geographic mile

German units of measurement

Germany had an indigenous system of German units of measurement prior to its adoption of the international metric system. These units are now mainly of historical interest.

German system

Before the introduction of the metric system in German, almost every town had its own definitions of the units shown below, and supposedly by 1810, in Baden alone, there were 112 different standards for the Elle around Germany. The metric system was a much-needed standardisation in Germany.


Meile (mile)

A German geographic mile (geographische Meile) is defined as 1/15 equatorial degrees, equal to 7420.54 m. A common German mile, land mile, or post mile (Gemeine deutsche Meile, Landmeile, Postmeile) was defined in various ways at different places and different times. After the introduction of the metric system in the 19th century the Landmeile was generally fixed at 7500 m (the Reichsmeile), but before then there were many local and regional variants (of which some are shown below):

5 Greek Milos 7400 m
Bohemia (Böhmen) 7498 m
Bavaria (Bayern) 7415 m Connected to a 1/15 Equatorial degree as 25,406 Bavarian feet.
Württemberg 7449 m
Reichsmeile 7.5 km 'imperial mile' – New mile when the metric system was introduced. Prohibited by law in 1908.
Anhalt 7532 m
Denmark, Prussia 7532 m 24,000 Prussian feet. Also known as "(Dänische/Preußische) Landmeile". In 1816, king Frederick William III of Prussia adopted the Danish mile at 7532 m, or 24,000 Prussian feet.
Saxony (Sachsen) 7500 m In the 17th/18th century or so 9062 m = 32000 (Saxon) feet; later 7500 m (as in Prussia and the rest of Germany).
Vienna (Wien) 7586 m
Switzerland (Schweiz) 4800 m 16,000 (Swiss) feet, 1 Wegstunde

6 Greek Milos 8880 m
Schleswig-Holstein 8803 m
Baden 8000 m 8889 m before 1810, 8944 m before 1871

6.25 Roman milliare 9250 m 625 Roman feet
Hessen-Kassel 9206 m
Lippe-Detmold 9264 m
Saxony (Sachsen) 9062 m 32,000 (Saxon) feet (in the 19th century 7500 m; s.a.).

7.5 Roman milliare 11,100 m
Westfalia (Westfalen) 11,100 m but also 9250 m
Oldenburg 9894 m

3 Greek Milos 4440 m
Rhineland (Rheinland) 4119 m
Palatinate (Pfalz) 4630 m
Brabant about 5000 m
Osnabrück 5160 m

(Other variants)
Wiesbaden 1000 m

Rute (rod)

This is of Carolingian origin, used as a land measure.

Saxony (Sachsen) 1 alte Rute = 1 Feldmesser-Rute = 7.5 Ellen = 4.295 m
Saxony (Sachsen) 1 neue Straßen-Rute = 16 Fuß (feet) = 4.531 m
Rhineland (Rheinland), Prussia (Preußen) 1 Rheinische Rute = 12 Fuß (feet) = 3.766 m
Bavaria (Bayern) 1 Rute = 10 Fuß (feet) = 2.919 m
Baden, Switzerland 1 Rute = 10 Fuß (feet) = 3 m
Sweden 1 Rute = 16 Fot (feet) = 4.749 m
Denmark 1 Rute = 10 Fod (feet) = 3.766 m


Uncertain use, between 10 and 12 km, (11.1 km = 1/10 degree =)


One hours travel, used up to the 18th century. In Germany ½ Meile or 3.71 km, in Switzerland 16,000 feet or 4.8 km.


Equal to ⅛ Greek Milos. Often definitions appear to be different but are just unit fractions, i.e. 10, 12, 14, 15, 18 or 20 feet. The same is true of apparent variations between approx. 3 and 5 m.

Klafter (fathom)

Originally 6 feet, after introduction of the metric system 10 feet. Regional changes from 1.75 m in Baden to 3 m in Switzerland.

Elle (ell)

Distance between elbow and finger tip. In the North, often 2 feet, In Prussia 17 / 8 feet, in the South variable, often 2½ feet. The smallest known German elle is 402.8 mm, the longest 811 mm.

Fuß (foot)

The foot varied between 23.51 cm in Wesel and 40.83 cm in Trier. Rheinfuss – Rhine foot, used in the North, 31.387 cm.

Zoll (inch)

Usually 1 / 12 foot, but also 1/11 and 1 / 10.


Usually 1 / 12 inch, but also 1 / 10.



For firewood, 2.905 m³


In general the Noesel was a liquid measure, which came from can. One can held two Noesel. In several German regional states the size of this measure was different, even in Saxony. The "Dresden Can" held approximately 0.94 L, the Noesel about 0.47 L. If measured by the "Leipzig Can", the amount was 1.2 L, the Noesel therefore 0.6 L. The Noesel measure was used in small sale, and also in the household to measure pulse, seed and other bulk material. Also in Saxony the former mentioned measures are valid official till the year 1868. Then the Metric System (meter, gram, liter and so on) was introduced. But in the private area the old measures are used for decades. In Thueringen, there was a strange modification. The Noesel grain seed was a measure for the field area which can be cultivated with one Noesel seed. That was about 14.6 square meter.

See also


  • François Cardarelli: Encyclopedia of Scientific Units, Weights and Measures. Their SI Equivalences and Origins. Springer, Berlin 2003. ISBN 1-85233-682-X
  • Helmut Kahnt, Bernd Knorr: Alte Masse, Münzen und Gewichte. . Bibliographisches Institut Mannheim/Wien/Zuerich 1987. (Lizenzausgabe von VEB Bibliographisches Institut Leipzig 1986)
  • Wolfgang Trapp: Kleines Handbuch der Maße, Zahlen Gewichte und der Zeitrechnung. Von . Reclam Stuttgart, 2. Auflage 1996. ISBN 3-15-008737-6
  • Günther Scholz, Klaus Vogelsang: Kleines Lexikon: Einheiten, Formelzeichen. Fachbuchverlag, Leipzig 1991 ISBN 3-343-00500-2

Historical work:

  • Johann Christian Nelkenbrechers Taschenbuch eines Banquiers und Kaufmanns: enthaltend eine Erklärung aller ein- und ausländischen Münzen, des Wechsel-Courses, Usos, Respect-Tage und anderer zur Handlung gehörigen Dinge; mit einer genauen Vergleichung des Ellen-Maaßes, Handels-, Gold- und Silber-Gewichts, auch Maaße von Getreide und flüssigen Sachen derer fürnehmsten europäischen Handels-Plätze. Nachdruck der Ausgabe 1769: VDM-Verlag Müller, Düsseldorf 2004. ISBN 3936755582

External links

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