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1 smoot =
SI units
1.70180 m 170.180 cm
US customary / Imperial units
5.58333 ft 67.0000 in

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.

The Harvard Bridge, looking towards Boston.


[edit] 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.[1] Over the years the "or minus" portion has gone astray in many citations, including the commemorative plaque at the site itself.

[edit] History

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)[2] and president of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).[3] The prank's fiftieth anniversary was commemorated on October 4, 2008, as Smoot Celebration Day at MIT.[4]

[edit] 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.[5] 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 100 smoot mark.

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.[6] The renovators 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.[7]

Google Calculator also incorporates smoots, which it reckons at exactly 67 inches (1.7018 meters).[8] Google also uses the smoot as an optional unit of measurement in their Google Earth software.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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