How Many Smoots To A Mile?

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

The Smoot can be found on Google Earth and Google Calculator. It’s a unit of distance named after Oliver R. Smoot, the five-foot-seven-inch Chairman of the American National Standards Institute and President of the International Organization for Standardization.

In 1958 Smoot was a pledge for the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity at MIT. As part of their initiation, a group of pledges was tasked with measuring the length of Harvard Bridge using one of their members as a ruler. Smoot, the shortest at 5 feet 7 inches, was chosen to make the task more arduous.

The measurement was performed at night with Smoot lying down, the position of his head marked, and then Smoot would get up, move one smoot and lie down again. After a hundred times or so, he became tired and they just dragged him to the next position.

The strange marking on the bridge caught the people’s fancy and each year Lambda Chi Alpha pledges repainted the original markings.

As MIT graduates have found jobs throughout industry, smoots are turning up in a lot of unusual places. Type “1 mile in smoots” into Google’s search bar and you get “1 mile = 945.671642 smoots.”

H/T: NPR, Warwick Cairns.

28 thoughts on “How Many Smoots To A Mile?”

  1. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog!

  2. angry man:

    it is a rounding error. your precision is better than mine. Since we do not now the exact length of our standard I stand by my measurement.

    Even a meter isnt 1/10,000 of the distance it is assumed to be, the surveyor cooked his books. So a meter, a foot, a rafflaw, it is pretty much all the same.

    is the rafflaw measured with or without shoes and did they flatten the hair?

  3. lottakatz,

    I never expected anyone to answer the question, of course, but Bron certainly went the extra rafflaw…

    Thanks for making me smile this morning with the Frost and The Who twists… (Very clever…)

  4. Anon nurse, Thank goodness others got back here and answered your question before I did, I would have given it a shot but your odds of getting the right answer was virtually nil. 🙂

    Somehow I don’t think the new units of measure are going to catch on, there are no cultural touchstones to draw upon; I’m sure that’s what killed the metric system in the US also:

    Frost: “But I have promises to keep, And Rafflaws to go before I sleep, And Rafflaws to go before I sleep.”

    The Who: “I can see for Smoots and Smoots and Smoots and Smoooooooots, oh yeah, “

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