Weights and measures in 1903 North Dakota

This column ran in the June 9 edition of the Prairie Post.


The 1903 Blue Book of North Dakota includes a wealth of information about the rules of the state from that era. It is available on the Internet if you care to take a look.
The state had defined by law a set of measurements. In all likelihood these standards were uniform across the country and defined by law in each state back in the day when the federal government made less rules.
Some of these rules will sound familiar. Twelve of anything makes a dozen and 12 dozen makes a gross and 12 gross makes a “great gross.”
Others won’t be so familiar to the modern businessman.
Two hundred pounds of beef, pork, shad or salmon make a barrel. However, it takes 196 pounds of flour to make a barrel, 256 pounds of soap and 280 pounds of salt.
For fluids of any kind it takes nine gallons to make an English firkin and, as we all know, two firkins makes a kilderkin and two kilderkins make a barrel.
For the dairy farmers 56 pounds of butter makes a firkin and probably a cholesterol problem.
The law defined, and probably still does, how much grain makes up a bushel by weight.
Barley was defined as 48 pounds, flax at 56 pounds and wheat 60 pounds to the bushel. However 100 pounds of any grain was defined as a cental.
The state also defined a bushel of limes at 80 pounds even though they never caught on as a crop in North Dakota.
For powder substances it was 25 pounds to the keg, raisins were 100 pounds to the cask and 32 bushels of coal made a chaldron.
Iron had its own set of measurements. It takes 14 pounds to make a stone of iron, 21 and a half stones of iron make a pig and eight pigs make a fother.
Some of rules of measurement in place in North Dakota in 1903 would almost seem contradictory.
The law defines 31 and a half gallons of wine as a barrel even though prohibition was the law at the time in North Dakota. Possessing 42 gallons of wine would mean you had a tierce of wine, 63 gallons a hogshead and 84 gallons a puncheon.
It also means you probably would get 90 days in jail to figure out the system of measurement.
Three feet was the standard for a yard and 12 inches the standard for a foot then as it is today. However back in 1903 nine inches was defined as a quarter, as in a quarter of a yard.
And the 1903 laws defined an inch as three barleycorns laid end to end.
You didn’t need a retractable tape measure back then, just a little grain to take a measurement.
But it had to be a pain to take the measurements of a house laying all that barley end to end.