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Yard

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For other uses, see Yard (disambiguation).
Yard
Unit system imperial/US units
Unit of length
Symbol yd
Unit conversions
1 yd in ... ... is equal to ...
3 ft
imperial/US units
36 in
metric (SI) units 0.9144 m

The informal public imperial measurement standards erected at the Royal Observatory,
Greenwich, London, in the 19th century: 1 British yard, 2 feet, 1 foot, 6 inches, and 3 inches.
The inexact monument was designed to permit rods of the correct measure to fit snugly into its
pins at an ambient temperature of 62 F (16.66 C).[1][2]

Bronze Yard 11, the official standard of length for the United States between 1855 and 1892,
when the Treasury Department formally adopted a metric standard. Bronze Yard 11 was
forged to be an exact copy of the British Imperial Standard Yard held by Parliament. Both are
line standards: the yard was defined by the distance at 62F between two fine lines drawn on
gold plugs (closeup, top) installed in recesses near each end of the bar.

Two yardsticks, used for measuring "yard goods"


The yard (abbreviation: yd) is an English unit of length, in both the British imperial and US
customary systems of measurement, that comprises 3 feet or 36 inches. It is by international
agreement in 1959 standardized as exactly 0.9144 meters. A metal yardstick originally formed
the physical standard from which all other units of length were officially derived in both English
systems.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, increasingly powerful microscopes and scientific measurement
detected variation in these prototype yards which became significant as technology improved. In
1959, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa agreed to
adopt the Canadian compromise value of 0.9144 meters per yard.

Contents
[hide]

1 Name
2 History
o 2.1 Origin
o 2.2 Yard and inch
o 2.3 Physical standards
o 2.4 19th-century Britain
o 2.5 Definition of the yard in terms of the meter
3 Current use
o 3.1 Textiles and fat quarters
4 Equivalences
5 Conversions
6 See also
7 Notes
8 References
o 8.1 Citations
o 8.2 Bibliography
9 External links

Name[edit]
See also: yardland, ell, and rod.

The name derives from the Old English gerd, gyrd, &c., which was used for branches, staves,
and measuring rods.[3] It is first attested in the late-7th century laws of Ine of Wessex,[4] where
the "yard of land" mentioned[4] is the yardland, an old English unit of tax assessment equal to
14 hide.[n 1] Around the same time, the Lindisfarne Gospel's account of the messengers from John
the Baptist in the Book of Matthew[5] used it for a branch swayed by the wind.[3] In addition to
the yardland, Old and Middle English both used their forms of "yard" to denote the surveying
lengths of 15 or 16 12 ft used in computing acres, a distance now usually known as the "rod".[3]
A unit of three English feet is attested in a statute of c.1300 (see below) but there it is called an
ell (Latin: ulna, lit. "arm"), a separate and usually longer unit of around 45 inches. The use of the
word "yard" (Middle English: erd or erde) to describe this length is first attested in Langland's
poem on Piers Plowman.[3][n 2] The usage seems to derive from the prototype standard rods held
by the king and his magistrates (see below).

The word "yard" is a homonym of "yard" in the sense of an enclosed area of land. This second
meaning of "yard" has an etymology related to the verb "to gird" and is probably not related.[8][9]

History[edit]
Origin[edit]

The origin of the measure is uncertain. Both the Romans and the Welsh used multiples of a
shorter foot, but 2 12 Roman feet was a "step" (gradus) and 3 Welsh feet was a "pace" (cam).
The Proto-Germanic cubit or arm's-length has been reconstructed as *alin, which developed
into the Old English ln, Middle English elne, and modern ell of 1 yd. This has led some to
derive the yard of three English feet from pacing; others from the ell or cubit; others from
Henry I's arm standard (see below). Based on the etymology of the other "yard", others suggest it
originally derived from the girth of a person's waist, while others believe it originated as a cubic
measure. One official British report writes:

The standard of measure has always been taken either from some part of the human body, such
as a foot, the length of the arm, the span of the hand, or from other natural objects, such as a
barleycorn, or other kind of grain. But the yard was the original standard adopted by the early
English soverigns, and has been supposed to be founded upon the breadth of the chest of the
Saxon race. The yard continued till the reign of Henry VII., when the ell was introduced, that
being a yard and a quarter, or 45 inches. The ell was borrowed from the Paris drapers.
Subsequently, however, Queen Elizabeth re-introduced the yard as the English standard of
measure.[10]

The earliest record of a prototype measure is the statute II Edgar Cap. 8 (AD 959 x 963), which
survives in several variant manuscripts. In it, Edgar the Peaceful directed the Witenagemot at
Andover that "the measure held at Winchester" should be observed throughout his realm.[11]
(Some manuscripts read "at London and at Winchester".)[12][13] The statutes of William I
similarly refer to and uphold the standard measures of his predecessors without naming them.

William of Malmesbury's Deeds of the Kings of England records that during the reign of Henry I
"the measure of his arm was applied to correct the false ell of the traders and enjoined on all
throughout England."[14] The folktale that the length was bounded by the king's nose[15] was
added some centuries later. Watson dismisses William's account as "childish"[16] but William
was among the most conscientious and trustworthy medieval historians.[17] The French "king's
foot" was supposed to have derived from Charlemagne,[17] and the English kings subsequently
repeatedly intervened to impose shorter units with the aim of increasing tax revenue.
The earliest surviving definition of this form of the ell appears in the Act on the Composition of
Yards and Perches, one of the statutes of uncertain date[n 3] tentatively dated to the reign of
Edward I or II c.1300. Its wording varies in surviving accounts. One reads:[19]

It is ordained that 3 grains of barley dry and round do make an inch, 12 inches make 1 foot, 3
feet make 1 yard, 5 yards and a half make a perch, and 40 perches in length and 4 in breadth
make an acre.

The Liber Horn states:[20]

And be it remembered that the iron yard of our Lord the King containeth 3 feet and no more, and
a foot ought to contain 12 inches by the right measure of this yard measured, to wit, the 36th part
of this yard rightly measured maketh 1 inch neither more nor less and 5 yards and a half make a
perch that is 16 feet and a half measured by the aforesaid yard of our Lord the King.

In some early books, this act was appended to another statute of uncertain date titled the Statute
for the Measuring of Land. The act was not repealed until the Weights and Measures Act of
1824.[22]

Yard and inch[edit]

In a law of 1439 (18 Henry VI. Cap. 16.) the sale of cloth by the "yard and handful" was
abolished, and the "yard and inch" instituted.[23]

There shall be but one Measure of Cloth through the Realm by the Yard and the Inch, and not
by the Yard and Handful, according to the London Measure.

According to Connor,[24] cloth merchants had previously sold cloth by the yard and handful to
evade high taxes on cloth (the extra handful being essentially a black-market transaction).
Enforcement efforts resulted in cloth merchants switching over to the yard and inch, at which
point the government gave up and made the yard and inch official. In 1552, the yard and inch for
cloth measurement was again sanctioned in law (5 & 6 Edward VI Cap. 6. An Act for the true
making of Woolen Cloth.)[25]

XIV. And that all and every Broad Cloth and Clothes called Taunton Clothes, Bridgwaters, and
other Clothes which shall be made after the said Feast in Taunton, Bridgwater or in other Places
of like Sort, shall contain at the Water in Length betwixt twelve and thirteen Yards, Yard and
Inch of the Rule, and in Breadth seven Quarters of a Yard: (2) And every narrow Cloth made
after the said Feast in the said Towns or elsewhere of like Sorts, shall contain in the Water in
Length betwixt three and twenty and five and twenty Yards, Yard and Inch as is aforesaid, and
in Breadth one Yard of like Measure; (3) and every such Cloth, both Broad and Narrow being
well scowred, thicked, milled and fully dried, shall weigh xxxiv. li. the Piece at the least.

XV. And that all Clothes named Check-Kersie and Straits, which shall be made after the said
Feast shall contain being wet between seventeen and eighteen Yards, with the Inches as is
aforesaid, and in Breadth one Yard at the least at the Water; and being well scowred, thicked,
milled and fully dried, shall weigh xxiv. li. the Piece at the least.

And once in legislation of 15571558 (4 & 5 Philip and Mary Cap. 5. An act touching the
making of woolen clothes. par. IX.)[26]

IX. Item, That every ordinary kersie mentioned in the said act shall contain in length in the water
betwixt xvi. and xvii. yards, yard and inch; and being well scoured thicked, milled, dressed and
fully dried, shall weigh nineteen pounds the piece at the least:...

As recently as 1593 the same principle is found mentioned once again (35 Elizabeth. Cap. 10. An
act for the reformation of sundry abuses in clothes, called Devonshire kerjies or dozens,
according to a proclamation of the thirty-fourth year of the reign of our sovereign lady the
Queen that now is. par. III.)[27]

(2) and each and every of the same Devonshire kersies or dozens, so being raw, and as it cometh
forth off the weaver's loom (without racking, stretching, straining or other device to encrease the
length thereof) shall contain in length between fifteen and sixteen yards by the measure of yard
and inch by the rule,...

Physical standards[edit]

One of the oldest yard-rods in existence is the clothyard of the Worshipful Company of
Merchant Taylors. It consists of a hexagonal iron rod 58 inch in diameter and 1100 inch short of a
yard, encased within a silver rod bearing the hallmark 1445.[24][28] In the early 15th century, the
Merchant Taylors Company was authorized to "make search" at the opening of the annual St.
Bartholemew's Day Cloth Fair.[29][30] In the mid-18th century Graham compared the standard
yard of the Royal Society to other existing standards. These were a "long-disused" standard
made in 1490 during the reign of Henry VII,[31] and a brass yard and a brass ell from 1588 in the
time of Queen Elizabeth and still in use at the time, held at the Exchequer;[32] a brass yard and a
brass ell at the Guildhall; and a brass yard presented to the Clock-Makers' Company by the
Exchequer in 1671. The Exchequer yard was taken as "true"; the variation was found to be +120
to 115 of an inch, and an additional graduation for the Exchequer yard was made on the Royal
Society's standard. In 1758 the legislature required the construction of a standard yard, which
was made from the Royal Society's standard and was deposited with the clerk of the House of
Commons; it was divided into feet, one of the feet into inches, and one of the inches into tenths.
A copy of it, but with upright cheeks between which other measuring rods could be placed, was
made for the Exchequer for commercial use.[33][34]

19th-century Britain[edit]

Following Royal Society investigations by John Playfair, Hyde Wollaston and John Warner in
1814 a committee of parliament proposed defining the standard yard based upon the length of a
seconds pendulum. This idea was examined but not approved.[35] The Weights and Measures Act
of 1824 (5 George IV. Cap. 74.) An Act for ascertaining and establishing Uniformity of Weights
and Measures stipulates that:[36]
From and after the First Day of May One thousand eight hundred and twenty five the Straight
Line or Distance between the Centres of the Two Points in the Gold Studs of the Straight Brass
Rod now in the Custody of the Clerk of the House of Commons whereon the Words and Figures
"Standard Yard 1760" are engraved shall be and the same is hereby declared to be the original
and genuine Standard of that Measure of Length or lineal Extension called a Yard; and that the
same Straight Line or Distance between the Centres of the said Two Points in the said Gold
Studs in the said Brass Rod the Brass being at the Temperature of Sixty two Degrees by
Fahrenheit's Thermometer shall be and is hereby denominated the Imperial Standard Yard and
shall be and is hereby declared to be the Unit or only Standard Measure of Extension, wherefrom
or whereby all other Measures of Extension whatsoever, whether the same be lineal, superficial
or solid, shall be derived, computed and ascertained; and that all Measures of Length shall be
taken in Parts or Multiples, or certain Proportions of the said Standard Yard; and that One third
Part of the said Standard Yard shall be a Foot, and the Twelfth Part of such Foot shall be an Inch;
and that the Pole or Perch in Length shall contain Five such Yards and a Half, the Furlong Two
hundred and twenty such Yards, and the Mile One thousand seven hundred and sixty such Yards.

In 1834, the primary Imperial yard standard was partially destroyed in a fire known as the
Burning of Parliament. In 1838, a commission was formed to reconstruct the lost standards,
including the troy pound, which had also been destroyed.[37] In 1845, a new yard standard was
constructed based on two previously existing standards known as A1 and A2, both of which had
been made for the Ordnance Survey, and R.S. 46, the yard of the Royal Astronomical Society.
All three had been compared to the Imperial standard before the fire. The new standard was
made of Baily's metal No. 4 consisting of 16 parts copper, 2 12 parts tin, and 1 part zinc. It was
38 inches long and 1 inch square. The Weights and Measures Act of 1855 granted official
recognition to the new standards. Between 1845 and 1855 forty yard standards were constructed,
one of which was selected as the new Imperial standard. Four others, known as Parliamentary
Copies, were distributed to The Royal Mint, The Royal Society of London, The Royal
Observatory at Greenwich, and the New Palace at Westminster, commonly called the Houses of
Parliament.[38] The other 35 yard standards were distributed to the cities of London, Edinburgh,
and Dublin, as well as the United States and other countries (although only the first five had
official status).[39] The imperial standard received by the United States is known as "Bronze Yard
No. 11"[40]

The Weights and Measures Act 1878 confirmed the status of the existing yard standard,
mandated regular intercomparisons between the several yard standards, and authorized the
construction of one additional Parliamentary Copy (made in 1879 and known as Parliamentary
Copy VI).[41]

Definition of the yard in terms of the meter[edit]

The yard is equal to 3 feet or 36 inches. Under an agreement in 1959 between Australia, Canada,
New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, the yard (known as the
"international yard" in the United States) was legally defined to be exactly 0.9144 meters.[42]

Subsequent measurements revealed that the yard standard and its copies were shrinking at the
rate of one part per million every twenty years due to the gradual release of strain incurred
during the fabrication process.[43] [44] The international prototype meter, on the other hand, was
comparatively stable. A measurement made in 1895 determined the length of the meter at
39.370113 inches relative to the imperial standard yard. The Weights and Measures (Metric) Act
of 1897[45] in conjunction with Order in Council 411 (1898) made this relationship official. After
1898, the de facto legal definition of the yard came to be accepted as 3639.370113 of a meter.

In 1959, the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa agreed to adopt the
international yard of exactly 0.9144 meters. In the UK, the provisions of the treaty were ratified
by the Weights and Measures Act of 1963. The Imperial Standard Yard of 1855 was renamed the
United Kingdom Primary Standard Yard and retained its official status as the national prototype
yard.[46]

Schedule 2, Part I of The Weights and Measures Act of 1985 defines the yard as 0.9144 meters,
and the meter as the distance light travels in 1299792458 of a second. It then goes on to state:

Description of United Kingdom primary standard of the yard A solid bronze bar,
about 38 inches long and about 1 inch square in transverse section, marked Copper 16
oz. Tin 2 12 Zinc 1 Mr. Bailys Metal No. 1 STANDARD YARD at 6200 Faht. Cast in
1845 Troughton & Simms, LONDON
Part V Authorised copies of United Kingdom primary standards of the yard and pound ...
(e) a bronze bar marked Copper 16 oz. Tin 2 Zinc 1.[47]

Current use[edit]
The yard is used as the standard unit of field-length measurement in American,[48] Canadian[49]
and Association football,[50] cricket pitch dimensions,[51] and in some countries, golf fairway
measurements.

There are corresponding units of area and volume: the square yard and cubic yard respectively.
These are sometimes referred to simply as "yards" when no ambiguity is possible, for example
an American or Canadian concrete mixer may be marked with a capacity of "11 yards" or "1.5
yards", where cubic yards are obviously referred to.

Yards are also used and are the legal requirement on road signs for shorter distances in the
United Kingdom, they are also frequently found in conversation between Britons much like in
the United States for distance.[52]

Textiles and fat quarters [edit]

The yard, subdivided into eighths, is used for the purchase of fabrics in the United States and
United Kingdom[53] and was previously used elsewhere. In the United States the term "fat
quarter" is used for a piece of fabric which is half a yard in length cut from a roll and then cut
again along the width so that it is only half the width of the roll, thus the same area as a piece of
one quarter yard cut from the full width of the roll; these pieces are popular for patchwork and
quilting.[54] The term "fat eighth" is also used, for a piece of one quarter yard from half the roll
width, the same area as one eighth cut from the roll.[55]
Equivalences[edit]
For purposes of measuring cloth, the early yard was divided by the binary method into two, four,
eight and sixteen parts.[56] The two most common divisions were the fourth and sixteenth parts.
The quarter of a yard was known as the "quarter" without further qualification, while the
sixteenth of a yard was called a nail.[57] The eighth of a yard was sometimes called a finger,[58]
but was more commonly referred to simply as an eighth of a yard, while the half-yard was called
"half a yard".[59]

Other units related to the yard, but not specific to cloth measurement: two yards are a fathom, a
quarter of a yard (when not referring to cloth) is a span.[60]

Conversions[edit]
international yard (defined 1959):[61][62]

1 yard = 0.9144 meter.[63]


1 statute mile (international mile) = 8 furlongs = 80 chains = 1760 yards

pre-1959 US yard - defined 1869, implemented 1893[64]

For survey purposes, certain pre-1959 units were retained, usually prefaced by the word
"survey," among them the survey inch, survey foot, and survey mile, also known as the
statute mile. The rod and furlong exist only in their pre-1959 form and are thus not
prefaced by the word "survey." However, it is not clear if a "survey yard" actually
exists.[65] If it did, its hypothetical values would be as follows:
3937 survey yard = 3600 meters[64]
1 survey yard 0.914 401 83 meter[64]
0.999 998 survey yard = 1 yard (exact)[64]
1 statute mile (US survey mile) = 8 furlongs = 80 chains = 1760 survey yards (about
1.000002 international miles)