Why 12 Dozen and 360 Degrees Makes Sense

Math students through the ages pound their heads on their desks, asking the same question: Why do the numbers 12, 60, and 360 show up so often? Specifically:

  • 12 inches in a foot; 360 inches in 30 feet
  • 12 is one dozen; 12 dozen is a gross
  • 60 seconds in a minute
  • 60 minutes in an hour (so 3600 seconds per hour)
  • 360 degrees in a circle

Anyone who uses metric measurements immediately finds these sorts of numbers cumbersome and bizarre. Sure, these numbers are a hassleĀ if you’re multiplying, adding, or subtracting. But in one respect these numbers work far better than metric: dividing equally.

For example, 12 can be divided equally into halves, thirds, fourths, and sixths. So if you’re selling eggs, a group of a dozen makes far more sense than a group of ten.

Similarly, it’s easy to divide 60 seconds into 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, or 30 parts.

And dividing a circle into 360 degrees makes sense because 360 can be evenly split into 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 24, 30, and so onā€¦

100 degrees is wonderful when you need to work with fine increments (such as the difference between 35 and 36 degrees Celsius) but it’s a pain when you need to split it into thirds, eighths, and other odd divisions.

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