Many countries each have varying systems of measurements, and while there was an attempt to unify measurements, most notably by Napoleonic France, it took until after that war for there to be a serious attempt to create an international standard of measurement.  Currently, there are three major systems: The British system, the American System, and the Roman system.  The main difference is in which countries standardized to which other country's system.  In the mid-19th century, growing trade between the British Empire and European countries, or the Americas, made countries or colonies standardize one way or another.  The result is that measurements can vary depending on country.

American System

The 'American System' is in use by the United States, New Holland, Brazil, Surinaam (part of Netherlands), Sint Maarten, and several other countries in the Western Hemisphere.


  • 1 digit = 3/4 inch
  • 1 inch = 3 barleycorn
  • 1 palm = 3 inches, 9 barleycorn
  • 1 hand = 4 inches, 12 barleycorn
  • 1 foot = 12 inches, 36 barleycorn
  • 1 ell = 1.5 feet, 18 inches
  • 1 yard = 3 feet, 36 inches, 108 barleycorn
  • 1 mile = 1760 yards, 5280 feet, 63,360 inches, 190,080 barleycorn
  • 1 rod = 16.5 feet, 5.5 yards, 198 inches
  • 1 chain = 66 feet, 4 rods, 22 yards, 792 inches
  • 1 furlong = 40 rods,

Liquid Measure

British System

The British System varies only slightly from the American System, mostly in liquid measurements.  There were calls by some in the mid-19th century to adopt the failed French metric system, but this was defeated each time by calls to patriotism.  It is used in every former colony of the British Empire, including Australia, New Caledonia, British Columbia, South Africa, New Zealand, New Caledonia, etc.  Due to its position in having helped remove Napoleon from continental Europe, several continental countries standardized their measurements to the British System, namely the Confederation of the Rhine, Prussia, Denmark, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Norway, and their successor countries.  The French-speaking portions of the Netherlands use the French-language equivalents of the units, unlike France.

British System - Units of Length in various countries
inch Zoll Duim Pouce Tomme Tum Tomme Tomme Tomma Toll cal
palm (3") Palme
hand (4") Handbreit Dłoń
span (9") Spanne Empan Piędź
foot (12") Fuß Voet Pied Fod Fot Fot Foet Fet Foot Stopa
ell (18") Elle El Aune Alen Aln Alen Alin Łokieć
yard (3 ft) Verge jarda
mile (5280 ft) Meile Mijl Mille Mil Mil Mil Myl Míla Mila

Roman System

The Roman system is used in Italy (including Dalmatia), Greece, Romania, France, Portugal, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, and several former colonies in Africa and South America.  It was created in Italy after the unification of the country in the 1840s-1860s, with a foundation of the old metric system, which inspired Giovanni Crispi to invent a decimal-based system for use in the newly united Italy.  His system spread to France in the 1890s, Spain and Portugal in the 1920s, and Greece and Mexico in the 1920s.

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