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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 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.
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14405 news items

MyFox Washington DC

MyFox Washington DC
Tue, 25 Nov 2014 09:40:03 -0800

Former Washington Redskin Fred Smoot faces charges after police say he grabbed his girlfriend during an altercation. In an interview with FOX 5 reporter Paul Wagner, Smoot's girlfriend said Tuesday that he has abused her on three different occasions ...

Boston Globe

Boston Globe
Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:33:45 -0800

Unlike the “smoot” — the fanciful metric used to measure the Mass. Ave. bridge, which was named after MIT graduate Oliver Smoot, who was laid head to toe 364.4 times — the measure for Boston's bungled bridge might be the “smooth” (“A broken ...
Mon, 15 Dec 2014 20:20:42 -0800

Sergio Andino and Trent Smoot have been through this before --- three times to be exact. They do not want this last, and fourth, opportunity to slip through their fingers. The two Northeast seniors took the first step in that direction Monday night ...
Wed, 17 Dec 2014 20:07:30 -0800

Sergio Andino had a triple-double with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 steals and added four assists, while Trent Smoot had 19 points, 15 rebounds and five steals as the Northeast boys basketball team defeated Key, 70-46. Andino and Smoot combined for ...
Bakersfield Californian
Mon, 15 Dec 2014 22:56:15 -0800

On Dec. 2, the Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to continue with the design/build process for an 822-bed addition to Lerdo Jail ("Supervisors OK new jail contract"). The financial foundation for this decision is troublesome. Kern ...
Parkersburg News
Mon, 01 Dec 2014 12:53:14 -0800

PARKERSBURG — The Smoot Theatre will present its annual Hometown Christmas concert at 8 p.m. Dec. 5 at the theatre at 213 Fifth St. in downtown Parkersburg. Tickets are $17 for adults and $10 for students and may be purchased by calling the Smoot at ...
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:56:04 -0800

Former Washington Redskins defensive back Fred Smoot has been charged with domestic assault following an altercation at a suburban Washington home, police said Tuesday. Deputies responded to a call Sunday at an Ashburn, Virginia, home around 11 ...

The News Center

The News Center
Wed, 10 Dec 2014 15:13:27 -0800

A Holiday Tradition 19 years in the making, "A Christmas Carol" comes to Smoot Theatre Wednesday. It's put on by the Nebraska Theatre Caravan, with most of the original cast appearing year after year. The Smoot Theatre is well known for hosting ...

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