The Story of the Smoot


Harvard Bridge spans the Charles River linking Boston and Cambridge. In 1958 Lambda Chi Alpha took 5′ 7″ MIT freshman pledge Oliver R. Smoot, Jr. and rolled him head over heels the entire length of the bridge. Every ten smoots they calibrated the bridge, painting marks. The bridge was found to be exactly 364.4 smoots plus an ear. Successive pledge classes repainted the markings.

In 1987 the Mass. Dept. of Public Works decided the concrete of the bridge was due for replacement. They had no plans for smoot preservation. The Boston Press tracked down Oliver R. Smoot, Jr. who was then age 48, and executive vice president of Computer and Business Equipment Manufactures Association in Washington D. C. He had no plans of being reused for new markings.

The Mass. Metropolitan District Commission, the government body in charge of the bridge went on record in support of smoots. They stated, “We recognize the smoots’ role in local history. That’s not to mean that the agency encourages graffiti painting. But smoots aren’t just any kind of graffiti. They’re smoots! If commemorative plaques and markers are not installed by the state once the bridge work is done, then we’ll see that it’s done.”

Stephen Smoot, a son of Oliver R. Smoot, Jr, was then age 21 and attending MIT was ready to redo the smoot measurements, although he was 5’11”, so everything would be off.

There are a couple of pictures of Oliver R. Smoot, of MIT students ready to redo measurements with Stephen Smoot, and of a plaque that reads:
“This plaque place in honor of THE SMOOT which joined the angstrom, meter and light year as standards of length, when in October 1958 the span of this bridge was measured, using the body of Oliver Reed Smoot, M.I.T. ’62 and found to be precisely 364.4 smoots and one ear. Commemorated at out 25th reunion June 6, 1987 M.I.T. Class of 1962″

Another clipping states that the Mass. Dept. of Public Works gave two Smooted sections of sidewalk to the MIT museum at a ceremony. Continental Construction Company of Cambridge also agreed to make the new concrete sidewalk slabs 5′ 7” long to coincide with the Smoots, instead of the usual 6′ increments.

About Kevin

Kevin Jarnot is a technologist who lives just South of Boston, MA. He is currently employed as Chief Technology Officer at Micronotes, an AI-driven conversation-marketing company based in Boston, MA.
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