Weight and Measurement in Old Norway

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Weight and Measurement in Old Norway

Nothing confuses our American school children quite as much as beginning arithmetic classes in weights and measure.

Anyone who has ever taught primary school, or helped a child with his lessons, know it does no good to explain why we have twelve inches in a foot or three feet in a yard; children are incredulous when told a mile is 5280 feet and so on.  Any logic escapes them; the system simply requires memorization.

The subject of switching to the metric system has been discussed in the United States.  European countries such as Norway are often held up as examples of places where the weights and measures systems function smoothly with decimal units.

However, Norway only adopted its metric system in 1875 and before that commerce operated on a plethora of weights and measures which sometimes varied from valley to valley and were far more complicated and confusing than the old English system we inherited.

A barter economy requires standards established by a central authority in which it is essential that both parties agree about the exchange.  Under a strong central govenment, the standards are enforced with effective penalties for transgressions; an administration without power to maintain an orderly system throughout a country and especially in remote areas,  necessarily surrrenders its prerogatives to local government, and this was the case in Norway.

A genealogist, local historian, or cook will be confronted with confusing terms if he uses material recorded or printed before the metric system was adopted in Norway.

In the Middle Ages lengths were measured in the tomme, fod and alen.  The tomme (thumb) and fod (foot) are self-expalantory.  The alen was origianlly the distance measured from the elbow to the point of the thumb finger.  Lare it came to be equal to two feet and 3/4 inches.  Grain was measured in Mæler or (skjepper) and so on.  The first ordinances in "modern" times for Norway and Demark came May 1, 1683; and January 10th, 1698, when it was decreed the fod was to be the same as the Rhineland fuss (foot) for linear measure, 1 pott equal to 1/21 of a cubic fod; and 1 handelspund equal to 1/62 of the weight of 1 cubic fod of fresh water.

On Julyl 24, 1824, Norway got a new system, much more detailed than the earlier laws, in which 1 fod = 12 tomme; and 1 alen = 2 fodder; 1mil = 18,000 alen; 1 rode = 5 alen; and 1 maal (mål) of land = 10,000 square fodder.  One korn tønne (barrel of grain) was to be 41/2 cubic fodder.  or 8 skjepper.  One tønne