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A yard (abbreviation: yd) is a unit of length in several different systems, including English units, Imperial units, and United States customary units. It is equal to 3 feet or 36 inches, although its length in SI units varied slightly from system to system. The most commonly used yard today is the international yard, which is defined to be exactly 0.9144 meter.

The yard is used as the standard unit of field-length measurement in American, Canadian and association football.

There are corresponding units of area and volume, the square yard and cubic yard respectively, and these are sometimes referred to simply as "yards" when no ambiguity is possible. For example, an American or Canadian concrete mixer marked with a capacity of "11 yards" or "1.5 yards", where cubic yards are obviously referred to.

Equivalence to other units of length

1 international yard is equal to:
  • 3 feet (1 foot is a third of a yard)
  • 36 inches
  • 0.9144 meter (1 meter is equal to about 1.0936 international yards)

The early yard was divided by the binary method into two, four, eight, and sixteen parts called the half-yard, span, finger, and nail. Two yards are a fathom.

Historical origin

The yard derives its name from the word for a straight branch or rod, although the precise origin of the measure is not definitely known. Some believe it derived from the double cubit, or that it originated from cubic measure, others from its near equivalents, like the length of a stride or pace. One postulate was that the yard was derived from the girth of a person's waist, while another claim held that the measure was invented by Henry I of England as being the distance between the tip of his nose and the end of his thumb. It was first defined in law by Edward I of England in 1305, and again by Edward III of England in 1353.

Following the destruction of the British Standard Yard in the 1834 fire at the Palace of Westminstermarker, consideration was given to a reproduceable standard should the physical measure be lost again. The Weights and Measures Act 1855 Act was passed defining the standard yard based upon the length of a seconds pendulum. This is 39.1392 inches, and can be derived from the number of beats (86,400) between two meridians of the sun. The 36-inch yard was defined accordingly. The temperature compensated pendulum was to be held in a vacuum at sea level in Greenwich, London to give the length of the standard yard. However, a new physical Imperial Standard Yard was authorised by the Weights and Measures Act 1878, and was the legal standard in the United Kingdom until 1964.


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