The smoot ( /ˈsmuːt/) 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 on the Harvard Bridge (between Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts), and was used by his fraternity brothers to measure the length of the bridge.
One smoot is equal to Oliver Smoot’s height at the time of the prank (five feet and seven inches ~1.70 m). 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. 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.
To implement his use as a measuring unit, 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 tired from all this…
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