July 18, 2009

A Brief History of Imperial Measures

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Did you ever wonder why a foot was a foot and an inch an inch? We have, and we've been looking around for more information. Imperial measures have a rich history. The INCH comes from the Latin “unicia” meaning one-twelfth, but the size was first set by King David I of Scotland. He stated, about 1150, that an “ynch” should be the same width as a man’s thumb at the base of his nail. The length of an inch was redefined by Edward I of England in the 13th century as the length of three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end-to-end.

A FOOT in many cultures is based on the average feet of the population. A foot from Northern England was about 10 inches long, whereas a Roman foot was just over 11.5 inches. The Polish had the largest foot measuring 14 inches. The YARD began as the distance from nose to out stretched fingertip of King Henry I who ruled between 1100 and 1135. Those of us working regularly with fabric still use a similar length to roughly measure a piece of fabric. The work “yard” is derived from an Old English word meaning twig or straight branch.

(special thanks to R. I. Davis, our favorite tailor and a wealth of information.)


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