We can thank “merrie olde England” for the statute mile of 5,280 feet.
It was an act of the (Elizabethan) English Parliament in 1592-1593 (hence the name “statute”) that codified the mile.
For purposes of surveying, 1 mile is :
- 1,760 yards or 8 furlongs
- 1 furlong is 10 chains
- 1 chain is 4 rods
- 1 rod is 5.5 yards, or 16.5 feet.
But it goes back further than Elizabethan times.
When the Romans ruled Britain they had a measurement known as mille passus, meaning a thousand paces (1 Roman mile).
Now a pace was 2 steps, or about 5 feet so 1 Roman mile was 5,000 feet.
They had their own unit, an agricultural measurement … the furlong was how “long” a distance a horse or ox could plow a “furrow” before it needed a rest
When the Romans left Britain in 410 AD to defend the empire around Rome, the remaining Brits were in a quandary. They had their own unit, an agricultural measurement called the furlong.
The furlong was how “long” a distance a horse or ox could plow a “furrow” before it needed a rest. They figured that was 660 feet.
There were 8 furlongs were in an (English) mile
8 x 660 = 5,280 feet in an (English) mile
So it came down to choosing either
The Roman 5,000 foot mile
Their own 5,280-foot mile.
Property deeds at the time were in furlongs, and Queen Elizabeth I put her foot down (pun intended) and demanded that the English Parliament make 5,280 feet equal to a mile.
So, after only 1,500 years the matter was finally settled – such is the speed of British politics 🙂