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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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10545 news items

Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette

Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette
Wed, 07 Oct 2015 21:37:21 -0700

Smoot brings a team-high four sacks into Saturday's 11 a.m. kickoff at Iowa. The junior LEO is thriving in his hybrid defensive end/linebacker spot, clearly asserting himself through the Illini's first five games as the one player likely to bring down ...

Local 8 Now

Local 8 Now
Tue, 06 Oct 2015 13:33:46 -0700

KINGSTON, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Shawn Smoot was back in court Tuesday morning for a motions hearing. The judge agreed to allow a restraining order to be used as evidence in the case. Brooke Morris took out the restraining order against Smoot. Smoot is ...

Daily Herald

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Sun, 20 Sep 2015 17:05:41 -0700

Each of the first eight chapters addresses a part of Abraham Owen Smoot's life and accomplishments in Provo. A.O. Smoot was born in Owenton, Kentucky on February 17, 1815. He was sent to Provo by Brigham Young in 1868, when he was 53 years of age.
Parkersburg News
Sun, 27 Sep 2015 22:14:54 -0700

PARKERSBURG — The 2015-2016 Smoot Kids Club Series kicks off today at 7 p.m. with "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiller" at the Smoot Theatre at 213 Fifth St. in Parkersburg. Season tickets are $50 for adults for all four shows in the ...

San Mateo Daily Journal

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Thu, 17 Sep 2015 05:00:00 -0700

After missing the first couple weeks of the season with an ankle injury, Smoot showed very little rust as she helped lead Notre Dame to a three-set sweep of Aragon, 25-23, 25-12, 25-17. “I was really anxious to play,” said Smoot, who finished with a ...
Beckley Register-Herald
Tue, 15 Sep 2015 00:06:37 -0700

During a tour, visitors observed sawyers using lasers to properly align timber and consulting information panels for instructions. The mill's 28 employees returned to the Smoot sawmill last month after nearly a year of traveling to another sawmill in ...

The News Center

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Mon, 28 Sep 2015 13:37:30 -0700

On Monday night, a film about the Parkersburg Big Red Band will be shown at the Smoot Theater on 5th Street. The band began in 1924 as an all-male marching band. History will be revisited through a documentary created by a former Big Red Band member ...
WVVA TV (registration)
Tue, 15 Sep 2015 05:33:45 -0700

After an arson fire in 2013 destroyed the sawmill in Smoot, W.Va., workers were transferred to another mill in Beckley. Now, Allegheny Wood products has invested more than three million dollars to get the mill back up and running. "They are all happy ...

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