What Is a Hundredweight (CWT)?

A hundredweight (cwt) is a unit of measurement used in certain commodities trading contracts. Its usage has gradually declined in favor of contract specifications in pounds or kilograms.

Its value differs between the American and British usages of the term. In the United Kingdom, a hundredweight is a unit of mass equal to 112 pounds. In the United States, a hundredweight is a unit of mass equal to 100 pounds. The two values are sometimes distinguished by referring to the American hundredweight as a "short hundredweight" and the British hundredweight as the "long hundredweight." The short hundredweight is also sometimes called a "cental."

Key Takeaways

  • A hundredweight (abbreviated as cwt) is a standard unit of weight or mass used in certain commodities trading contracts.
  • In North America, a hundredweight is equal to 100 pounds; in the United Kingdom, a hundredweight is 112 pounds.
  • The purpose of the hundredweight was to create a standard unit of measurement that simplified the trading of certain goods, particularly agriculture, between countries.
  • The use of the hundredweight as a unit of weight has decreased in recent years in favor of the metric system.

Understanding Hundredweight (CWT)

Throughout history, the hundredweight has had different values. In England, the Weights and Measures Act of 1835 established the hundredweight as 112 pounds, its present value. In the U.S. and Canada, the hundredweight referred to a unit of 100 pounds. In 1824, it became illegal for British merchants to use the term hundredweight to refer to a unit of 100 pounds, and merchants could be sued for fraudulent activity for doing so. In 1879, it became legal again to use of measurement of 100 pounds in Britain, but it must be referred to as a "cental." The term hundredweight is derived from the French avoirdupois weight system which was established in England in the late Medieval period.

The hundredweight was used as a unit of measure in trading livestock, grains, and other commodities contracts. The purpose of the hundredweight was to provide a standard of measurement, simplifying the trading of certain goods among countries. Having a standard of measurement was especially helpful when dealing with items that were traded in large quantities. It was accepted that 20 hundredweights created a ton, where a short ton weighed 2,000 pounds and a long ton weighed 2,240 pounds.

In the United States and the United Kingdom, the hundredweight was most commonly used to measure tangible commodities. Many food items, such as cattle, oil, seeds, and grains were measured using the hundredweight, along with items like paper and certain chemicals or additives. Rice and other similar futures may also be measured in hundredweight.

Anvils were commonly measured in hundredweight, using a decimal designation to state the number of hundredweights, quarter-hundredweights and pounds the anvil weighed. Though it is not necessarily the case today, the formula can still be used to determine anvil weight in instances where it is present.

With the increased use of the metric system across Europe, the hundredweight generally fell out of favor. As the metric system created a more universally accepted standard, dealing in hundredweight became less common because of its potential for ambiguity. Even though it is not as commonly used as it once was, it is still an accepted unit of measurement. The hundredweight is still used within certain U.S. sectors, especially those relating to agriculture, even though trade is often conducted in pounds or kilograms.