system eventually. Eventually, as we know now, has not yet come, though remains a goal for some.

    The legislation did, however, legally recogize the use of the metric system in the United States, and it was put to use. It passed the House of Representatives on May 17, 1866, and the Senate on July 27, 1866.


    Full Text, Metric Act 1866


    H.R. 596

    In the Senate of the United States
    May 18, 1866
    Read twice and referred to a Select Committee on Coinage and Weights and Measures.

    An Act
    To authorize the use of the metric system of weights and measures.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the passage of this act is shall be lawful throughout the United States of America to employ the weights and measures of the metric system; and no contract or dealing, or pleading in any court, shall be deemed invalid or liable to objection because the weights or measures expressed or referred to therein are weights or measures of the metric system.

    Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That the tables in the schedule hereto annexed shall be recognized in the construction of contracts, and in all legal proceedings, as establishing, in terms of the weights and measures now in use in the United States, the equivalents of the weights and measures expressed therein in terms of the metric system; and said tables may be lawfully used for computing, determining, and expressing in customary weights and measures the weights and measures of the metric system.

    Note: Tables for the Measures of Length, Measures of Surface, Measures of Capacity, and Weights followed the text.



    Who Was John A. Kason?


    John Adam Kasson was the head of the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures in the House of Representatives in 1866. An Iowa Congressman, elected six times to the House over a period of time when he also served in the diplomatic service, Kasson originally hailed from Vermont and was a lawyer by trade. He first practiced law in St. Louis, Missouri, graduating from the University of Vermont in 1842, before moving to Des Moines, Iowa in 1857.

    His first major political position came at the Republican convention of 1860, where he championed and was the primary draftsmen of the platform that included the anti-slavery position which Abraham Lincoln preferred and helped push South Carolina to secede, and thus, the Civil War to start. Lincoln would appoint him Assistant Postmaster General after his election, serving in that position from 1861-1862.

    Kasson left that position to run and win his first Congressional seat, serving from 1863-1867, then later from 1873-1877, and 1881-1884. Why did Kasson have gaps in that service? Kasson lost the Republican nomination for the seat to fellow Republican and Civil War hero Grenville Dodge in 1866. He sought not to seek reelection after the next two terms, serving during those years under President Rutherford B. Hayes in a diplomatic position in Austria-Hungary.

    Image above: Chart of Weights and Measures, 1890, R.O. Evans and G.A. Bass. Courtesy Library of Congress. Photo below: Detail of brick nogging with metric scale in Laramie, Wyoming, 1974, Jack E. Boucher, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: Library of Congress; Wikipedia Commons; U.S. Metric Association; National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Commerce.


    Nogging with Metric Scale



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