What Is a Hundredweight (CWT)?

A hundredweight (CWT) is a unit of measurement used to define the quantities of certain commodities being bought and sold. It is used in some commodities trading contracts. Pricing by hundredweight also is a standard option for shipping packages that take up less than an entire truckload.

Usage of hundredweight more generally has declined in favor of contract specifications in pounds or kilograms.

The value of a hundredweight differs in its American and British usages. In the United States, a hundredweight is a unit of mass equal to 100 pounds. In the United Kingdom, a hundredweight is a unit of mass equal to 112 pounds.

The two values are sometimes distinguished by referring to the American hundredweight as a "short hundredweight" and the British hundredweight as a "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 markets. It also may be used to price smaller shipments of goods.
  • In North America, a hundredweight is equal to 100 pounds; in the United Kingdom, a hundredweight is 112 pounds. These may be referred to as a "short" or a "long" hundredweight.
  • The hundredweight was originally introduced as a standard unit of measurement to simplify the trading of certain goods between countries.
  • The use of the hundredweight as a measurement has declined in recent years in favor of the metric system.
  • Steel, cattle, oil, seeds, and grains are examples of products measured using the hundredweight.

Understanding Hundredweight (CWT)

The hundredweight has been used as a measurement of mass in Europe since the late Medieval era. Traders bought and sold goods like wax, sugar, and pepper in hundredweights, although the precise amount that meant at the time could be 100 pounds or 108 pounds. Since 1340, when King Edward III changed the official definition of one stone to 14 pounds, one hundredweight has equaled eight stones or 112 pounds.

The abbreviation "CWT" refers to centum or cental weight, meaning hundredweight.

This was set in law in 1835 when the Weights and Measures Act established one hundredweight as 112 pounds,

In the U.S. and Canada, one hundredweight, then and now, is 100 pounds.

When a Hundredweight Is Not 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 only when it was labeled a "cental."

The term hundredweight is derived from the French avoirdupois weight system which was established in England in the late Medieval period. It provided a standard for measurement, simplifying the trading of certain goods among countries.

This was especially helpful when dealing with commodities that were traded in large quantities. It was accepted that 20 hundredweights were one ton. A short ton weighed 2,000 pounds and a long ton weighed 2,240 pounds.

The abbreviation "CWT" stands for centum or cental weight, meaning one hundredweight.

Examples of Hundredweight (CWT)

The hundredweight is most often used as a unit of measure for trading large quantities of commodities. It also is used when referring to products that are exceptionally heavy, such as steel.

Many food items such as cattle, oil, seeds, and grains are measured using the hundredweight, along with products sold in bulk including paper and some chemicals or additives.

Cattle by Hundredweight

In the futures markets, prices for cattle and other livestock are quoted in hundredweights, while prices for foods like coffee and sugar are priced by cents per pound.

Prices of futures including livestock and rice may be measured and traded 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. The formula can still be used to indicate anvil weight.

Special Considerations

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. The potential for confusion between the British and North American definitions helped make it unpopular for international trade.

Even though it is not as commonly used as it once was, it is still an accepted unit of measurement. The hundredweight is used within certain U.S. sectors, especially those relating to agriculture, even though most trade is conducted in pounds or kilograms.

CWT Shipping vs. LTL Shipping

Shipping companies that handle smaller loads of goods can often choose between two pricing options for transporting their packages: hundredweight (CWT) or less-than-truckload (LTL) pricing. Generally, a shipping company that specializes in carrying small loads from many clients relies on hundredweight pricing.

UPS and FedEx, for example, both offer hundredweight options for shipping packages.

Advantages and Disadvantages

According to Clearview Audit, a firm that specializes in supply chain management services, both options have advantages and disadvantages:

  • LTL shipping requires that packages be loaded onto a pallet and may include very heavy, large, or oddly shaped goods. This option is often used when all of the goods being shipped are going to the same destination, such as a warehouse.
  • Hundredweight shipping requires less handling, as multiple packages can be sent without loading them onto pallets. It is often used by small shippers sending packages to a number of destinations.

The better shipping choice depends on many factors, including the size, shape, and weight of the products being shipped and the distance being covered.

Shipping by hundredweight is the preferred option for many businesses that frequently ship small packages that add up to less than a full truckload.

CWT FAQs

How Do You Calculate CWT in Cattle?

In the U.S., cattle and all other commodities are weighed in pounds. A hundredweight equals 100 pounds in North America. So, the total weight of the cattle divided by 100 equals the number of hundredweight of cattle.

How Are Freight Charges Calculated With CWT?

The shipping charge will be quoted as a price per cwt. For example, the quoted price might be $30 per cwt. A 500-pound shipment is five hundredweight. The total price is 30X5, or $150.

How Many Kilograms Are There in a Hundredweight (CWT)?

One pound equals 0.453592 kilograms. A hundredweight in the U.S. measurement of 100 pounds would equal 45.3592 kilograms. A hundredweight in the British measurement of 112 pounds is 50.8023 kilograms.

The Bottom Line

The hundredweight survives as a standard unit of measurement in the 21st century but only in a number of specific uses. It is used to indicate the quantity of some commodities being bought and sold in the marketplace, and of some commodity futures being traded in the financial markets. It also is used to indicate the quantity of goods being shipped by freight.

One problem with using the hundredweight for global trade is that it has two standard definitions: It's 100 pounds in the U.S. and Canada and 112 pounds in the U.K.