So, it’s quite cold outside in a good portion of the U.S., and that means it’s time to talk about why Americans use Fahrenheit.
The United States relies heavily on Fahrenheit—a measurement system that almost no other country in the world uses. And while Americans sometimes use Celsius—particularly in the medical and scientific fields—it’s never really caught on.
Other than the U.S., let’s take a look at the countries that use the Fahrenheit temperature scale: Bahamas, Belize, the Cayman Islands, Palau, and sometimes Canada and the U.K. (both predominantly use Celsius).
Celsius, part of the metric system, is preferred by most countries (even the Star Trek crew uses it) because it revolves around the states of water: 0 degrees is the point when water freezes and 100 degrees is when it boils, whereas Fahrenheit is 32 and 212, respectively.
Fahrenheit was developed in the 18th century by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, a German physicist, and it was used across most of the Western world until the late 20th century when most countries converted over to Celsius.
“While the United States and a few territories still uses the Fahrenheit scale, nearly all countries switched over to Celsius in the 1970s as a move to standardize on metric measurement system. Canadian media will often report temperatures in both Fahrenheit and Celsius, particularly in areas close to the border with the United States,” says LiveScience.
Why Didn’t the US Convert to Fahrenheit?
The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology has noted Congress passed the Metric Conversion Act in 1975 to get states to convert over to measurements like meters, centimeters, and Celsius. However, it was deemed voluntary and never really was picked up.
“Because the U.S. Congress determined that metric system use would be voluntary, we anticipate the transition process to continue gradually, punctuated by increased use as consumers build familiarity with SI measurements,” NIST Metric Conversion Subject Matter Expert Elizabeth Gentry told Accuweather.com.
Essentially, the reason the United States hasn’t convert to Celsius and the metric system is mostly due to inertia. Americans are used to the hodgepodge of different measurements that draws from both the metric and the imperial system used by the British Empire, so why change?
But it’s not like Americans don’t know how to use the metric system or understand Celsius. For example, in the United States, soda is sold in two-liter bottles, people use grams, and measure things in kilometers, meters, centimeters, and millimeters (like the 9mm or 5.56mm ammunition for you gun enthusiasts).
Some have argued that Fahrenheit is superior because it makes it easy to remember the temperature of the human body (98.6 degrees) as roughly the hottest day.
There’s a relatively easy way to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit and vise-versa. To convert Fahrenheit to Celsius, subtract 32 and then multiply by 5 and divide by 9; to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, multiply by 9, divide by 5, and then add 32.
In short, for Americans who want to know Celsius, it goes like this:
-10 and below: Really cold
20: About room temperature
30 and above: Really hot