Greeting to all and welcome new friends to the EastWing.
Ever heard of a firkin, or a hogshead, or even a coomb? Not many have now days. There was a time when those words meant a great deal to people involved in different type of commerce.
They’re units of measure. Old English units of measure. Old, Old English units of measure. Way back Old English. Even before “back in the day” back. I’m talking in the 1400’s here. Yep that’s past back in the day for sure.
The firkin and the hogshead are liquid measures while the coomb is a dry unit of measure. The firkin equals nine (9) gallons. The hogshead is sixty three (63) gallons. The coomb is four (4) bushels.
With these units of measure not being a part of our normal way of measuring things, you’d think there were would be some relationship between the liquid measure, the firkin and the hogshead. There is none. The closest I could come up with a similar comparison of the two would be the contents of a 55 gallon drum plus 1 firkin minus 1 gallon = 1 hogshead. Like I said they don’t fit well when trying to tie the two together.
I ran across those Old English measures a while back while researching a completely different subject, and though they were worth once again bringing back out to the light of day. To the best of my knowledge, not a whole lot has been written about those things since Al Gore invented the internet. While thinking about the Old English measures that went by the wayside, I remembered another interesting tidbit of the past.
It was by the light of the moon on the 5th of June in 1970 when the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that on July 4th 1976, (two hundred years after the national big bang) the nation would officially switch to the metric system for all measurements, both public and private. Then all hell broke loose.
Thomas Jefferson was charged with creating a system of standardized units of measure. He looked at the metric system. Choose not to go there mainly because Jefferson considered it “Too
French”. Yep, too French. Jefferson wanted something that set the budding nation apart from the rest of the world. George Washing tended to prefer the metric system, but deferred to Jefferson for the final decision.
Just think if Jefferson and Washing had chosen to settle their differences on the metric system by playing “Paper, Rock, Scissors” we could today be buying both our gas and beer in liters. Oh by the way that liter, it’s a quart plus a little bit more. Actually the liter is 1.0567 quarts. Like I said, it’s a quart plus a little bit more.
When I studied Laboratory Technology, one of the first things we learned was the metric system.
A simple system based on the unit 10. A simple explanation is 10 times this equals that. And then just keep going higher. With a little effort it’s easy to understand but the metric system doesn’t fit well with fractions. Like the liter of beer being, 1.0567 quarts, it just don’t make it when it comes to BUDWEISER.
All during the time I operated clinical laboratories, I used the metric system of measures each and every day, all day long. But at home during that time, it was still inches, feet, and yards, pints, quarts and gallons with a few hogsheads thrown in there from time to time. Especially during my beer making days.
We are a dual-measurement country. It’s part of who we are. It’s important to know that we are the only republic on earth that predates the metric system, and that’s one of many a major reasons why we never fully joined the party. There has never been an over powering need to, and so we don’t.
So why is it that we haven’t gone full-on metric? The simple answer is that the overwhelming majority of Americans have never wanted to. Ditching all of our old measures is an extreme act that would require forcing all citizens to change their daily habits and culture. The gains have always seemed too little, and the goal too conformist to suite our taste. At 1.0567 per quart, I don’t see that taste changing soon.
From the EastWing, Talking ‘Bout Measures, Old English, Tom & George Rock Paper Scissors & Metric, Beer & Gas By The Liter, The Lone Republic The Lab Days, Not Gonna Do It.
I Wish You Well,