The History of Measurement Tools - Part I

November 14, 2018

The History of Measurement Tools

The Unique Units of Length

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the units used for measurement? Here at Defiance Tools®, as we create Tools To Navigate Life to make life easier, we often look to the past in order to innovate the best tools for sale in the marketplace. In case you didn't pay attention in History class, you are about to get schooled in the history of measurement units. 

Units of Measurement Were WHAT? 

Measurements and more specifically units of length, were not always addressed with tape measures, rulers or yard sticks. At different points of history, length was determined by body parts. I found great info on factmonster.com and elearning101.org regarding this topic:

  • Inch: The width of King Edgar’s thumb was officially designated as an inch. It was three barleycorns across.
  • Hand: A hand was approximately 5 inches or 5 digits (fingers) across. Today, a hand is 4 inches and is used to measure horses (from the ground to the horse's withers, or shoulder).
  • Span: A span was the length of the hand stretched out, about 9 inches.
  • Foot: In ancient times, the foot was 111/42 Today it is 12 inches, the length of the average man's foot.
  • Yard: A yard was originally the length of a man's belt. In the 12th century, King Henry I of England fixed the yard as the distance from his nose to the thumb of his out-stretched arm. Today it is 36 inches.
  • Cubit: In ancient Egypt, a cubit was the distance from the elbow to the fingertips. Today a cubit is about 18 inches.
  • Lick: A Lick was used by the Greeks to measure the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the index finger.
  • Pace: The ancient Roman soldiers marched in paces, which were the length of a double step, about 5 feet; 1,000 paces was a mile. Today, a pace is the length of one step, 21/2 to 3 feet.
  • Yard: The distance from King Henry I’s nose to his fingertips. The distance is also twice as long as a cubit.
  • Mile: In the Roman legionary, the mile was the distance covered by 1,000 double steps. Queen Elizabeth added more feet so the mile would equal eight furlongs.
  • Furlong: The length of a furrow a team of oxen could plow before resting.
  • Acre: The amount of land a yoke of oxen could plow in one day.
  • Fathom: The span of a seaman’s outstretched arms; 880 fathoms make a mile.

      In our next blog we will talk about the history of some tools that are used to measure these units.

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      ~Zoe’ Coulcher, Co-Founder of Defiance Tools




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