Why is there 5,280 feet in a mile?


We can thank merry olde England for the statute mile of 5,280 feet. It was an act of the English Parliament in 1592 (hence the name statute) that codified the mile.

For purposes of surveying, a mile is 1770 yards or 8 furlongs. Each furlong is 10 chains, each chain is 4 rods. The rod then is 5.5 yards or 16.5 feet.

But it goes back farther than Elizabethan times. The nasty Romans ruled Britain for centuries. The Romans had a measurement knows as “mille pasuum”, meaning a thousand paces. A pace was 2 steps or about 5 feet. Multiply 5 times 1000 and you get 5000 feet.

When the Romans left England in 410 AD to defend the empire around Rome, the remaining Brits were in a quandary. They had their own agricultural unit, the furlong. The furlong was how “long” a distance a horse or oxen could plow a “furrow” before it needed a rest. They figured that was 660 feet.

So  8  furlongs were in a mile, and 660 feet multiplied by 8 gives 5,280 feet in a mile. The English had to decide on the Roman 5000 foot mile or their own 5,280 foot mile . Property deeds at the time were in furlongs and Queen Elizabeth I put her foot down (no pun intended) and demanded that the English Parliament  make 5,280 feet equal to a mile.

These days our country is increasingly  using the nautical mile. It is 6,080 feet and defined as a minute of arc along the meridian of the Earth.

A nautical mile per hour is known as a knot. All aircraft and ships at sea, both civilian and military, are using knots for speed, and not miles per hour. There is about a 15 per cent difference. For example, a speed of 115 mph is the same as 100 knots.

We’re now using metrics in our track and field events. We have the 100 meter, 200 meter, 400 meter, 800 meter, 1600 meter, and 3200 meter running events. The 100 meter dash previously was the 100 yard dash, the 400 meter was 440 yard, the 800 meter used to be the half mile or 880 yard, and the 1600 meter was called the mile.

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