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An old illustration showing decimal unitsAn old illustration showing decimal units Measurement is a way of showing the size, length or amount of something. There are units of measurement to describe length (how far something is from end to end); mass (the amount of matter present in something); and capacity (the amount that something can contain). There are two systems of weights and measures: Imperial, and the International System of Units or Système Internationale (SI). Imperial was formerly used across the British Empire, including what became the United States, and included inches, feet, ounces and pounds. SI is based on the metric system, devised in France in the 18th century, in which all measures were established scientifically. The measures are all also able to be easily divided or multiplied by 10, making it simple to use. SI is now the recognized system of measurement used all over the world.

Ancient Egyptian measurements Ancient Egyptian measurements


Early units of weights and measures used the human body and nature. Ancient Babylonian and Egyptian records from about 3000 BC show length was measured with the forearm, hand and finger. Grain could be used to measure capacity. Later, the Romans set standard measures including units such as the palm, feet and paces in a system of weights and measures. Miles, pounds and ounces, all devised by the Romans, are still in use today. 

A Roman mile was the distance a Roman soldier could march in 1000 paces—that is, 2000 steps. "Mile" comes from the Latin word for a thousand, mille.

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