“Weights & Measures may be ranked among the necessaries of life to every individual of human society.”
-John Quincy Adams, sixth US president.
In celebrating National Weights and Measures Week (March 1-7), we are recognizing a U.S. system of weights and measures that was established almost at the very start of our country, in 1799. When California became a state in 1850, one of the primary orders of business was to establish weights and measures laws to ensure fair trade among its citizens. In the early years, responsibility for enforcement shifted back and forth between counties and the state, with the risk of a lack of uniformity, which is essential as the foundation for weights and measures. This continued until 1911, when, to protect the public and commerce, the Constitution of California was amended to adopt comprehensive weights and measures laws. In 1913, the State Legislature created the Office of State Superintendent of Weights and Measures to oversee the laws – and now, it is the 100th anniversary of this arrangement. The California system today is reliable because of the oversight provided by the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Division of Measurement Standards (DMS), working in partnership with county sealers of weights and measures.
Every day, Californians buy fuel for their cars, food for their family, or pay to park their cars. All of these transactions involve measurements of some type, and it’s critical that they be accurate. There are a total of 1.4 million devices in California that are used in commerce. Employees of DMS and the counties make sure the devices work correctly. They also check that prices charged are the same as advertised and that packages actually contain the stated amount of product. This verification protects the integrity of commerce, which is required for trading worldwide.
The state’s oversight of weights and measures costs the average California family about a penny per day, or about $3.65 per year. This “common cents” is affordable insurance to make sure everyone gets what they pay for.