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Mass and weight:

With the sedentary peoples and with the shift from hunting and fishing to agriculture and animal husbandry, the need for suitable measurement systems grew. The earliest weights and units of measurement were based on measurements of body parts and the natural environment. Early Babylonian , Egyptian , and Bible writings show that length was first measured using arm, hand, or foot measurements. Time was divided according to the orbital periods of the sun , moon and other celestial bodies. If you wanted to compare the volume of containers such as bottles or clay jars, they were filled with plant seeds, which were then counted.

Our current knowledge of early weights and measures comes from a variety of sources. Archaeologists have recovered some early standards that are kept in museums today. Comparison between the dimensions of buildings and descriptions by contemporary authors can provide more information.

Length measurement:

Measuring lengths is one of the most important tasks of a mark cutter. The oldest form of length measurement came from the Romans and affected limbs of the human body, such as arms, hands, feet or crotches.

When a person spreads out both arms, the result is a measurement of about 1.70 to 1.90 m long, which was referred to as a "fathom". The "Klafter" was divided into 6 equal parts, which were called "foot" or "shoe". The "foot" was again divided into 12 equal parts, which were called "inches" or "thumb widths", following the duodecimal division.

The lengths of the fathom system varied greatly locally and regionally. Only the Viennese fathom was an exception, since it was used from the 16th century. remained practically the same length.

The fathom/feet/inch system was used as a technical measurement system exclusively in construction, mining, military and surveying. It was never used in the textile trade.

In addition to the cord measure, the "cubit" appears again and again as another measure of length. Although the "cubit" as a forearm length represented a natural archetype, so to speak, its length varied astonishingly from region to region. For example, lengths in the range of 0.765 to 0.802 m were referred to as "Wiener Ellen". The "cubits" were not evenly divided, like the "fathom" by "foot" and "inches". They had an uneven division, mostly into 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 and 1/32 parts of the "cubit". These parts did not have their own name.

The system of cubits was exclusively a trade measure, predominantly a cut goods measure for textiles. There were in Europe until the 18th century. many hundreds of different cubit lengths, which made trade and communication very difficult. Nevertheless, the "Elle" was valid until the end of 1875.

The linear dimensions valid in mining were determined by measuring sticks decreed by the sovereign and were only valid for the respective district. In the Salzkammergut, each salt mine originally had its own "staff". To standardize the measuring system, the emperor introduced the "Österreichisches Kammergutstabl" with a length of 1.195 m. The "stick" was divided into 8 "eighths", the "eighth" again into 6 "inches" and 2 "eighths" made 1 "shoe".

In 1768, Empress Maria Theresa issued "the introductory patent for the Viennese weight and measure". The now legal "Viennese units" only slowly began to establish themselves in the Salzkammergut. The "Kammergutstabl" was not replaced by the "Wiener Klafter" until 1838.

The meter, which is still valid today, was introduced at the Austrian salt works on January 1, 1876.

Cord, shoe and inch measurements:

1 Austrian mile                         7.585km


1 Viennese fathom (°)                              1,896m


1 Linz fathom (°)                               1.816m

1 chamber goods fathom (°)                   1.785m

1 Hallstatt mountain fathom (°)               1,991 m

1 Viennese shoe or foot (')            31.60 cm

1 Kammergut shoe or foot (')  29.75 cm

1 Vienna inch ('')                                 2.63cm

1 Kammergut inch ('')                       2.48 cm


Length measurements for textiles:

1 Gmundner Elle                                0.795 m

1 Viennese cubit                                        0.778 m


Length dimensions in mining:

1 Bergstabel Chamber Estate                   1.195 m

1 Ausseer Bergstab                              1.179m

1 Hallstatt and Ischler Bergstabel 1.192 m

1 Hall mountain table                                 1.169 m

1 Salzburg mountain table                        1,199m


Length dimensions for wood:

1 stick of spruce or fir wood       6,807m


Area measurement:

Cord, shoe and inch measurements:

1 Austrian square mile            57.54 km²

1 Viennese square fathom                        3,596 sqm

1 Viennese square foot                             999.3 cm²

1 Vienna square inch                             6.939 cm²

Room measurement:

From the High Middle Ages to the 18th century. it was customary for us to put up publicly accessible standards, stone masses and scales so that the merchants and weavers could compare their own measurements and on the other hand the buyers could check for themselves whether they had received the correct measurement. A measure patent issued by Emperor Maximilian II in 1570 ordered the public attachment of the "land measures" (fathoms and cubits) to town halls or churches and the installation of stone "landmasons" in market squares.

In earlier times up to the 19th century. Grain was not traded by weight but by volume. In Austria, the "Metzen", a so-called dry capacity measure, was generally used as a measure. The Metzen was canceled and fully counted.

Cord, shoe and inch measurements:

1 Vienna cubic fathom            6.82m³

1 Vienna cubic foot                 31.59 dm³

1 Vienna cubic inch                18.28cc


Room dimensions for wood:

1 pan Widholz (firewood) spruce or fir          398 m³

1 pan Widholz beech                                                         341 m³

1 Rachel Widholz (1/48th of a pan) Spruce or Fir   8.3m³

1 Rachel Widholz Beech                                                                7.1 m³


Capacity for brine:

1 bucket                                                   56.57 dm³ or 56.6 l

1 March to 180 buckets                       10.18m³

1 room for 2,000 buckets (until 1677)                  113.14m³

1 room for 4,320 buckets (until the 18th century)         244.38m³

1 room for 3,240 buckets (from the 18th century)      183.29m³


Capacity for grain:

1 Gmundner Metzen (until 1752)                      62L

1 courage to 30 Gmundner Metzen                  1,860L

1 Stockerau Metzen (from 1752)                      61.49L


Weight measurement:

As the oldest measuring instruments, scales have been in use for more than 7,000 years. The most original form is the equal-armed beam balance, which was used until the 19th century. was in widespread use. From the 15th century princely cementation offices existed as predecessors of today's calibration offices. As princely officials, the Zimenter had to periodically calibrate scales, weights and length scales, i.e. to check that they corresponded to prescribed original models. After the check, the Zimenter attached an official mark. In 1777, Empress Maria Theresa ordered in a "Cementation Patent" that lengths, weights and scales be checked every two years. Stone weights were not allowed to be used because of the high risk of fraud, and they were also not allowed to be provided with a cement stamp.

General weight measurements:

1 hundredweight Vienna (q)                                         56kg

1 Viennese pound                                                   0.56kg

1 loth                                                                    1.75 dkg

1 pinch                                                        4.38g

1 quintal (salt works from 01.01.1876)      100kg


Weight measurements for salt:

1 load of salt (100-115 pounds over time)          56.6-64.4kg

1 cartload of salt (115 pounds circa 1769)                                    64.4kg

1 pound fodder = 240 pieces fodder of salt                            15.46t

1 Schilling Fuder = 30 Fuder salt                          1.93t

1 barrel of salt (hundredweight barrel)                                                       61.6kg

1 cup of salt                                                                              7.16kg

1 Bohemian runner (150 Viennese pounds)                          84.0kg

Metric system:

The first defined metric system was introduced in France. In 1791 the intention to create such a system was legislated; it was introduced in 1793 at the time of the Jacobin Reign of Terror . For the first time in history, an artificially developed system of measurements was introduced. The decimal metric system was introduced with the aim of creating a system of measurement "for all time, for all peoples". The original meter , which was created as a reference, is kept in Paris.

The first metric system was based on centimeters , grams and seconds ( cgs system , c for centimeter) and these units were very useful in science and technology . Later metric systems were based on meter , kilogram and second ( mks system ) to be more manageable for practical applications. In technology and industry, the technical system of measurement was created, which had the meter, kilopond (formerly: force kilogram), second and degree as the basic units. Metric units have spread all over the world, first to non-English speaking countries but more recently there as well.

The metric system was slow to be adopted in France, but scholars and engineers considered its adoption as an international system desirable. On 20.  On May 18, 1875, an international treaty, the Meter Convention , was signed by seventeen states. Various organizations and laboratories were formed to create and maintain a unified system.

The meter was introduced at the Austrian saltworks on January 1, 1876.

The metric system is simpler than the old units of measurement because different sized units are always smooth powers of ten of other units. This relationship between the units leads to easy conversions from one unit to another in the decimal system .

The currently predominant form of a metric system is the International System of Units (SI – System). It was founded in 1954 - not yet under its current name and initially with only six base units - and is also based on the meter, kilogram and second, but also contains other base units for temperature , electric current , luminous intensity and amount of substance.


Sources used:

Carl Schraml "The Upper Austrian Salt Works from the beginning of the 16th to the middle of the 18th century", Vienna, 1932

Franz Kieninger "Forestry since the 14th century", company newspaper Österreichische Salinen, 3rd JG, 4th H, Vienna, 1930

"Brine and salt", Bad Ischl exhibition, catalogue, Bad Ischl, 1987

Anton Dicklberger "Saline history of Upper Austria", transcription by Thomas Nussbaumer, Weitra, 2018

Alois Fellner "Mining Dictionary", Vienna, 1999

Harald Witthöft "From the mountain measure in the Schwazer Bergbuch", Der Anschnitt 60, Bochum, 2008

Wikipedia "Weights and Measures"

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