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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 humorous 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 down repeatedly on the Harvard Bridge (between Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts) so that his fraternity brothers, including Peter S. Miller, Gordon Mann, Nathan Hopton, Tony Caserta and William Edmiston, could use his height to measure the length of the bridge.[1]

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, 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 m).[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]


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.[5][6]

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, 2001–02)[7] and then, president of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO, 2003–04).[8] 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.[6]

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

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.[11]

Markings typically appear every 10 smoots, but additional marks appear at other numbers in between. For example, the 70-smoot mark is accompanied by 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 smoot markings, since they had become useful for identifying the location of accidents on the bridge.[12] The renovators went one better, scoring the concrete surface of the sidewalk on the bridge at 5 foot 7 inch intervals, instead of the conventional six feet.[13]

Google Calculator also incorporates smoots, which it reckons at exactly 67 inches (1.7018 meters).[2] Google also uses the smoot as an optional unit of measurement in their Google Earth software and Google Maps distance measurement tool.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Curran, Susan. "Spotlight: A salute to Smoot". Massachussets Institute of Technology. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Google: "1 smoot in meters"
  3. ^ Tavernor, Robert, Smoot's Ear: The Measure of Humanity, Yale University Press (2007), ISBN 978-0-300-12492-7, Preface, pp. xi-xvi
  4. ^ "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. 
  5. ^ Kostoulas, Andy (1999-10-12). "This Month In MIT History". The Tech. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  6. ^ a b Smoot Day on October 4, 2008
  7. ^ Oliver R. Smoot
  8. ^ MIT - a salute to Smoot
  9. ^ Cornish, Audie (2011-11-13). "Looking Up Words In A Book Not So Strange Yet". National Public Radio. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  10. ^ "American Heritage Dictionary entry". American Heritage Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Keyser describes his top five hacks - MIT News Office
  13. ^ Fahrenthold, David A. "The Measure of This Man Is in the Smoot". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  14. ^ 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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Mon, 23 Nov 2015 11:57:16 -0800

"When the fire comes it's a two-bladed sword - it cuts one way and you go the other way and they ended up with a far better facility and everything Is a lot nicer," Don Smoot, former owner of Smoot Honey, said. The company did not have property ...


Fri, 20 Nov 2015 14:23:52 -0800

Brett Melocarro was Shawn Smoot's roommate when Smoot's former employee and girlfriend, Brook Morris, was shot and killed in 2011. Smoot was charged with first degree murder in her death. Melocarro was subpoenaed to testify at a hearing on October 6, ...
San Jose Mercury News
Sun, 22 Nov 2015 00:59:46 -0800

"We didn't play our best, especially in the second game," said Notre Dame outside hitter Katie Smoot. "They had a huge block and we stopped covering. Later, we had more energy and we started talking a lot more." "It was a tough loss," Menlo's Maddie ...


Fri, 20 Nov 2015 09:52:41 -0800

An officer recognized the juvenile and when located, the boy told investigators he purchased the gas because his uncle, Demetrius Smoot, had told him to. The teen said he and Smoot walked to a car parked at Rose and Arkwright where the corpse was, and ...

CBS News

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Wed, 11 Nov 2015 04:26:23 -0800

Officials haven't released names of the victims, but Jeannie Ferraia said that her sister, Diane Smoot, 50, was killed in the crash, CBS News correspondent Don Dahler reports. "She was very excited because it was the first trip that she'd ever made ...


Mon, 23 Nov 2015 16:53:15 -0800

The 2015 college football season is heating up, and now is your chance to get in on the action with the other members of the College Football Experts Club game. No drafts, rosters or trades. Simply pick the winners of each game and earn points. Play to ...


Wed, 11 Nov 2015 04:07:07 -0800

Two sisters and a brother of one woman who was on that plane have come from the Columbus area. Jeannie Ferraro tells Fox 8's Stacey Frey that her sister, Diane Smoot, 50, was on the plane -- she'd been on a business trip with the executives from her ...

The Herald

Thu, 29 Oct 2015 04:01:22 -0700

Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Commission approved a request by Chief Riley Smoot Jr. Tuesday to postpone his retirement date from Oct. 31 to an undetermined date. In mid-June, Smoot announced his intent to retire by the end of September.

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