Ever Wonder Why there are 5280 Feet in a Mile?

'Zugspitze' - Mountain Sprint

Ever wonder why there are exactly 5,280 feet in a mile? It’s something I’ve always thought about since I first learned about distance and measurement when I was a kid. Why such a specific number? Why not a rounder, more even number like 5,000 or 6,000? And, most importantly, why don’t we just use the metric system?

Interestingly enough, the idea of the mile originated back in Roman times, from a unit of distance called the mille passum, which literally means “a thousand paces.” However, in Rome, each pace had to be about five Roman feet, thus making the mile originally 5,000 Roman feet—or closer to 4,850 modern feet for us (the Ancient Romans’ feet were a little shorter than ours).

Now, the big question is how we went from 5,000 (like I said before, a nicer, rounder number) to 5,280 feet? The answer: the furlong, which back during the 16th century, was the length of the furrow a team of oxen could plow in a day, and equated to about 660 feet. When Parliament established the length of the mile back in 1592, it chose to have each mile be made up of eight furlongs. 8 multiplied by 660—that gives us our 5,280 feet.

Running “the mile” back in grade school and high school was always something I dreaded. I was never the fastest or most athletic kid, and I was usually sucking wind by halfway through it. However, it’s so cool to be able to look at individuals like Usain Bolt and other runners who can run as fast as they do and break world records without appearing to break a sweat. Here’s Hicham el Guerouj setting the world record for a one mile race.

And, even crazier, watch Tim Anderson Spider-man crawl an entire mile. The strength and determination of this dude is just unbelievable.


Photo by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

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