smoot

photograph of fraternity pledges measuring th ebridge with Oliver Smoot

Pete and Gordon manipulate the smoot standard, Harvard Bridge, 1958.

Photo courtesy Oliver R. Smoot

A jocular unit of length in Massachusetts, USA, = 5 feet 7 inches, defined in 1958 by members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The fraternity brothers used a pledge, Oliver Reed Smoot, Jr., as a physical standard to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge (364.4 smoots ± 1 ear long). In subsequent years, pledges were required to repaint marks at 1 smoot intervals on the bridge.

The smoot received some official recognition years later when the bridge’s walkways required resurfacing. Instead of the standard 6 feet, the public works agency scored the new sidewalks at 5 foot 7 inch intervals.

In the software program Google Earth (version 6), one may choose the smoot as the unit in which distances are to be measured.

portrait of Oliver Smoot

After graduating from MIT, Mr. Smoot studied law and had a distinguished legal career. He became chairman of the board of ANSI, and in 2003 began a two-year term as President of the ISO. It is unlikely the ISO will ever again have an actual physical prototype as its President.

Resources

The preface to Smoot's Ear by Robert Tavernor (2007) contains an account of the measurement of the bridge, checked for accuracy by Mr. Smoot at Professor Tavernor's request.

A National Public Radio interview with Mr. Smoot on the occasion of his retirement from the ANSI board:

www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5043041

A brief biography of Mr. Smoot:

www.iso.org/iso/pressrelease.htm?refid=Ref841

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