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How Did The Meter Get Its Length?

One of 30 copies of the first protoype meter made  by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Sevres, France. 1875-1889 <em> </em>
NIST Museum Collection
One of 30 copies of the first protoype meter made by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Sevres, France. 1875-1889

Copyright 2014 NPR

Corrected: June 23, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
Previous versions of this story said a platinum bar cast in the 19th century was what the world used as the official length of a meter. It was the first official standard for the length of the meter. There's another in effect today.
Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors. Palca is also the founder of NPR Scicommers – A science communication collective.