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Smoot

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Smoot

1 smoot =
SI units
1.70180 m 170.180 cm
US customary units (Imperial units)
5.58333 ft 67.0000 in

The smoot is a nonstandard humorous 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, Tony Caserta and William Edmiston, could use his height to measure the length of the bridge.[1]

Unit description

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]

History

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 [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

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.

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

References

  1. ^
  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. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Smoot Day on October 4, 2008
  7. ^ Oliver R. Smoot
  8. ^ MIT - a salute to Smoot
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Keyser describes his top five hacks - MIT News Office
  13. ^
  14. ^ Google Maps distance measurement tool

External links

  • The Smoot as a unit of length
  • The Smoot story, in Oliver Smoot's own words
  • MIT Museum article, with photos at the Wayback Machine (archived August 6, 1997)
  • A December, 2005 National Public Radio Interview with Oliver Smoot upon his retirement.
  • What's A Smoot? NPR.org
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