Historical perspective: Unit of electric current, ampere


Electric units, called "international units", for current and resistance were introduced by the International Electrical Congress held in Chicago in 1893 and definitions of the "international ampere" and "international ohm" were confirmed by the International Conference in London in 1908.

By the time of the 8th CGPM (1933) there was a unanimous desire to replace the "international units" by so-called "absolute units". However because some laboratories had not yet completed experiments needed to determine the ratios between the international and absolute units, the CGPM gave authority to the CIPM to decide at an appropriate time both these ratios and the date at which the new absolute units would come into effect. The CIPM did so in 1946, when it decided that the new units would come into force on 1 January 1948. In October 1948 the 9th CGPM approved the decisions taken by the CIPM. The definition of the ampere, chosen by the CIPM, was referenced to the force between parallel wires carrying an electric current and it had the effect of fixing the numerical value of the vacuum magnetic permeability μ0 (also called the magnetic constant). The numerical value of the vacuum electric permittivity ε0 (also called the electric constant) then became fixed as a consequence of the new definition of the metre adopted in 1983.

However the 1948 definition of the ampere proved difficult to realize and practical quantum standards (based on Josephson and quantum-Hall effects), which link both the volt and the ohm to particular combinations of the Planck constant h and elementary charge e, became almost universally used as a practical realization of the ampere through Ohm's law. As a consequence, it became natural not only to fix the numerical value of h to redefine the kilogram, but also to fix the numerical value of e to redefine the ampere in order to bring the practical quantum electrical standards into exact agreement with the SI. The present definition based on a fixed numerical value for the elementary charge, e, was adopted in Resolution 1 of the 26th CGPM (2018).


Asset Publisher

Search filter :


CIPM Resolution 2 (1946)

Definitions of electric units

CGPM Resolution 6 (1987)

Forthcoming adjustment to the representations of the volt and of the ohm

CGPM Resolution 1 (2018)

On the revision of the International System of Units (SI)