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The History of Measurement


... weight valuables such as gold, silver, and jewels still used today as a 'carat. ... 'A Brief History of Measurement Systems. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The History of Measurement

The History of Measurement
Some Background
  • Ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians and
    Babylonians used body parts as references for
  • Although the units were not exactly the same for
    each person, they worked in a time when
    measurement was not for mass-produced products.

The Cubit
  • The cubit was the first measurement to be
    universalized. It was developed by the
    Egyptians in 3000 B.C. and measured as the
    distance from the elbow to fingertip.
  • The cubit was the first unit to be standardized
    by the creation of a standard royal cubit. It
    was preserved in the form of a black granite rod
    against which everyone could standardize their
    own measuring rod.
  • Instead of dividing the cubit into smaller units,
    people instead used other body parts for smaller

Common Historical Units with Origins of
Babylonian, Egyptian, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and
  • Digit The breadth of a finger (Egyptian)
  • Inch The width of a mans thumb
  • Foot The length of a mans foot
  • Span The length of an outstretched hand from
    pinkie to thumb
  • Hand Half of a span
  • Cubit Elbow to fingertip (Egyptian)
  • Yard Nose to fingertip
  • Fathom Two yards, length of outstretched arms
  • Furlong 220 yards (Anglo-Saxon)

Measurement Development
  • The Greeks used many of the same units as the
    Babylonians and Egyptians because it made trade
  • The Romans then adapted the Greek system but did
    not use the cubit, using the foot as the basis

Standardizing the Foot
  • The Romans used the number 12 as a base for the
    foot, possibly made official during the reign of
    Henry I (1100-1135).
  • It was divided into 12 uniciae, Latin for inch
    and ounce, meaning a twelfth part.
  • Dividing the foot into 12 inches provided more
    opportunities to divide the whole fairly instead
    of dividing it into ten sections.
  • Instead of ½, 1/5, and 1/10, the foot could be
    divided into ½, 1/3, ¼, 1/6, and 1/12 for trading
  • Longer measurements were done using a pace, equal
    to five feet.

Standardizing Continued
  • King Henry I (13th century) stated that the foot
    would be one-third the length of the yard, and
    the inch should be one thirty-sixth.
  • King Edward I standardized the yard by making a
    permanent measuring stick made of iron. He
    called it the iron ulna, named after the bone
    of the forearm.
  • Definitions lasted for almost 600 years.
  • Queen Elizabeth I changed the Roman mile (5,000
    feet 1,000 paces) to 8 furlongs (5,280 feet).
  • These standards were then established in the
    American Colonies.
  • 1793 French government adopted the Metric

Interesting Facts(?)
  • The word for inch is also the name for thumb in
    many countries.
  • The Saxons measured a yard by a sash around their
    waist. The Saxon word gird meant circumference
    of a persons waist.
  • A pendulum may have been used to standardize the
    yard. A pendulum that is one yard long makes a
    complete swing in exactly one second.

More Interesting Facts(?)
  • Beans and seeds were used to measure weights. A
    small bean called a karob was used by Arabs to
    weight valuables such as gold, silver, and jewels
    still used today as a carat.
  • The height of horses is still sometimes measured
    using hands.
  • Anglo-Saxons measured the inch (ynce) as the
    length of 3 barleycorns.
  • The word acre also meant field in Saxon and
    was a unit to describe the size of a field that a
    farmer could plow in a single day. The French
    word for acre means day and the German word
    means morning or days work.

  • OConnor, J.J. and Robertson, E.F. The History
    of Measurement.
  • Rowlett, Russ. English Customary Weights and
    Measures. University of North Carolina at Chapel
  • A Brief History of Measurement Systems.
  • A History of Measurements and Metrics.