How Long is a Rod?

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, February 22, 1912:  Such a time as I had getting to school this morning. It was terribly icy. Pa went along to help Jimmie along. They both went down together. It looked so comical. We observed Washington’s Birthday today by some pupils reciting different accounts of his life. Coming home tonight my cap flew off my head and I had to race after it four or five rods before I captured it.

Saw a possum tonight. That was after he met his fate.

Did Grandma's cap look like this? (Source: Ladies Home Journal--November, 1911)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Wow, Grandma actually thought about distances in terms of rods. A rod equals 5 1/2 yards.  So Grandma had to chase the cap about 22 – 27.5 yards.

The use of rods as a unit of measurement apparently was widely used early in the 20th century—but had become largely archaic prior to the latter half of the 20th century. I have never, ever thought in terms of rods.

I can remember having composition books when I was a child that listed all sorts of mysterious weights and measures on the back—rods, perches, and so on. But word problems in math class only referred to inches, feet, yards and other commonly used units. 

6 Responses

  1. Just asked my husband how much a rod was and he knew! Says he didn’t learning it while working for the Michigan Dept of Transportation but in elementary school. I had no idea myself.

  2. It’s nice to know that your grandmother’s teacher observed Washington’s Birthday with her students. :) I hope teachers are still doing this now.

    I remember those composition books that listed all those mysterious weights and measures on the back, too!

  3. My Dad, an Iowa farmer in the 1940-50s, frequently used rods as a dimension when I was young. Still interesting that a young lady in 1912 would put it in her diary! ;-)

  4. I knew that a rod is a dimension, but had no sense of what distance it represented. Now I know! Thanks!

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