Rod (unit)

Unit system imperial/US units
Unit of length
Unit conversions
1 rod in ...... is equal to ...
   imperial/US units    5 12 yd
   metric (SI) units    5.0292 m

The rod or perch or pole is a surveyors tool[1] and unit of length equal to 5 12 yards, 1612 feet, 1320 of a statute mile or one-fourth of a surveyor's chain and 5.0292 meters. The rod is useful as a unit of length because whole number multiples of it can equal one acre of square measure. The 'perfect acre'[2] is a rectangular area of 43,560 square feet, bounded by sides 660 feet by 66 feet long (660 ft long × 66 ft wide), or 220 yards by 22 yards long (220 yd/ long × 22 yd wide), or 40 rods by 4 rods long. Thus, an acre is 160 square rods. Since the adoption of the international yard on 1 July 1959, the rod has been equal to exactly 5.0292 meters.

A rod is the same length as a perch, also sometimes called a pole which measure using cordage[3] or wood, slightly antedated the use of both rods and surveyors chains, made of more dimensionally regular materials. Its name derives from the Ancient Roman unit, the pertica. The measure also has a relationship to the military pike of about the same size and both measures[1] date from the sixteenth century,[3] when that weapon was still utilized in national armies. The tool, normally configured as a metal rod with eye-ends (loops that could be hooked together), was used commonly until quite recently, when it was supplanted by electronic tools such as surveyor lasers (Lidar) and optical target devices for surveying lands. Surveyors rods and chains are still utilized in rough terrains with heavy overgrowth where laser or other optical measurements are difficult or impossible. In old English, the term lug is also used.[4][5]


In England, the perch was officially discouraged in favour of the rod as early as the 15th century;[6] however, local customs maintained its use. In the 13th century perches were variously recorded in lengths of 18 feet (5.49 m), 20 feet (6.1 m), 22 feet (6.71 m) and 24 feet (7.32 m); and even as late as 1820, a House of Commons report notes lengths of 16 12 feet (5.03 m), 18 feet (5.49 m), 21 feet (6.4 m), 24 feet (7.32 m), and even 25 feet (7.62 m).[7] In Ireland, a perch was standardized at 21 feet (6.4 m), making an Irish chain, furlong and mile proportionately longer by 27.27% than the "standard" English measure.[8]

Until English King Henry VIII seized the lands of the Roman Catholic Church in 1536,[1] land measures as we now know them were essentially unknown.[1] Instead a narrative system of landmarks and lists was used. Henry wanted to raise even more funds for his wars than he'd seized directly from church property (he'd also assumed the debts of Monasteries[1]), and as James Burke writes and quotes in the book Connections: the English monk Richard Benese "produced a book on how to survey land using the simple tools of the time, a rod with cord carrying knots at certain intervals, waxed and resined against wet weather." Benese poetically described the measure of an acre in terms of a perch:[3]

'an acre bothe of woodlande, also of fyldlande [heath] is always forty perches in length, and four perches in breadth, though an acre of woodlande be more in quantitie [value, was more valued commercially] than an acre of fyldelande'

The practice of using surveyor's chains, and perch-length rods made into a detachable stiff chain, came about a century later when iron was a more plentiful and common material. A chain is a larger unit of length measuring 66 feet (20.1168 meters), or 22 yards, or 100 links,[9] or 4 rods (20.1168 meters). There are 10 chains or 40 rods in a furlong (eighth-mile), and so 80 chains or 320 rods in one statute mile (1760 yards, 1609.344 m, 1.609344 km); the definition of which was set by Royal surveyor (called the 'sworn viewer'[10]) John Ogilby only after the Great Fire of London (1666).

An acre is defined as the area of 10 square chains (that is, an area of one chain by one furlong), and derives from the shapes of new-tech plows[2] and the desire to quickly survey seized church lands into a quantity of squares for quick sales[3] by Henry VIII's agents; buyers simply wanted to know what they were buying whereas Henry was raising cash for wars against Scotland and France.[3] Consequently, the surveyor's chain and surveyor rods or poles (the perch) have been used for several centuries in Britain and in many other countries influenced by British practices such as North America and Australia. By the time of the industrial revolution and the quickening of land sales, canal and railway surveys, et al. Surveyor rods such as used by George Washington were generally made of dimensionally stable metalsemi-flexible pinky-finger-tip-thin drawn wrought iron linkable bar stock (not steel), such that the four folded elements of a chain were easily transportable through brush and branches when carried by a single man of a surveyor's crew. With a direct ratio to the length of a surveyor's chain and the sides of both an acre and a square (mile), they were common tools used by surveyors, if only to lay out a known plottable baseline in rough terrain thereafter serving as the reference line for instrumental (theodolite) triangulations.

The rod as a survey measure was standardized by Edmund Gunter in England in 1607 as one-fourth of a chain (of 66 feet (20.12 m)), or 16 12 feet (5.03 m) long.

In ancient cultures

The perch as a lineal measure in Rome (also decempeda) was 10 feet (3.05 m), and in France varied from 10 feet (perche romanie) to 22 feet (perche d'arpent—apparently 110 of "the range of an arrow"—about 220 feet). To confuse matters further, by ancient Roman definition, an arpent equalled 120 Roman feet. The related unit of square measure was the scrupulum or decempeda quadrata, equivalent to about 8.76 m2 (94.3 sq ft).[11]

In continental Europe

A standard at the City Hall in Münster, Germany from 1816; the bar shown is one "Prussian Half Rod" (1.883 m) long.

Units comparable to the perch, pole or rod were used in many European countries, with names that include French: perche and canne, German: Ruthe, Italian: canna and pertica, Polish: pręt and Spanish: canna. They were subdivided in many different ways, and were of many different lengths.

Rods and similar units in continental Europe
Place Local name Local equivalent Metric equivalent (meters)
Aachen Feldmeßruthe 16 Fuß 4.512N
Amsterdam Roede 13 Voet 3.681N
Aubenas, Ardèche canne 8 pans 1.985N
Baden, Grand Duchy of Ruthe 10 Fuß 3.0N
Basel, Canton of Ruthe 16 Fuß 4.864N
Bern, Canton of Ruthe 10 Fuß 2.932N
Barcelona canna 8 palmos 1.581N
Braunschweig Ruthe 16 Fuß 4.565N
Bremen Ruthe 8 Ellen or 16 Fuß 4.626N
Brussels Ruthe 20 Fuß 4.654N
Cagliari, Sardinia canna 10 palmi 2.322N
Calenberg Land Ruthe 16 Fuß 4.677N
Cassel, Hessen Ruthe 14 Fuß 4.026N
Denmark Ruthe 10 Fuß 3.138N
Geneva, Canton of Ruthe 8 Fuß 2.598N
Hamburg Geestruthe 16 Fuß 4.583N
Hamburg Marschruthe 14 Fuß 4.010N
Hannover Ruthe 16 Fuß 4.671N
France Perche 3 toises 5.847N
France Perche (for woodland) 3 23 toises 7.145N
Genoa canna 10 palmi 2.5N
Jever, Oldenburg Ruthe 20 Fuß 4.377N
Mallorca canna 8 palmos 1.714N
Malta canna 8 palmi 2.08N
Mecklenburg Ruthe 16 Fuß 4.655N
Menorca, but not Mahón canna 1.599N
Menorca, city of Mahon canna 8 palmos 1.714N
Messina, Sicily canna 8 palmi 2.113N
Montauban, Tarn-et-Garonne canne 8 pans 1.783N
Morocco canna 8 palmos 1.714N
Naples canna (for cloth) 8 palmi
Naples, Kingdom of: Apulia, Calabria, Eboli, Foggia, Lucera percha 7 palmi 1.838N
Naples, Kingdom of: Capua percha 7 15 palmi 1.892N
Naples, Kingdom of: Fiano, Naples percha 7 12 palmi 2.014N
Naples, Kingdom of: Caggiano, Cava, Nocera, Rocce, Salerno percha 7 23 palmi 1.971N
Nuremberg, Bavaria Ruthe 16 Fuß 4.861N
Oldenburg Ruthe 20 Fuß 5.927N
Palermo, Sicily canna 8 palmi 1.942N
Parma Pertica 6 bracci 3.25N
Poland Pręt 7 12 łokci or 10 pręcików 4.320N
Prussia, Rheinland Ruthe 12 Fuß 3.766N
Rome canna (for cloth) 2N
Rome canna (for building) 2.234N
Saragoza canna 2.043N
Saxony Ruthe 16 Leipziger Fuß 4.512N
Sweden Ruthe 16 Fuß 4.748N
Tortosa canna 1.7N
Tuscany, Grand-Duchy of (Florence, Pisa) canna 5 bracci 2.918N
Uzès, Gard canne 8 pans 1.98N
Waadt, Canton of Ruthe or toise courante 10 Fuß 3N
Württemberg Reichsruthe 10 Fuß 2.865N
Württemberg old Ruthe 16 Fuß 4.583N
Venice, Republic of Pertica 6 piedi 2.084N
Zürich, Canton of Ruthe 10 Fuß 3.009N

Based on data from the following:

In Britain

In England, the rod is first defined in law by the Composition of Yards and Perches, one of the statutes of uncertain date from the late 13th to early 14th centuries.

The length of the chain was standardized in 1620 by Edmund Gunter at exactly four rods.[13][14] Fields were measured in acres, which were one chain (four rods) by one furlong (in the United Kingdom, ten chains).[15]

Bars of metal one rod long were used as standards of length when surveying land. The rod was still in use as a common unit of measurement in the mid-19th century, when Henry David Thoreau used it frequently when describing distances in his work, Walden.[16]

Holyrood, Edinburgh

A Scottish rood (ruid in Lowland Scots, ròd in Scottish Gaelic) was a land measurement of Anglo-Saxon origin. It was in greatest use in the South East of Scotland, and along the border, whereas in the north various other systems were used, based on the land's productivity, rather than actual area. Four Scottish roods made up a Scottish acre.

As in England, "rood" was also used to mean a cross or crucifix, whence "Holyrood" (the name of the new Scottish parliament), an Anglicisation of the Lowland Scots haly ruid (holy cross), and also "The Dream of the Rood".

Equivalent to -

Modern use

The rod was phased out as a legal unit of measurement in the United Kingdom as part of a ten-year metrication process that began on 24 May 1965.[17]

In the US, the rod, along with the chain, furlong, and statute mile (as well as the survey inch and survey foot) are based on the pre-1959 values for United States customary units of linear measurement. The Mendenhall Order of 1893 defined the yard as exactly 36003937 meters, with all other units of linear measurement, including the rod, based on the yard. In the post-1959 system, the fundamental unit of length is the inch, defined as exactly 2.54 centimeters. However, the above-noted units, used in surveying, retain their pre-1959 values.[18]

Despite no longer being in widespread use, the rod is still employed in certain specialized fields. In recreational canoeing, maps measure portages (overland paths where canoes must be carried) in rods; typical canoes are approximately one rod long.[19] The term is also in widespread use in the acquisition of pipeline easements, as the offers for an easement are often expressed on a "price per rod".[20]

In the United Kingdom, the sizes of allotment gardens continue to be measured in square poles in some areas, sometimes being referred to simply as poles rather than square poles.[21]

In Vermont, the default right-of-way width of state and town highways and trails is three rods (15.0876 m).[22] Rods can also be found on the older legal descriptions of tracts of land in the United States, following the "metes and bounds" method of land survey;[23] as shown in this actual legal description of rural real estate:

LEGAL DESCRIPTION: Commencing 45 rods East and 44 rods North of Southwest corner of Southwest 1/4 of Southwest 1/4; thence North 36 rods; thence East 35 rods; thence South 36 rods; thence West 35 rods to the place of beginning, Manistique Township, Schoolcraft County, Michigan.[24]

Area and volume

The terms pole, perch, rod and rood have been used as units of area, and perch is also used as a unit of volume. As a unit of area, a square perch (the perch being standardized to equal 16 12 feet, or 5 12 yards) is equal to a square rod, 30 14 square yards (25.29 square metres) or 1160 acre. There are 40 square perches to a rood (A rectangular area with edges of one furlong (10 chains i.e. 40 rods) and one rod respectively), and 160 square perches to an acre (an area one furlong by one chain (i.e. 4 rods)). This unit is usually referred to as a perch or pole even though square perch and square pole were the more precise terms. Confusingly, rod was used as a unit of area but it meant a rood.

However, in the traditional French-based system in some countries, 1 square perche is 42.21 square metres.

As of August 2013 perches and roods are used as government survey units in Jamaica. They appear on most property title documents. The perch is also in extensive use in Sri Lanka, being favored even over the rood and acre in real estate listings there.[25]

Perches were informally used as a measure in Queensland real estate until the early 21st century, mostly for historical gazetted properties in older suburbs.[26]

As a unit of volume, a Rod equals to 1000 cubic feet.[27]


A traditional unit of volume for stone and other masonry. A perch of masonry is the volume of a stone wall one perch (16 12 feet or 5.03 metres) long, 18 inches (45.7 cm) high, and 12 inches (30.5 cm) thick. This is equivalent to exactly 24 34 cubic feet (0.916667 cubic yards; 0.700842 cubic metres).

There are two different measurements for a perch depending on the type of masonry that is being built:

  1. A dressed stone work is measured by the 24 34-cubic foot perch (16 12 feet or 5.03 metres) long, 18 inches (45.7 cm) high, and 12 inches (30.5 cm) thick. This is equivalent to exactly 24 34 cubic feet (0.916667 cubic yards; 0.700842 cubic metres).
  2. a brick work or rubble wall made of broken stone of irregular size, shape and texture, made of undressed stone, is measured by the (16 12 feet or 5.03 metres) long, 12 inches (30.5 cm) high, and 12 inches (30.5 cm) thick. This is equivalent to exactly 16 12 cubic feet (0.611111 cubic yards; 0.467228 cubic metres).[28]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 James, Burke (1978). "Chapter 9. Lighting the Way". Connections, (pbk: ISBN 0-316-11685-8) and UK ed. "Connections: Alternative History of Technology" (Time Warner International/Macmillan 1978) ISBN 978-0-333-24827-0 (ninth, pbk ed.). Little,Brown and Company (North America)/Macmillan,London. p. 304. ISBN 0-316-11681-5.
  2. 1 2 Connections, pbk. pp63
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Connections, pbk. p.263
  4. Bonten, JHM (2007-01-19). "Anglo-Saxon and Biblical to Metrics Conversions". Surveyor + Chain + British-Nautical. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  5. Rowlett, Russ (2008-12-15). "lug [1]". How Many? A Dictionary of Units of Measurement. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  6. Encyclopædia Britannica, English measure
  7. United Kingdom. House of Commons Report (Second) of Commissioners to Consider the Subject of Weights and Measures, 13 July 1820. Parliamentary Papers 1820. (HC314) Pages 473–512.
  8. Units: P
  9. The Cassell English Dictionary, London 1990, p. 214, ISBN 0-304-34003-0
  10. "Connections", pbk. pp265
  11. Smith, Sir William; Charles Anthon (1851) A new classical dictionary of Greek and Roman biography, mythology, and geography partly based upon the Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology New York: Harper & Bros. Tables, pp. 1024–30.
  12. Niemann, Friedrich (1830) Vollständiges Handbuch der Münzen, Masse, und Gewichte aller Länder der Erde fur Kaufleute, Banquiers ... : in alphabetischer Ordnung. Quedlinburg und Leipzig, G. Basse. p. 33, pp.231–2, p. 286
  13. Thomas Ulvan Taylor (1908). "1". Surveyor's hand book. McGraw-Hill. p. 1. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  14. Russell, Jeffrey S.; American Society of Civil Engineers (1 August 2003). Perspectives in civil engineering: commemorating the 150th anniversary of the American Society of Civil Engineers. ASCE Publications. p. 167. ISBN 978-0-7844-0686-1. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  15. Rowlett, Russ (2008-12-03). "acre (ac or A)". How Many? A Dictionary of Units of Measurement. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  16. Thoreau, Henry David (1899). Walden: or, Life in the woods. H. Altemus. pp. 67, 113, 203, 204, 208, 290, 300, 309, 319, 339, 341, 356. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  17. Consumer and Competition Policy Directorate (1968). Report (1968) by the Standing Joint Committee on Metrication (PDF) (PDF). Department of Trade and Industry. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  18. Handbook 44 - 2012, Appendix C - General Tables of Units of Measurement
  19. "Canoe Glossary and Clickable Canoe". Michael Thiessen. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  20. Attorney Discussion on Price per Rod. Retrieved 24 Oct 2012.
  21. "Allotments". Watford Borough Council. Retrieved 2009-10-05.
  22. Width of highways and trails. 19 V.S.A. § 702 (Vermont Statutes Online) (Added 1985, No. 269 [Adj. Sess.], § 1.).
  23. Shelton, Neil. "How to Read Land Descriptions". p. 5. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
  24. "Lake View Parcel $198 Down $198 Month Incredible 8 Acre Parcel!". EagleStar. American Eagle Star. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  27. Cardarelli, François Cradarelli (2003). Encyclopaedia of Scientific Units, Weights and Measures. London: Springer. p. 33. ISBN 978-1-4471-1122-1.
  28. see McClurg/Shoemaker.The Building Estimator's Reference Handbook. 17th Ed. Chicago: Frank R. Walker Company, 1970, p. 1644.
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