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This article is about the non-standard unit of measure. For other uses, see Smoot (disambiguation).
1 smoot =
SI units
1.70180 m 170.180 cm
US customary units (Imperial units)
5.58333 ft 67.0000 in

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

Unit description[edit]

The Harvard Bridge, looking towards Boston.
In a photo dated 2009, the painted inscription reads: "364.4 SMOOTS + 1 EAR"

One smoot is equal to Oliver Smoot's height at the time of the prank (five feet and seven inches ~1.70 m).[1] 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.[2] Over the years the "or minus" portion has gone astray in many citations, including the markings at the site itself, but has now been enshrined in stone by Smoot's college class.[3]


To implement his use as a unit of measure, 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 got tired from all this exercise and was carried thereafter by the fraternity brothers to each new position.[4][5]

The 100 smoot mark

Oliver Smoot graduated from MIT with the class of 1962, became a lawyer, and later became chairman of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI, 2001-2002)[6] and then, president of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO, 2003-2004).[7] He is the cousin of Nobel Prize winner George Smoot. The prank's fiftieth anniversary was commemorated on October 4, 2008 as Smoot Celebration Day at MIT, which Smoot attended.[5]

In 2011, "smoot" was one of the 10,000 new words added to the fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary.[8][9]

Practical use[edit]

Smoot mark 69 on the upstream (west) side of the Harvard Bridge

People walking across the bridge today can see painted markings indicating how many smoots there are from where the sidewalk begins on the Boston river bank. The marks are repainted each semester by the incoming associate member class (similar to pledge class) of Lambda Chi Alpha.[10]

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. 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.[citation needed]

The markings have become well accepted by the public, to the degree that during the bridge renovations that occurred in the 1980s, the Cambridge Police department requested that the markings be maintained by Lambda Zeta, the MIT chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha which created and maintains the Smoots, since they had become useful for identifying the location of accidents on the bridge.[11] The renovators went one better, by scoring the concrete surface of the sidewalk on the bridge at 5 foot 7 inch intervals, instead of the conventional six feet.[12]

Google Calculator also incorporates smoots, which it reckons at exactly 67 inches (1.7018 meters).[1] Google also uses the smoot as an optional unit of measurement in their Google Earth software and Google Maps distance measurement tool.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Google: "1 smoot in meters"
  2. ^ Tavernor, Robert, Smoot's Ear: The Measure of Humanity, Yale University Press (2007), ISBN 978-0-300-12492-7, Preface, pp. xi-xvi
  3. ^ "Smoot in Stone". MIT News. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2009-06-04. Retrieved 2010-07-20. Specifically noting the bridge's length of 364.4 Smoots (+/- 1 ear), the plaque, a gift of the MIT Class of 1962, honors the prank's 50th anniversary. 
  4. ^ Kostoulas, Andy (1999-10-12). "This Month In MIT History". The Tech. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  5. ^ a b Smoot Day on October 4, 2008
  6. ^ Oliver R. Smoot
  7. ^ MIT - a salute to Smoot
  8. ^ Cornish, Audie (2011-11-13). "Looking Up Words In A Book Not So Strange Yet". National Public Radio. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  9. ^ "American Heritage Dictionary entry". American Heritage Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  10. ^ Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) (1987). Harvard Bridge, Spanning Charles River at Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, Suffolk County, MA. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Department of the Interior. p. 5. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.ma1293. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  11. ^ Keyser describes his top five hacks - MIT News Office
  12. ^ Fahrenthold, David A. "The Measure of This Man Is in the Smoot". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  13. ^ Google Maps distance measurement tool

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoot — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.

10541 news items

Parkersburg News
Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:30:00 -0700

Smoot clarifies 'Gatsby' performance. Doors to open at 3:30 for 4 p.m. show. March 27, 2015. Staff Report , Parkersburg News and Sentinel. Save |. PARKERSBURG - People may be confused about when the "The Great Gatsby" by the Montana Repertoire ...

Daily Mail

MyFox Washington DC
Wed, 11 Mar 2015 19:37:28 -0700

Former Washington Redskins player Fred Smoot broke his silence for the first time since his arrest last year after his ex-girlfriend accused him of assaulting her during an argument in his Ashburn, Va., home. It was a candid conversation and no ...

Rapid City Journal

Rapid City Journal
Fri, 20 Mar 2015 10:15:00 -0700

John was born August 25, 1929, at Belle Fourche to Elbert and Vivian (Schoeppach) Smoot. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1947 until his honorable discharge in 1951. He ranched at Big Piney, WY, most of his life, and was an avid fisherman and hunter.

Daily Herald

Daily Herald
Sun, 15 Mar 2015 07:03:45 -0700

William C.A. Smoot, his adopted son by Ma Smoot, was married and had nine children. A. O. had two step-children by Emily, William Jasper Harris and Artimessia Harris Maxfield. He and Emily had two living children, Margaret Thompson and Zina Beal.
Sublette Examiner
Mon, 23 Mar 2015 17:00:00 -0700

John was born Aug. 25, 1929, at Belle Fourche, S.D., to Elbert and Vivian (Schoeppach) Smoot. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1947 until his honorable discharge in 1951. He ranched at Big Piney, Wyo., most of his life and was an avid fisherman and hunter.

CBS Local

CBS Local
Mon, 09 Mar 2015 06:27:58 -0700

BOSTON (CBS) — An East Boston man has been arrested after an SUV was stolen Sunday with a child inside. Police say Ronald Smoot, 50, jumped into the idling Silver Acura SUV Sunday morning. A 4-year-old child was inside the car while his father used ...

Bay News 9

Bay News 9
Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:38:29 -0700

A Brooksville Elementary student isn't happy with the new statewide testing in schools, and she's making her opinion known. Sydney Smoot, 9, spoke Tuesday in front of the Hernando County School Board. She told school leaders that she's not happy with ...
Parkersburg News
Fri, 13 Mar 2015 16:15:00 -0700

Teachers were asked to select their schools' best singers for the opportunity to sing on the Smoot stage with the children's vocal ensemble. Fifty-one guest singers will join the chorus for an afternoon of musical activities, learning vocal techniques ...

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