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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 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, 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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14385 news items

Daily Herald
Sun, 30 Aug 2015 05:56:15 -0700

The first eight articles address a part of Abraham Owen (A.O.) Smoot's life and accomplishments in Provo. A.O. Smoot was born in Pleasant Home, Owen County, Kentucky on February 17, 1815 (200 years ago). He was sent to Provo by Brigham Young in ...

V Spectator

V Spectator
Sun, 30 Aug 2015 22:15:00 -0700

On August 13, Valdosta State Athletic Director Herb Reinhard announced Todd Smoot as the new head coach of the cross country program. Smoot previously coached the Blazers in a part-time role from 2008-2013. Smoot had an impressive run in his first ...
American Thinker (blog)
Thu, 27 Aug 2015 23:11:15 -0700

Smoot-Hawley” is a persistent meme that is surpassed in its destructive influence by, perhaps, only global warming/climate change. I have sent my January of 2011 American Thinker article, “Smoot-Hawley and the Depression,” to several well-known ...

The Tennessean

The Tennessean
Sat, 29 Aug 2015 13:15:00 -0700

Police are looking for the suspect in an early morning shooting in Hermitage that left one man dead. The victim was identified by police as Armondo Smoot, 24. Smoot's death marks Nashville's 41st homicide so far this year, bringing 2015 even with last ...

Daily Herald

Daily Herald
Sat, 22 Aug 2015 23:41:54 -0700

He would do anything that involved being outside including: camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, climbing. He also loved to just be out in the wilderness listening to nature and watching wildlife. We will miss greatly his loving, kind ...
Montgomery Newspapers
Fri, 14 Aug 2015 08:11:15 -0700

By the look of Smoot's line he looked dominant. Seven innings, complete game, two runs on five hits. In reality the Upper Moreland outfield was putting on a show, particularly left fielder Robert Knox. Knox made seven outs in the game, very few of them ...


Thu, 13 Aug 2015 14:11:15 -0700

The man accused of murdering Brooke Morris and dumping her body on the side of a Roane County road will soon be tried for the crime. First, attorneys for Shawn Smoot argued about the evidence jurors will hear. Smoot's team made a few requests, but only ...

Breitbart News

Breitbart News
Sat, 15 Aug 2015 08:22:41 -0700

The “major blow” that Japan's economy suffered was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. The Great Depression was hurting Japan just as much as it was hurting America but, in addition, Japan's exports of its biggest cash crop, silk, to America were almost ...

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