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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 / 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]

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]

The 100 smoot mark

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]

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

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, 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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CBS Local

CBS Local
Wed, 29 Oct 2014 11:33:45 -0700

Suddenly the matter became less about the Arrington-Orakpo comparison and more demonstratively about this apparent beef developing between Arrington and Smoot, with Arrington issuing a response on the same radio show, on Monday afternoon.

CBS Local

CBS Local
Mon, 27 Oct 2014 15:35:52 -0700

Then on Monday, Fred Smoot, a former teammate to Orakpo (2009) and Arrington (2001-04), injected himself into the debate, saying, “They are the same player.” Smoot went as far as to say Arrington was a better player when he could roam the field making ...

MIT News

MIT News
Tue, 28 Oct 2014 12:52:18 -0700

For those uninitiated to MIT, the Smoot was concocted in October 1958 after seven MIT students calibrated the Harvard (Mass. Ave.) Bridge using 5'7 freshman Oliver Smoot '62. The unofficial length: 364.4 Smoots, plus one ear. (A plaque commemorating ...

Boston Globe

Boston Globe
Mon, 13 Oct 2014 21:02:11 -0700

The nonstandard unit of measure — one smoot is 5 feet, 7 inches long — draws both its name and its size to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology fraternity prank. In 1958, Oliver R. Smoot Jr., a Lambda Chi Alpha pledge, lay down on the bridge ...
Northern Virginia Daily
Tue, 28 Oct 2014 14:33:45 -0700

That's one way to describe the way Strasburg senior quarterback Mark Smoot has been this season. Smoot's ability to handle pressure or stand in and take a hit while finding an open receiver this season has been part of his and the team's success. That ...

University of West Alabama News

University of West Alabama News
Wed, 29 Oct 2014 08:45:00 -0700

Smoot is a senior from Talladega, Ala. She is majoring in biology comprehensive medical. A graduate of Lincoln High School, Smoot serves as a resident assistant for UWA Housing and as vice president of Tri-Beta academic honor society. She came to UWA ...

Boston Globe

Boston Globe
Mon, 20 Oct 2014 21:29:41 -0700

It pays homage to the 1958 MIT prank that made the bridge famous, when Lambda Chi Alpha members “measured” its span by laying a pledge named Oliver Smoot down, repeatedly, end to end. The resulting 5-foot-7-inch increments, known as “smoots,” ...

CBS Local

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Wed, 15 Oct 2014 14:44:16 -0700

Here's former Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell in Tampa Bay, where he'd have has 'superman' underwear revealed to all his teammates in the locker room. (Photo by Matt Stroshane/Getty Images) ...

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