There is speculation as to the first length and use of the original yard. Some say the length of a yard was the length of a man's belt or girdle. For this reason, a yard could also be described as the length of a man's waist. Some say it was King Henry 1 that officially decreed the length of a yard. A yard was said to be:

"the distance between the end of your nose and the tip of your index finger, arm outstretched"

However, it was likely that servants and chefs had been using this method before him to measure units such as food stock. Yet, the yard as a unit of measurement dates back further still. The West Saxon Ruler, King Ine, ruled from 688-726. He established a set of laws and measurements which first mentioned a yard as a unit of measurement. A yard at this time measured the land area equal to a quarter the size of a hide.

The yard became part of the Imperial System which dates back to at least the middle ages. The Imperial system emerged as a result of trade between Romans, Celts, and Anglo-Saxons. The Weights and Measures Act of 1824 officially brought the system into law, specifically outlining units of measurement. This system was spread across the world as a result of the British Empire. An early version of the system was spread to America which is still in use today. However, the majority of the world switched to the Metric System when it emerged.

As established, the longest recorded use of yards as a measurement was used to describe land length. It is perhaps no surprise that yards are used to measure field lengths in field sports. For example, as the US never adopted the Metric System, American football use yards instead of feet. Football in the UK, whose official rules were established in 1877, also uses yards as a more colloquial way to measure distance. This makes sense as even though the UK has adopted the metric system, football has been played in some form since at least medieval times.

Fabric can also be measured in yards as length. A yard of fabric was also the same length used to measure arrows used by legendary English longbowmen.

Qubic or squared yards are also used in the construction industry. For example, loose items such as gravel in a bag are often quickly estimated using yards. However, more accurate measurements use the metric system.

Between 1855 and 1878, the official length of the British Imperial yard was 0.914398416 meters. However, in 1963 the new Weights and Measures Act was brought in to more accurately measure a yard. This was 0.91443992 meters. This became the International yard as it was adopted internationally, including by the US and UK.

This roughly equates to three feet or 36 inches. Most measurement systems use 36 inches in fabric measurements. One yard when you buy fabric is 36 inches. However, the original yard of fabric measured 37 inches which was also the length of an English arrow. It is important to note that when buying yards from fabric stores, this does not include fabric width. You should check fabric widths before making a decision on how many yards you need.

Yards can also rarely be used in measurements of volume. For example, the yard of ale. The yard of ale was invented in Cambridge in the 17th century. Instead of a regular pint glass, this is a long thin glass with a bulb at the bottom. The bulb sprouts a long glass tube with a larger opening at the end to drink from. The length of this glass is around one meter or 1.1 yards.

The yard of ale glass is symbolically hung at the top of pubs all over the UK. As it is a fun and quirky way to drink, it is often used for birthdays and hen nights. As the glass is so long, the fun comes from trying not to spill ale on yourself. The yard glass holds around two and a half pints or 1.4 liters.

After the French Revolution of 1789, a more effective system of measuring was established, known as Metric. Metric measurements were more accurate, especially in smaller measurements. This eventually spread across the world, and nearly every country adopted this new system. Even the UK, a long-time rival of France, and inventors of Imperial, eventually adopted metric measurements. This began in the 1860s and started to become enshrined in law in the 1960s.

As the United States Constitution was written in 1787 and finalized in 1789, it was written just as the Metric method was being established. So, instead, they opted to stick with the Imperial System, which was already in use. The US is now one of only three countries to use this as their main method of measuring. It has been surmised that after their own revolution, the US did not want to import a new system as it would cause instability in a newly established country.

A law to voluntarily adopt the new measuring system was passed in 1975. However, the American public was unwilling to adopt the Metric method. As the US became an economic powerhouse, there was a feeling that they did not need to adapt to anyone else. Instead, they would continue to use Imperial - setting themselves apart as world leaders.

Why is Metric vs Imperial a problem?

The main problem when things are measured using different systems is confusion. For example, if one country is measuring using one method and the other country is measuring using a different system, it is hard to actually know what the actual measurement is. This can often be seen in bodybuilding. As many of the stars are US-born or US based, they talk about weight in pounds rather than kilograms. So, for Europeans, it is often complicated to replicate their training programs. This is because to do so, you have to first convert pounds to kilograms.

It also causes confusion in the sewing industry, both from an industrial and craft point of view. People starting a sewing journey will likely be bemused by the different measurements. It is hard to work out how much fabric you actually need for a sewing project. A sewing book may tell you how many feet you need, and a fabric store may only sell in fabric yardage. That's not to mention fabric widths. Sewing projects will likely rely on the accuracy of your unit conversions.

In more serious terms, miscalculations in conversion from Imperial to Metric and vice versa can be deadly. For example, miscalculations when administering medicine could severely damage or even kill a patient. It has also hindered space exploration. In 1999 NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter crashed after miscalculations between Metric and Imperial. This failed mission cost 327 million dollars.

For these reasons, it is absolutely essential to know how to different widths and lengths and other units of measurement.

How to convert yards to feet?

The first thing to do is work out how a yard is measured in different units. In other words, you need to know how big a yard is in other metrics. The best way to do this is to use an online unit converter. Just clock length, select yard, and on the right-hand side, select any unit you want to convert into. For example, you can convert to inches as well as feet.

A yard can be converted into different units as shown below:

  • One yard equals three feet.
  • One yard equals 36 inches
  • One yard equals 0.9144 meters
  • One yard equals 91.44 cm

Half a yard or a half yard can be broken down by splitting these figures in half. For example:

  • Half a yard equals 1.5 feet
  • Half a yard equals 18
  • Half a yard equals 0.4572 meters
  • Half a yard equals 45.72 cm

The yard is one of the oldest known measurements in the UK. With that history comes a strange evolution of the yard. For example, the length of a yard has been measured by:

  • The circumference of a man's waist
  • A land area equal to a quarter of a skin
  • The distance between the end of your nose and the tip of your index finger, arm outstretched
  • English arrows were also measured to be one yard
  • A yard of ale glass

The yard is a measurement that is part of the Imperial system. The routes of this system date back until at least the middle ages, when the Saxons, Celts, and Romans traded goods.

Much of the world, including the UK, adopted the newer Metric System when the French established it after the French Revolution. The US, which had just won its own independence, did not adopt this new system.

Having two systems of measurement causes minor and major problems in the world. From not understanding weight lifting programs to accidental deaths from wrong dosages, Metric vs Imperial is a problem.

This is why it is essential to accurately convert one unit of measurement to another. An online unit converter is the best and easiest way to do this.

A yard measures:
three feet.

  • 36 inches
  • 0.9144 meters
  • 91.44 cm