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How Many Pounds in a Ton? A Fascinating Story

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The most basic answer to the question of how many pounds in a ton? There are 2000 pounds in a ton.

Still feel confused? You're not alone. But why is the ton a measurement that no one ever quite understands or remembers? This conversion is endlessly confusing because a ton can refer to 11 different forms of measurement.

In this article, I’ll explain exactly what a ton is, what it measures, and how to convert tons to pounds. I'll go into the differences between a ton, a metric ton, and several other kinds of tons. And finally, I'll give you a brief history of this often mixed up and misused unit of measurement.

 

The Basics: What’s a Ton? How Do You Convert Tons to Pounds?

First things first: here are the most basic facts you should know about tons.

If you live in the US, then when you encounter a reference to a ton, you're looking at a measurement of mass. The conversions for tons to pounds and pounds to tons are below:

1 ton = 2000 pounds

1 pound = 1/2000 of a ton

But what if you dig a little deeper into this unit? Let’s check out some other kinds of tons around the world.

 

What’s the Difference Between a Short Ton, a Long Ton, and a Tonne (Metric Ton)?

One of the reasons the ton is such a confounding measurement is that there are actually three different kinds of tons in use around the world.

 

Short Ton

The United States has never adopted the metric system for measuring things. Instead, our country uses a system called customary units. To measure mass, this system uses pounds and ounces as well as the tons I described in the previous section.

The US ton is called a short ton. 1 short ton is 2000 pounds.

 

Long Ton

The United Kingdom uses a mix of the metric system and the older Imperial system for its measurements. This means that they measure mass sometimes in kilograms and other times in units called stones.

The ton that is used in Imperial measures is a little heavier than the US one, so the UK ton is called a long ton. 1 long ton is 2240 pounds.

 

Tonne (or Metric Ton)

Most other countries have by this point fully adopted the metric system, and use grams and kilograms to measure mass.

The metric ton is never officially called a metric ton, and is instead called a tonne (pronounced just like the word “ton”). 1 tonne is 1000 kilograms, or 2,204.6 pounds.

 

Short Ton, Long Ton, and Tonne Conversions

1 short ton = 0.89 long tons = .9 tonnes = 2000 pounds = 907 kilograms

1 long ton = 1.12 short tons = 1.01 tonnes = 2240 pounds = 1016 kilograms

1 tonne = 0.98 long tons = 1.1 short tons = 2204 pounds = 1000 kilograms

So, in order from lightest to heaviest, it goes: 1 short ton < 1 metric ton < 1 long ton.

 

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Tons are like nesting dolls—each a slightly larger version of the next.

 

Why Are There So Many Different Tons?

The word "ton" originally comes from a measurement of volume called a “tun”—basically a very big wine-making cask. And you're right—this does, in fact, mean that originally a ton was a measurement of volume rather than mass! Eventually, it was determined that a tun could hold about 2000 pounds worth of wine, and the term "ton" evolved to describe this weight.

The short ton and long ton measurements diverged when this wine-making measurement was standardized. In the US and the UK, the ton was defined as 20 hundredweights (another unit of mass). But, while in the US 1 hundredweight = 100 pounds, in the UK 1 hundredweight = 8 stones. Since 1 stone = 14 pounds, the UK hundredweight = 112 pounds.

 

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The US took the road less traveled—and that has made all the difference. At least as far as short tons are concerned.

 

What Other Kinds of Tons Are There?

In addition to the three types of tons above, there are many other sorts of tons that are used to describe a wide range of measurements. These less common tons are generally quite specialized, meaning you're unlikely to encounter them in your day to day life.

Still, the diversity of usage certainly helps explain why the word ton is frequently so confusing. As we go through the other kinds of tons, notice how sometimes the ton is used to measure mass, sometimes to measure volume, and sometimes it's not a measurement at all—but instead a standard quantity!

 

Tons in the Ocean

At sea, tons typically have to do with measuring ships—and in this context, tons are generally a way to express volume rather than mass.

Deadweight Ton. A volume measurement of a ship's carrying capacity, including cargo, ballast, crew, and supplies. It is expressed in tonnes or long tons.

Register Ton (or Tonnage). A volume measurement of a ship’s cargo capacity. Tonnage isn’t the same thing as the weight of a ship (called “displacement”).

Ton Class. A volume measurement that categorizes types of yachts based on the capacity of the hold.

Displacement Ton. A measurement of the weight of a ship. It’s called “displacement” because you calculate it by measuring the volume of water that a ship displaces, and then converting this volume into weight.

 

Tons in the Ground

One of the uses of "ton" as a standard amount rather than a measurement happens with ore. Check out the "assay ton" to see that a ton can sometimes mean a very small amount of something!

Dry Ton (or Tonne). A measurement of mass used for material that’s usually wet but has been dried for transportation (think sludge, slurry, or compost, for example).

Assay Ton. This is not a unit of measurement, but is always either 29 1⁄6 grams (short assay ton) or 32 2⁄3 grams (long assay ton)—much lighter than a pound! This amount is the standard quantity of ore necessary for testing the ores of precious metals.

 

Tons of Energy

Here, the ton is so removed from its original meaning that it's used to measure energy output in the same way that units like the joule or the calorie do.

Ton of TNT. This kind of ton is not a measurement of volume or mass, but instead, a specific amount of energy—109 calories (about 4.184 gigajoules)—generally used to describe nuclear weapons or earthquakes. This energy unit hasn't had anything to do with the actual chemical TNT for a long time.

Tonne of Oil Equivalent. Another standard energy value, based on the amount of energy released by burning one tonne of crude oil. The very similar "tonne of coal equivalent" is the amount of energy released by burning one tonne of coal.

 

Tons of Cold

Ton of Refrigeration. This is a measure of heat absorption used for refrigeration and air conditioning, and comes from the days when cooling was accomplished only through ice. 1 unit ton of mechanical refrigeration is the capacity to meet the consumption of 1 ton of ice in 1 day.

 

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That's a good-looking ton of ship.

 

So, Really, How Many Pounds in a Ton?

All you really have to know is that in the US, a ton measures mass and is the same as 2000 pounds.

It helps to have a general sense that the US short ton, the UK long ton, and the metric ton are slight variations on the same measurement.

To be a ton superstar, you should remember that the ton started as a measurement of volume and is still used that way about ships.

 

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Dr. Anna Wulick
About the Author

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.



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