From his undergraduate days at Texas A&M through World Wars I and II and until his retirement from the Army in 1947, Colonel Manley B. Gibson was ever increasingly convinced that worldwide adoption of the metric system in weights and measures would sweeten international concord. After retirement he dedicated his time and what fortune he had to the idea. On a recent day, at the age of 68, Colonel Gibson hanged himself in the basement of his San Francisco home. He was broke. "I have spent all my money and insurance loans to establish the metric system in the United States," he said in a note to the Internal Revenue Service. "My death should be in full payment."
The problem Colonel Gibson sought to solve is of vastly more importance than some of us realize. During World War II, when the U.S. undertook to build the Rolls-Royce Merlin airplane engine, it turned out that tons of British specifications had to be converted from metric to inch-and-pound designations and, of course, there were no perfect conversion tables. It required absurdly needless manpower and time to get the job done.
It is, of course, much less serious that the world of sport must endure confusion because of this deficiency in mathematical understanding. But it will be something of an annoyance when the Olympic Games are televised this fall and we are informed on the screen that Valeri Brumel has high-jumped 2.29, if that is what he does, and an announcer must translate this into 7 feet 6 inches.
Colonel Gibson, no track and field man but a polo player, understood this. He talked constantly to AAU officials as well as to college and high school track coaches. They listened, but that is as far as he got. He left a room filled with papers, slide rules, mathematical formulae. His son-in-law, Major Clifford Houchin, hopes eventually to sort out the material and, if possible, carry on.