The smoot is a nonstandard unit of length created as part of an MIT fraternity prank. It is named after Oliver R. Smoot (class of 1962), a fraternity pledge to Lambda Chi Alpha, who in October 1958 was used by his fraternity brothers to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge between Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Unit description

One smoot is equal to Oliver Smoot's height (five feet and seven inches ~1.70 m). The bridge's length was measured to be 364.4 smoots (620.1 m) plus or minus one ear, with the "plus or minus" intended to express uncertainty of measurement. [Tavernor, Robert, "Smoot's Ear: The Measure of Humanity", Yale University Press (2007), ISBN 9780300124927, Preface] Over the years the "or minus" portion has gone astray in many citations, including the commemorative plaque at the site itself.


To implement his use as a measuring stick, Oliver Smoot repeatedly lay down on the bridge, let his companions mark his new position in chalk or paint, and then got up again. Eventually, he tired from all this exercise and was thereafter carried by the fraternity brothers to each new position.

Oliver Smoot later became chairman of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) [ [ Oliver R. Smoot ] ] and president of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). [ [ MIT - a salute to Smoot ] ] The prank's fiftieth anniversary was commemorated on October 4, 2008, as Smoot Celebration Day at MIT. [cite news|title=MIT celebrates all things 'Smoot'|publisher=Associated Press|date=2008-10-04|url=]

Practical use

Everyone walking across the bridge today sees painted markings indicating how many smoots there are from where the sidewalk begins on the Boston river bank. The marks are repainted each year by the incoming associate member class (similar to pledge class) of Lambda Chi Alpha.

Markings typically appear every 10 smoots, but additional marks appear at other numbers in between. For example, the 70-smoot mark is omitted in favor of a mark for 69.Fact|date=October 2008 The 182.2-smoot mark is accompanied by the words "Halfway to Hell" and an arrow pointing towards MIT. Each class also paints a special mark for their graduating year.

The markings have become well-accepted by the public, to the point that during the bridge renovations that occurred in the 1980s, the Cambridge Police department requested that the markings be maintained, since they had become useful for identifying the location of accidents on the bridge. [ [ Keyser describes his top five hacks - MIT News Office ] ] The renovations went one better, by scoring the concrete surface of the sidewalk on the bridge at 5 feet and 7 inch intervals, instead of the conventional six feet. [ [ The Measure of This Man Is in the Smoot ] ]

Google Calculator also incorporates smoots, which it reckons at exactly 67 inches (1.7018 meters). [ [ Google: "1 smoot in meters"] ] Google also uses the smoot as an optional unit of measurement in their Google Earth software.

ee also

* Modulor
* List of humorous units of measurement


External links

* [ The Smoot as a unit of length]
* [ The Smoot story, in Oliver Smoot's own words]
* [ MIT Museum article (courtesy Internet Archive), with photos]
* [ A December, 2005 National Public Radio Interview with Oliver Smoot upon his retirement.]
* [ Smoot Day on October 4 2008]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • smoot — (smo͞ot) n. ▸ A unit of measurement equal to five feet, seven inches (1.7018 meters), often cited when discussing the inherent arbitrariness of measurement units. ╂ [After Oliver Smoot, Jr. (born 1940), whose height was used as the basis for the… …   Word Histories

  • Smoot — Smoot, WY U.S. Census Designated Place in Wyoming Population (2000): 182 Housing Units (2000): 63 Land area (2000): 1.710751 sq. miles (4.430824 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.710751 sq. miles …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Smoot, WY — U.S. Census Designated Place in Wyoming Population (2000): 182 Housing Units (2000): 63 Land area (2000): 1.710751 sq. miles (4.430824 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.710751 sq. miles (4.430824 …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Smoot — Vue du Harvard Bridge, en regardant vers Boston. Le smoot unité de longueur inhabituelle, créée de façon humoristique par des étudiants du MIT. Elle porte le nom d Oliver R. Smoot, un étudiant de l université, qui s allongea en octobre 1958 sur… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Smoot — Blick auf das MIT, mit der 260 Smoot Marke Smoot ist eine nichtstandardgemäße Maßeinheit, die aus einem Spaß einer Studentenverbindung entstanden ist. Benannt ist die Einheit nach Oliver R. Smoot, der im Oktober 1958 anlässlich eines… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • smoot —    a humorous unit of distance invented in 1958 by a fraternity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The fraternity pledges of Lambda Chi Alpha measured the length of Harvard Bridge using pledge Oliver R. Smoot ( 62). According to Smoot… …   Dictionary of units of measurement

  • smoot — smowt …   Dictionary of ichthyology

  • smoot — noun /smuːt/ a) Defined as exactly sixty seven inches; equal to approximately 1.70 meters. b) A small opening built into a dry stone wall as a bolthole allowing a person to cross the wall while impeding the livestock …   Wiktionary

  • smoot — ˈsmüt noun ( s) Etymology: of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse smātta narrow lane; perhaps akin to Old English smūgan to creep more at smock dialect England : a narrow passageway; especially : one through which small animals may creep …   Useful english dictionary

  • Smoot (disambiguation) — Smoot may refer to:Things* A smoot, a jocular unit of measurement equal to 5 feet, 7 inches. * Smoot is a Web based tool for creating diagrams of icons and links between them.Fact|date=April 2008 * A smoot is a hole built into a wall to allow… …   Wikipedia

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