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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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3159 news items

Boston Globe

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

Now the oldest and longest bridge over the Charles River is getting a makeover, thanks to a $2.5 million anonymous donation that will pay for state-of-the art LED bulbs illuminating the way for cars and pedestrians. Mood lighting? How about smoot lighting.

Boston Globe

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

The opening of the Leonard P. Zakim Bridge, back in 2003, was an important moment for Boston: a cap on the colossal Big Dig highway project, and a boon for urban aesthetics. The striking bridge, with its ship's-mast shape, became an instant Boston ...

Jackson Clarion Ledger

Jackson Clarion Ledger
Sat, 18 Oct 2014 08:56:15 -0700

Former Mississippi State corner Fred Smoot is still popular around campus. The former All-American is a legend in Starkville. He's now officially one in the Southeastern Conference. The league announced the 2014 Football Legends Class on Thursday.

CBS Local

CBS Local
Wed, 15 Oct 2014 14:41:22 -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) ...
San Jose Mercury News
Mon, 20 Oct 2014 16:15:00 -0700

The scope and importance of the Santa Clara County Board of Education took a significant leap in recent years when it began evaluating charter school petitions and overseeing the schools' performance. That's in addition to the board's traditional role ...

CBS Local

CBS Local
Mon, 13 Oct 2014 07:18:57 -0700

“I really don't know,” Smoot began. “I feel so bad for Rak cause I had a chance to play with Orakpo. But I tell you this. The only thing Orakpo can do now is tell that U-Haul truck to back up to his house and start packing his bags, because he's ...


Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:07:30 -0700

Smoot is the daughter of Julie Spurling of Camby, and Sam is the son of Kristen and Jeff Terrell of Martinsville. Both are 2011 graduates of Martinsville High School. Smoot is a senior at the University of Indianapolis, and Terrell is currently ...
Realtor.com News
Tue, 14 Oct 2014 11:33:03 -0700

If swagger helps sell a house, then Smoot will be in good shape when it comes to his Roswell, GA, home: The one-time college All-American at Mississippi State reduced the price on the five-bedroom, 6.5-bathroom home in the hopes of garnering a sale.

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