index to the written record

Contents by nation

Contents by topic

PDF files described below as “imaged, searchable” show an image of an original document. The text that is indexed is invisibly imposed under the image. Seeing a document in its original format can be very enlightening. Unfortunately this format makes it difficult to proofread the indexed text. One therefore can’t be certain that a search on the pdf has recovered every occurrence of a word, or that every word in the document has been indexed. This problem does not affect pdfs that are not described as “imaged.”

Ancient Near East

Laws and official documents

Laws of Ur-Nammu (circa 2000 bce)

Ur-Nammu's standardization of the bariga, ban, royal ban, sila and mina.


Laws and official documents

Decree of 18 December 1835.

Law providing for the vara and other units of length, capacity and weight based upon it.

(Kingdom of) Bavaria

Laws and official documents

Metrication law of 29 April 1869.


Laws and official documents

Tractatus de Ponderibus et Mensuris.

Twelfth-century document defining a wide range of units.

25 Edward III, c. 9 & 10. (1352)

Defines the stone and sack of wool, specifies use of a level balance. Calls for stricken measure.

1 Henry V, c. 10 (1413)

On dry capacity measures like the bushel.

2 Henry VI, c. 14 (1423)

Wine measures, and the salmon, eel and herring barrels.

22 Edward IV, c. 2, (1482 – 1483)

Fish measures.

1 Richard III, c. 13 (1483-1484)

The 252-gallon ton and its subdivisions.

11 Henry VII, c. 4. (1495)

Members of parliament to take legal standards home with them. Defines stone and sack of wool.

12 Henry VII, c. 5. (1496)

Reform of the bushel and gallon.

23 Henry VIII, c. 4 (1531-1532)

Beer and ale measures.

34 & 35 Henry VIII, c. 3. (1542 – 1543)

Assize for wood and charcoal.

5 George IV, c.74

The 1824 law establishing imperial measure.  Imaged, searchable PDF file slightly less than 5 MB in size.

27 Victoria 1864.

Statute authorizing use of the metric system.

The Wine Gallon. Excerpts from the Carysfort Committee report, 1758.

A pretty thorough history of the wine gallon by a parliamentary committee. PDF file.

First Report of the Commissioners appointed by His Majesty to consider the subject of Weights and Measures, 1819.

First of a series of reports that led to the imperial weights and measures. Imaged, searchable pdf file.

Second Report of the Commissioners, 1820.

Imaged, searchable pdf file, 13+ MB.

Third Report of the Commissioners, 1821.

 Imaged, searchable pdf file, 8+ MB.

Miscellaneous events

Lord Chesterfield persuades the House of Lords to adopt the Gregorian calendar.

Not much has changed since 1751 in conveying science to the public.

Guildhall Turners, 1310.

Forbidding gills, chopines, and other small liquid measures.


Excerpt from John Wybard's Tactometria 1650.

Very important for its early hands-on investigation of the physical standards for liquid measures. A PDF file.

Excerpts from Arthur Ross Clarke, Geodesy (1880).

Describes the process and results of comparing the yard with standards of the toise and other units used in geodetic surveys.

Orkneys & Shetland

Excerpts from Dr. Barry.

History of the Orkney Islands... The Second Edition, with revisions and additions by James Headrick, 1808.

Excerpts from John R. Tudor.

The Orkneys and Shetland. Their Past and Present State, 1883.

Excerpt from John Skene

De verborum significatione, 1597.


Scottish land measures

Excerpts from James Robertson and Cosmo Innes regarding Scottish land measures.


Walter Davies on Welsh land measures (1810, 1815).

George Owen on land measures of Pembrokeshire, Wales (1603).

Land measures in ancient laws of Wales

Selections from the Venedotian Code, Dimetian Code and Gwentian Code.



Poids et Mesures du Kaire.

A report from the French army.

Tableau de L’Égypte pendant le séjour de l’armée Française. Vol. 2.
Paris, 1804.



Ordonnance 8004, 16 Juin 1839. Bulletin des Lois 655.


A traveler's observations on the state of weights and measures in 1787 – 1789.

Excerpt from

Arthur Young.
Travels during the Years 1787, 1788. & 1789: undertaken more particularly with a view of ascertaining the cultivation, wealth, resources, and national prosperity of the kingdom of France. 2nd edition.
London: Printed for W. Richardson, 1794.

Origins of the metric system

Report … on the 29th Prairial, in the seventh Year (June 17, 1799),… on the Measure of the Meridian of France, and the Results which have been deduced to determine the new Metrical System.

An English translation published a few months after the French publication.


Laws and official documents

Indian Weights and Measures of Capacity Act, 1871.

Searchable image pdf.


Excerpt from the Ain i Akbari.

Abul Fazl Allami on the gaz.


Laws and official documents

Mexican units of length.

Excerpt from Mariano Galván Riviera. Ordenanzas de Tierras y Aguas, ó sea: Formulario Geométrico-Judicial ... 2nd Ed., corrected and enlarged, 1844.


Laws and official documents

Decree of 13 December 1852.

Law adopting the metric system.

Decree of 20 June 1859.

Law making use of the meter compulsory.

Puerto Rico

Laws and official documents

Resolution of 18 March 1899.

This resolution made use of the metric system compulsory. From Reglamento sobre Pesas y Medidas del Sistema Métrico Decmal para las Isla de Puerto-Rico.

Mensaje Especial del Gobernador de Puerto Rico a la Séptime Asembla Legislativa. 5 July 1913.

The governor loses patience with the Legislature's failure to pass a Weights and Measures Bill, and calls a special session.


Laws and official documents

Weights and measures in the Indies, 1571.

The law that made weights and measures in the Spanish colonies the same as those in Spain.

De los pesos y medidas, 1805.

This is the section of the Novissima Recopilacion of 1805 which deals with weights and measures. The Recopilacion is an official collection of all the Spanish laws, decrees, and so forth currently in force. Includes an English translation.



Thai measures of length and capacity, 1877.

From D. J. Bapt. Pallegoix, English Siamese Vocabulary enlarged with an introduction to the siamese language and a supplement.

United States

Laws and official documents

15 USC 206

Statute establishing a standard gauge for sheet and plate iron and steel.

15 USC 223.

Statute defining units of electrical measure.

15 USC 260a.

Statute regarding daylight saving time.

Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury (Report to Congress by F. R. Hassler), 1839.

Describes the work of 1839: standard weights have been distributed to all customs houses. Mint weights in preparation. Bessel making apparatus for them in Berlin, and so on.

Senate Resolution March 1, 1817.

Calls for the Secretary of State to study the weights and measures situation in the states and worldwide.

Uniform Regulation for the Method of Sale of Commodities.

The model regulation suggested for adoption by state legislatures by the National Conference of Weights and Measures. It describes the customary sizes of numerous commodities. A PDF file.

Bureau of Standards & NIST documents

Announcement of a Change in the Value of the International Volt.

Circular of the National Bureau of Standards No. 29, issued December 31, 1910. Describes redefinition of the international volt, basing it on the international ohm and ampere, with the Weston normal cell as the practical standard.

Electric Units and Standards.

Circular of the National Bureau of Standards No. 60, issued September 25, 1916. Describes the nature and history of the electric and magnetic units, and their legal status as of 1916. A comprehensive and authoritative survey.

Announcement of Changes in Electrical and Photometric Units.

Circular of the National Bureau of Standards C459, issued May 15, 1947. Describes redefinition of the international volt and ohm, as defined in 1893 (revised 1908, 1911) with units based length, mass and time rather than a physical standards such as a standard resistance. Describes new definition of the candle.

Ambler Thompson and Barry N. Taylor. Guide for the Use of the International System of Units (SI). Special Publication 811, 2008 edition.

In the United States, this is the definitive pronouncement on usage. A PDF file. For historical purposes, we also provide 1995 edition.

Barry N. Taylor. The International System of Units (SI). National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication 330, 2008 edition.

A PDF file. The official translation for the United States of the controlling document (which is in French). For historical purposes, we also provide the 1991 edition, the 1995 edition and the 2001 edition.

Body Measurements for the Sizing of Women’s Patterns and Apparel.

NBS Voluntary Product Standard PS 42-70. A document from the period when U.S. clothing size standards were being migrated from the NBS to the ASTM. The complete withdrawn standard, plus scans of the relevant Federal Register entry, and a list of ASTM and DOD standards. A PDF file.

Body Measurements for the Sizing of Apparel for Young Men (Students).

NBS Voluntary Product Standard PS 45-71. Similar to the above, but for young men.

Body Measurements for the Sizing of Girls’ Apparel.

NBS Voluntary Product Standard PS 54-72. As above, for girls.

Body Measurements for the Sizing of Boys’ Apparel.

NBS Voluntary Product Standard PS 36-70. As above, for boys.

Body Measurements for the Sizing of Apparel for Infants, Babies, Toddler and Children.

Commercial Standard CS 151-50; TS-5184. A less polished standard emphasizing knitwear.

Metric system in the United States

Senate document, 1795.

Carrying out a decree of the Committee of Public Safety, the revolutionary French government sent Dombey, a qualified “natural philosopher,” to the United States to argue for adoption of the new system of weights and measures by the American government. He died en route, but his materials reached the French representative, who presented them to the U.S. Secretary of State. Printed for the Senate because Washington had referred to the matter in his annual address. Imaged, searchable pdf.

Federal Standard 376B. Preferred Metric Units for General Use by the Federal Government. (Edition of January 1993)

Metrological milestones

Excerpt from John Wilkins.

An Essay towards a real character, and a philosophical language. 1668. An early example of the thinking that led to the metric system.

History of electric & magnetic units

Announcement of a Change in the Value of the International Volt.

Circular of the National Bureau of Standards No. 29, issued December 31, 1910. Describes redefinition of the international volt, basing it on the international ohm and ampere, with the Weston normal cell as the practical standard.

Announcement of Changes in Electrical and Photometric Units.

Circular of the National Bureau of Standards C459, issued May 15, 1947. Describes redefinition of the international volt and ohm, as defined in 1893 (revised 1908, 1911) with units based length, mass and time rather than a physical standards such as a standard resistance.

British Assn. adopts CGS, 1873.

The adoption of the centimeter-gram-second system of units by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, a metrological milestone.

Fleeming Jenkin on the BA unit of resistance, 1873.

Origin of one of the first electrical units, and of the process that lead to the present-day units.

Franz Ernst Neumann. Die mathematischen Gesetze der inducirten elektrischen Ströme.

Originally appeared in the Abhandlung der Berliner Akademie aus dem Jahre 1845. Neuman read the paper to the Academy on 27 October 1845. The 1889 edition edited by his son Carl is reproduced here as a searchable PDF. We apologize for the poor quality of the scan; we were having machine problems. In German.

Wilhelm Weber. On the measurement of electro-dynamic forces. 1848.

One of the studies that made electric units possible by basing them on mechanical units. An English translation from Weber's time. PDF file, with explanatory appendices. Technical.

The International Conference for the Determination of the Electrical Units, 1882.

Science, vol. 1, number 4 (March 2, 1883).

U.S. legalizes electric units, 1894.

T. C. Mendenhall.
Legal Units of Electric Measure.
Science, New Series, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jan. 4, 1895).

Units at the International Electrical Congress.

Nature, Vol. 62, no. 1609, page 414. 30 August 1900.

Resolutions of the U.K. Board of Trade Committee on Electrical Standards. November, 1892.


Measuring knots at sea.

Excerpt from: John Hamilton Moore. The New Practical Navigator, being an epitome of navigation..... 11th edition, 1795.

Making crown glass

Excerpt from: [George Richardson Porter]. A Treatise on the Progressive Improvement and Present State of the Manufacture of Porcelain and Glass, 1832.

Manufacturing wire.

Excerpt from: Hugh P. Tiemann. Iron and Steel. A Pocket Encyclopedia, 1910.

Glasiers' Terms of Art.

Excerpt from: Randle Holmes, The Academy of Armory, or, a storehouse of armory and blazon: containing the several variety of created beings, and how born in coats of arms, both foreign and domestick : with the instruments used in all trades and sciences, together with their terms of art : also the etymologies, definitions, and historical observations on the same, explicated and explained according to our modern language : very usefel [sic] for all gentlemen, scholars, divines, and all such as desire any knowledge in arts and sciences, 1688.

Current studies

Wilfred G. Lockett. 1997.

An Inch of Water: Hydraulic Measurements in the Eighteenth Century.

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