These countries and their abbreviations, as referenced in this megaConverter, had many other units of varying proportions besides those shown in the converter. To find the conversion factors for those other units follow these links.
Argentina (Arg) Brazil (Bra) China (Chn)
Denmark (Den) Egypt (Egp) Estonia (Est)
Iceland (Ice) India (Ind) Japan (Jap)
Poland (Pol) Russia (Rus) Spain (Spn)
Sweden (Swe) Switzerland (Swit) Thailand (Thai)
Yugoslavia (Yug)

Foreign Lengths megaConverter #27

Introduction and Overview
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Units of common measurement vary widely, from time to time, and place to place. Most units of measurement started as a reference to a physical object or concept. The foot was the length of a man's foot, the inch was the width of a man's thumb, a furlong was the length of a plowed furrow in a field, an acre was the amount of land a man and two oxen could plow in a day, etc. At first, most measurements were only approximations, but eventually many country's governments set each at a specific standard to make commerce possible and fair. Often, when people settled new lands, they used the names of old measurements, but set their own standards. Other times, similar sounding measurement names in different countries had greatly different values. Some measurements were derived from other types of measurements, such as a barrel weight being the weight of a barrel of flour. Often, the same measurement had different values depending on the material being measured, such as a wine tun and a beer tun, or a hank of wool and a hank of cotton. These differences made sense to the people that used them, but they seem odd today.

A Frenchman first defined what he called the 'meter' as one ten millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator along the Prime Meridian. It was later defined, in a more precise method, as so many wavelengths of a certain color of light. A liter was originally defined as a cubic decimeter, and a kilogram was defined as a liter of pure water at a specified temperature. Later, the standard was changed such that a kilogram mass became the standard and the liter was derived as the volume of a kilogram of water. This has caused the liter to become slightly more than a cubic decimeter.

The International System (SI) was first proposed in France in the 17th century, but was not adopted by France until 1795. The system defined that there was only one standard in each measurement type and each unit greater or less was a power of ten. This made conversions between units much simpler. During the 19th century, several countries made this system their standard, but notably not Britain or the US. In 1965 Britain began changing to the metric system as a condition of membership in the European Common Market. The US government, recognizing the problems of international trade, officially made the metric system its standard in 1975.

Still today, units of common measurements (non-metric) are used throughout the world. It would be hard to forget the foot, yard, mile, quart, gallon, or acre because so many physical objects were based on them. And for convenience sake, it will always be easier to say "a cup" than "two deciliters." It is easier to envision a mile than a kilometer because fence rows, city blocks, and farmland measurements were originally based on the mile.

* Much of our written history still refers to things in common units. The Bible does not refer to meters or kilograms, but to cubits and stadia, or shekels and drachma. Wouldn't it be nice to know what they were talking about way back then? Now you can use megaConverter!

For a more complete listing of ancient, foreign, and obsolete measures, download our 'megaSpreadsheet' of conversions in MS Excel format.

For the most comprehensive treatment of measurements, find "NTC's Encyclopedia of International Weights & Measures" by William D. Johnstone at your local library.

Glossary of Conversions:
(Many of these conversions are approximations and may have been slightly different in actual use.)

Argentina (Arg)
1 cuadra = 150 varas = 75 brazas

Brazil (Bra)
12 covados = 25 pes = 5 pasos, 16 covados = 5 bracas

China (Chn)
The Chinese language can have the same word mean several different things based on usage and inflection. Thus, the li has 2 distinct values. The old li = .001 ch’ih and also 1,800 ch’ih. After adoption of the metric system, they now use the li as both 1 millimeter and as 1 kilometer. Many of the other local units are still figured using the old li units.

1 Tu = 2.5 mu = 250 old li = 4,500 yin = 90,000 pu

1 yin = 20 pu = 100 ch’ih = 1,000 ts’un

Denmark (Den)
1 fod = 1/2 alen = 1/6 favn = .1 rode

Egypt (Egp)
1 choryos = 40 thebs

1 abdat varied from 3.6 to 4.9 inches

1 khet = 40 ancient cubits = 6 kassabah

Estonia (Est)
1 duim or liin or toll = 2 paletz = 10 liniya = 100 totchka = 1/21 elle

1 verst =500 sagenes or suld or faden = 1500 arshin = 3500 foutes = 24,000 verchoks

Iceland (Ice)
1 fathmur = 3 alin = 6 fet

India (Ind)
1 yojan = 3,600 dandas or cosses = 7,200 guz , 1 guz =144 jaob or jow

Japan (Jap)
1 sun = 1,000 mo = 100 rin = 10 bu or boo = .1 shaku = 1/50 hiro = 1/60 ken = .01 jo

1 ri = 36 cho = 2160 ken = 129600 sun = 2.4398 statute miles

Poland (Pol)
1 pret = 2.5 sazen = 7.5 lokiec = 15 stopas = 180 cal

Russia (Rus)
1 duim or djuim = 2 paletz = 10 liniya = 100 totchka

1 verst =500 sagenes = 1500 arshin = 3500 foutes

Spain (Spn)
1 estado or braza = 6/5 paso = 2 varas = 4 codos = 6 pies = 8 cuartas = 12 sesmas = 72 pulgadas = 96 dedos = 864 lineas

1 legua = 800 cordels = 4,000 pasos = 20,000 pies

Sweden (Swe)
1 fot = .01 ref = .1 stang = 1/6 famn = .5 aln = 10 tum

The linje is sometimes used for .117 inches or .1 tum, and for 2.083 cms and for 2.97 cms.

Switzerland (Swit)
1 fuss or schun or pied = 144 ligne = 10 pouces of zolls = .25 staab or aune = 1/6 klafter = .1 perche

1 lieue or stunde = 1,600 perches = 16,000 fuss or schun or pied.

Thailand (Thai)
1 roeneng = 2,000 wah = 4,000 ken = 8,000 sok , 1 sok = 2 keup = 24 niu = 96 kabiet = 192 anukabiet

1 yut or yote = 400 sen

Yugoslavia (Yug)
The Yugoslavian local units are all apparently unrelated to one another.

Note: Because of round-off errors, converting from very large units to very small units or vice-versa may not be accurate (or practical). Conversion factors can be found by converting a quantity of 1 unit to another unit several steps above or below the first. You may need to string several conversion factors together to find the factor from a very large unit to a very small unit, and then you can use a calculator with sufficient digits to find your answer.