Where Did the Measurement Foot Come From?

Although there is little historical data to document its development, the unit of measurement the foot was in wide use by the Greeks, Romans and Chinese before being incorporated into the French and English systems of measurement. Historians speculate that the foot may developed from ancient Egypt's Royal Cubit.

Most modern systems of measurement are based on the cubit, which is the length of the forearm from the tip of the middle finger to the point of the elbow, a unit of measure developed in the Indus Valley and dating back to ancient Egypt. Cubits were divided into units called palms and fingers which eventually became modern feet and inches. Probably the cubit spread when trading partners adopted it as a standard unit of measure.

The Greeks and Romans inherited the foot from Egypt, with a length of 11 1/42 inches believed to represent the length of an adult man’s foot. While the Greeks divided the foot into 16 equal parts, the Romans adopted a standard of 12 “unicae,” or inches. However, as more systems of measurement evolved, so did different feet of often widely varying lengths. It was not until 1959 that the one-foot measurement was standardized to 0.3048 of a meter by international agreement.