Gabriel Mouton

Mathematician, Deceased Person

1618 – 1694


Who was Gabriel Mouton?

Gabriel Mouton was a French abbot and scientist. He was a doctor of theology from Lyon, but was also interested in mathematics and astronomy.

His 1670 book, the Observationes diametrorum solis et lunae apparentium, came to form the basis of what was to become the metric system in 1799. Based on the measurements of the size of the Earth conducted by Riccioli of Bologna, Mouton proposed a decimal system of measurement based on the circumference of the Earth, explaining the advantages of a system based on nature. Mouton's publication appeared two years after John Wilkins, then president of the Royal Society published a similar proposal.

His suggestion was a unit, milliare, that was defined as a minute of arc along a meridian arc, and a system of sub-units, dividing successively by factors of ten into the centuria, decuria, virga, virgula, decima, centesima, and millesima. The virga, 1/1000 of a minute of arc, corresponding to 64.4 Bologna inches, or ~2.04 m, was reasonably close to then current unit of length, the Parisian toise – a feature which was meant to make acceptance of the new unit easier.

As a practical implementation, Mouton suggested that the actual standard be based on pendulum movement, so that a pendulum located in Lyon of length one virgula would change direction 3959.2 times in half an hour. The resulting pendulum would have a length of ~20.54 cm. Wilkins however proposed using a pendulum that was 0.994 m in length.

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  • Catholicism
  • France
Sep 28, 1694

on July 23, 2013


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