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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.
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Thu, 29 Jan 2015 14:30:00 -0800

STRASBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- Success runs in the family, especially for our Student Athlete of the Week, Strasburg High School's Ryan Smoot. His dad is the school's baseball coach and his sister Jenna won WHSV's Student Athlete of the Year award.
Thu, 29 Jan 2015 21:03:45 -0800

Trent Smoot scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Northeast boys basketball team to a 54-50 win over Old Mill on Thursday. Will Clark had 10 points and three assists and Sergio Andino had 10 rebounds and three steals to go along with ...


Mon, 05 Jan 2015 03:24:25 -0800

LOUDOUN, Va. (WUSA9) -- Former Washington Redskin Fred Smoot was found not guilty on charges of domestic assault Monday. Smoot was accused of grabbing his former live-in girlfriend Valerie Jackson during an altercation at a home in Ashburn in ...

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Washington Post (blog)
Wed, 07 Jan 2015 12:03:45 -0800

Fred Smoot became a D.C. sports media fixture in recent years. He appeared regularly on 106.7 The Fan. He appeared weekly on Comcast SportsNet's “#RedskinsTalk” post-postgame show, and contributed on occasion to the network's other news programs.

Herald-Mail Media

Herald-Mail Media
Thu, 15 Jan 2015 20:38:27 -0800

Smoot was the runner-up in the 220-pound weight class at last weekend's 21-team Hub Cup tournament at North Hagerstown. He lost to North Point senior Kyrahn Perez in the finals after defeating North Hagerstown junior Alex Darr in the semifinals.

Calgary Sun

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Sun, 25 Jan 2015 22:56:15 -0800

Mump & Smoot's new High Performance Rodeo show is called Anything and it couldn't have a more appropriate handle. Mump and Smoot have been branded Canada's clowns of horror but they are not all that far removed from such famous slapstick duos as ...

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Sat, 10 Jan 2015 22:00:00 -0800

Conner & Winters, LLP has named four attorneys as partners of the firm. Daniel E. Gomez, Angela L. Smoot, Christopher R. Wilson are new partners practicing in the Tulsa office and Matthew J. Allen practices in the firm's Oklahoma City office. “We are ...

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Sat, 17 Jan 2015 02:18:45 -0800

Now the language dances on the edge of extinction. It's estimated that less than 100 people still speak it — and far fewer are fluent. But it's still evolving, too. Back at the senior center, Smoot describes his contribution to Boontling, a word that ...

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