The first name of the litre was "cadil"; standards are shown at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.

The litre was introduced in France in 1795 as one of the new "republican units of measurement" and defined as one cubic decimetre. One litre of liquid water has a mass of almost exactly one kilogram, due to the gram being defined in 1795 as one cubic centimetre of water at the temperature of melting ice. The original decimetre length was 44.344 lignes, which was revised in 1798 to 44.3296 lignes. This made the original litre 1.000974 of today's cubic decimetre. It was against this litre that the kilogram was constructed.