digplanet beta 1: Athena
Share digplanet:


Applied sciences






















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.[11] 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, since they had become useful for identifying the location of accidents on the bridge.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14]

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. ^ Photo from the location
  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.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.

2052 news items

CBS Local

Jackson Clarion Ledger
Thu, 21 Aug 2014 08:20:10 -0700

Fred Smoot isn't done with football yet. The former Mississippi State cornerback is set to join CBS's Sunday NFL coverage as studio analyst. He won't appear on the network, but will be seen on CBSSports Network's "That Other Pregame Show (TOPS).".
Tue, 12 Aug 2014 06:18:29 -0700

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The state Democratic Executive Committee has set a hearing today at 2 P.M. to determine whether to dismiss an appeal in the Sheila Smoot-Sandra Little Brown Jefferson County Commission District 2 race. The planned hearing at ...


Tue, 26 Aug 2014 08:45:00 -0700

The Rappahannock Group Sierra Club will host the showing of “Gasland Part II” on Thursday, Sept. 4, at the Smoot Memorial Library. The movie, which lasts 125 minutes, begins at 6 p.m.. It premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and shows “how the ...
Fri, 15 Aug 2014 15:41:15 -0700

Incumbent Sandra Little Brown talks to supporters at her campaign headquarters in Birmingham, Ala.,Tuesday, July 15, 2014. She is in a close battle with Sheila Smoot for the Jefferson County Commission District Two seat. (Mark Almond/malmond@al.com).


Mon, 18 Aug 2014 12:49:27 -0700

Shawn Smoot is charged with first-degree murder in the 2011 death of 23-year-old Brook Morris. Investigators said Morris was shot several times. Her body was found near a Roane County road. On Friday, a judge set a March 24, 2015 trial date for Smoot, ...
Mon, 04 Aug 2014 15:41:15 -0700

Incumbent Sandra Little Brown talks to supporters at her campaign headquarters in Birmingham, Ala.,Tuesday, July 15, 2014. She is in a close battle with Sheila Smoot for the Jefferson County Commission District Two seat. (Mark Almond/malmond@al.com).
Tue, 05 Aug 2014 08:56:15 -0700

Smoot said an appeal to the state committee would likely be made by one of her voters, which she will support. That appeal has to be done by Wednesday. "The voters will has not been done," Smoot said. "It's about election process, procedure and policy ...
Wed, 06 Aug 2014 06:04:11 -0700

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Shelia Smoot's criticism over how her election was handled last month is an affront to all people involved in the election process, said Alan King, chief judge of probate for Jefferson County. "This election was handled properly, ...

Oops, we seem to be having trouble contacting Twitter

Talk About Smoot

You can talk about Smoot with people all over the world in our discussions.

Support Wikipedia

A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia. Please add your support for Wikipedia!