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History of the Mile

Date: 08/25/2002 at 22:14:00
From: Sara
Subject: History of one mile

How did they come up with 5,280 feet in one mile?

Date: 08/26/2002 at 04:58:39
From: Doctor Sarah
Subject: Re: History of one mile

Hi Sara - thanks for writing to Dr. Math.

From Russ Rowlett's _How Many? A Dictionary of Units of Measurement_: 

mile (mi)
a traditional unit of distance. The word comes from the Latin word for 
1000, mille, because originally a mile was the distance a Roman legion 
could march in 1000 paces (or 2000 steps, a pace being the distance 
between successive falls of the same foot). There is some uncertainty 
about the length of the Roman mile. Based on the Roman foot of 29.6 
centimeters and assuming a standard pace of 5 Roman feet, the Roman 
mile would have been 1480 meters (4856 feet); however, the measured 
distance between surviving milestones of Roman roads is often closer 
to 1520 meters or 5000 feet. In any case, miles of similar lengths 
were used throughout Western Europe. In medieval Britain, several mile 
units were used, including a mile of 5000 feet (1524 meters), the 
modern mile defined as 8 furlongs (1609 meters), and a longer mile 
similar to the French mille (1949 meters), plus the Scottish mile 
(1814 meters) and the Irish mile (2048 meters). In 1592 the British 
Parliament settled the question by defining the statute mile to be 8 
furlongs, 80 chains, 320 rods, 1760 yards or 5280 feet. The statute 
mile is exactly 1609.344 meters. In athletics, races of 1500 or 1600 
meters are often called metric miles.

- Doctor Sarah, The Math Forum 
Associated Topics:
Elementary Math History/Biography
Elementary Terms & Units of Measurement
High School History/Biography
Middle School History/Biography
Middle School Terms/Units of Measurement

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