guest post by Dave Schumaker
This weekend kicks off a rather obscure and esoteric anniversary celebration on the campus of MIT, honoring 50 years of the Smoot. Some of you might ask, what exactly is a Smoot?
On a cold October night in 1958, members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity on the campus of MIT decided to welcome their shortest new pledge by using him to measure the entire length of the Harvard Bridge, spanning the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge. Oliver Smoot was the unfortunate choice for this project.
A few hours later, and after having to get up and lay down 365 times, they finally determined the length of the bridge (and coined a new unit in the process): 364.4 smoots plus or minus an ear. And thus, the smoot was engrained into the lexicon of nerds everywhere. Interestingly enough, Oliver Smoot would eventually go on to become the former chairman of American National Standards Institute and former president of the International Organization for Standardization.
Google’s unit converter even recognizes this non-standard unit (1 smoot = 67 inches). The distance from San Francisco to Boston is over 2.9 million smoots (3,099 miles).
photo via MIT Museum