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Dutch units of measurement

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The Dutch units of measurement used today are those of the metric system. Before around 1800, the Netherlands had a completely different system. One of the most remarkable characteristics of this historical system is that the weights and measures were not standardised throughout this small country.[1]

Metric system


The metric system officially was introduced in the Netherlands in 1816. At first the old historical Dutch names still were used, but were changed to suit the new measurements (e.g. pond for kilogram). This was called the "Dutch metric system" (Nederlands metrisch stelsel). But this proved untenable and the modern names were adopted in 1869 (Wet van 7 april 1869, Staatsblad No.57). A few of the older names officially remained in use, but they were eliminated by the time the system was standardised further by the 1937 Act on Weights and Measures (nl:IJkwet).


On 30 October 2006 the Weights and Measures Act was replaced by the Metrology Act. The organisation currently responsible for weights and measures in the Netherlands is a private company called the Netherlands Meetinstiuut (NMi). Literally, this means "Dutch Institute of Measures", but the organisation uses its Dutch name in English. The company was created in 1989 when the Metrology Service (Dienst van het IJkwezen) was privatised. At first the sole shareholder was the Dutch government, but in 2001 the sole shareholder became TNO Bedrijven, a holding company for TNO, the Dutch Organisation for Applied Scientific Research.[2] [3]


The metric system used today in the Netherlands has virtually the same nomenclature as in English, except:

  • the "-er" spelling is used (e.g. kilometer),
  • there is no plural form (e.g. "three metres" is expressed as "drie meter"),
  • a few metric measurements unfamiliar to most English speakers are sometimes used to refer to property measurements (e.g. hectare, are and centiare).

Historical measures of weight


A pond was divided into sixteen ons. A pond was roughly about the same size as a modern pound. It was generally around 480 grams, but there was much variation from region to region. The most commonly used measure of weight was the Amsterdam pound.[4]

  • one Amsterdam pound (scale weight) (Amsterdams pond - waaggewicht) was 494 grams,
  • one Gorinchem pound (Gorinchems pond) was 466 grams,
  • one Utrecht heavy pound (Utrechts zwaar pond) was 498 grams.

After the metric system was introduced in 1816, the word pond continued to be used, but for 1 kilogram. This doubling in size of the pond in one fell swoop created a good deal of confusion. The name "kilogram" was adopted in 1869, but the pond was only eliminated as a formal unit of measurement in 1937. Pond is still used today in everyday parlance to refer to 500 g, not far from its historical weight. The word pond is also used when referring to the pound used in English-speaking countries.


An ons was 1/16 of a pond. An ons was generally around 30 grams, but there was much variation. The figures provided above for the weight of the various pounds used in the Netherlands can be divided by 16 to obtain the weights of the various ounces in use. After the metric system was introduced, the word ons continued to be used, but for 100 g. The ons was eliminated as a formal unit of measurement in 1937, but it is still used today in everyday parlance to refer to 100 g. In the Netherlands today the word ons does not commonly refer to its historical weight of around 30 g (the exact weight depending on where you were), but to 100 g.

Last or Scheepslast

  • scheepslast – 4,000 Amsterdam pond = 1976 kg (~ 2.18 short tons)

Meaning literally a "load", a last was essentially the equivalent of 120 cubic feet of shipping space. A last in the VOC in the 17th century was about the same as 1,250 kg, becoming later as much as 2,000 kg.[5]

In the Dutch fishery, a last was a measurement of the fish loaded into the various types of fishing boat in use (e.g. a bomschuit, buis, sloep or logger). The last of these could take 35 to 40 last of fish, the exact amount depending on the location. In the South Holland fishing villages of Scheveningen and Katwijk, it amounted to 17 crans (kantjes) of herring; in Vlaardingen 14 packed tons. A cran (kantje) held about 900 to 1,000 herring.[6] In Flanders a last was about 1,000 kg of herring. The term fell out of use when the herring fishery disappeared.[7]

Apothecaries' system

In the Netherlands (as in English-speaking countries) there was an apothecaries' system of weights.

Unit Symbol Division Grains Grams
medicinal pound (medicinaal pond) lb 12 ons 5760 373.2
medicinal ounce (medicinaal ons) 8 drachmen 480 31.10
dram (drachme) ʒ 3 scrupels 60 3.888
scruple (scrupel) 20 grein 20 1.296
grain (grein) gr. 1 0.0648

Historical measures of length


  • mijl (mile) = about 5 km (with variations)

The mijl was the equivalent of one hour of walking. It was a variable measurement that differed from region to region. One commonly used measurement was the "Holland mile" (Hollandse mijl). The mijl is usually assumed to be the equivalent of the English league, which was also variable but was about three English miles or about five kilometres. Other equivalents of the various miles in use were the French lieu marine (5.55 km), 20,000 Amsterdam feet (5.66 km) or 20,000 Rijnland feet (6.28 km). Between the introduction of the "Dutch metric system" (Nederlands metriek stelsel) in 1816 and the reforms in 1869, the word "mijl" was used to refer to a kilometre. Today the word mijl is not in use as a unit of measurement. It is used to refer only to the "mile" used in English-speaking countries.


The roede (literally, "rod") was generally somewhat smaller than the modern fixed length of a rod, which is 16.5 feet (or 5.03 metres). However, the length of a roede, and the number of voeten in a roede, varied from place to place. There could be anywhere from 7 to 21 voeten in a roede. The roede used in the Netherlands for the measurement of long distances was generally the Rijnland rod.

  • one Rijnland rod (Rijnlandse roede) (= 12 Rijnland feet) was 3.77 m
  • one Amsterdam rod (Amsterdamse roede) (= 13 A'dam feet) was 3.68 m
  • one Bloois rod (Blooise roede) (= 12 feet) was 3.61 m
  • one 's-Hertogenbosch rod ('-Bossche roede) (= 20 feet) was 5.75 m
  • one Hondsbos and Rijp rod (Hondsbosse en Rijpse roede) was 3.42 m
  • one Putten rod (Puttense roede) (= 14 feet) was 4.06 m
  • one Schouw rod (Schouwse roede) (= 12 feet) was 3.73 m

Today the word roede is not in common use in the Netherlands as a unit of measurement.


  • el (ell) = ~ 69.4 cm (with variations)

The length represented by the Dutch ell was the distance of the inside of the arm (i.e. the distance from the armpit to the tip of the fingers), an easy way to measure length. The Dutch ell was somewhat shorter than the English ell. The exact length of the Dutch ell varied from town to town, but in 1725 the Hague ell was fixed as the national standard for tax purposes.

  • one Hague ell or standard ell (Haagse of gewone el) = 69.4 cm
  • one Amsterdam ell (Amsterdamse el) = 68.8 cm
  • one Brabant ell (Brabantse el) 69.2 cm or 16 tailles
  • one Delft ell (Delfsche el) = 68.2 cm
  • one Goes ell (Goesche el) = 69.0 cm
  • one Twente ell (Twentse el) = 58.7 cm

From 1816 to 1869, the word el was used in the Netherlands to refer to the metre. In 1869 the word metre was adopted. Since then the el, both as a word and as a measurement, has not been in use.


  • voet (foot) = 31.4 cm (with variations)

Voet (literally, "foot") is similar to the modern foot, which is 30.48 cm. The number of duimen in a voet, and the exact size of a voet, changed from region to region, and from city to city. Depending on the region, a voet might have 10, 11, 12 or 13 duimen. The most commonly used voet in the Netherlands was the Rijnland foot.

  • one Rijnland foot (Rijnlandse voet) (= 12 Rijnland inches) was 31.4 cm
  • one Amsterdam foot (Amsterdamse voet) (= 11 A'dam inches) was 28.3 cm
  • one Bloois foot (Blooise voet) was 30.1 cm
  • one 's-Hertogenbosch foot ('s-Hertogenbosche voet) was 28.7 cm
  • one Hondsbos and Rijp foot (Honsbosse en Rijpse voet) was 28.5 cm
  • one Schouw foot (Schouwse voet) was 31.1 cm

Today the word voet is not in common use in the Netherlands as a unit of measurement. It refers mainly to the "foot" used in English-speaking countries.


  • kleine palm (small palm) – 3 cm (????)
  • grote palm (large palm) – 9.6 cm; after 1820, 10 cm


The duim (literally, "thumb", but translated as "inch") was about the width of the top phalanx of the thumb of an adult man. It was very similar to the length of the modern inch, which is 2.54 cm. The exact length of the duim varied from region to region.

  • one Amsterdam inch (Amsterdamse duim) was ~ 2.57½ cm
  • one Nijmegen inch (Gelderse of Nijmeegse duim) was ~ 2.70 cm
  • one Rijnland inch (Rijnlandse duim) was ~ 2.61 cm

When the "Dutch metric system" (Nederlands metriek stelsel) was introduced in 1820 the word duim was used for the centimetre, but in 1870 was dropped. Today the word duim is not in common use in the Netherlands as a unit of measurement, but it is still used to refer to the "inch" used in English-speaking countries. There are a few things that are measured by this standard. The word is also still used in certain expressions, including "drieduims pijp" (three-inch pipe) and "duimstok" (ruler or gauge).

Historical measures of surface area


  • morgen was 8,518 square metres (with variations).

"Morgen" means "morning" in Dutch and German. A morgen of land represented the amount of land that could be ploughed in a morning. The exact size varied from region to region. The number of roede in a morgen also varied from place to place, and could be anywhere from 150 to 900.

  • one Rijnland morgen (Rijnlandse morgen) = 8,516 square metres (Divided into 6 honts. A hont was divided into 100 square Rijnland rods. So there were 600 Rijnland rods in a morgen. A Rijnland rod was divided into 144 square Rijnland feet.)
  • one Bilt morgen (Biltse morgen) = 9,200 square metres
  • one Gelderland morgen (Gelderse morgen) = 8,600 square metres
  • one Gooi morgen (Gooise morgen) = 9,800 square metres
  • one 's-Hertogenbosch morgen (Bossche morgen) = 9,930 square metres (Divided into 6 loopense = 600 square roede = 240.000 square feet.
  • one Veluwe morgen (Veluwse morgen) = 9,300 square meteres
  • one Waterland morgen (Waterlandse morgen) = 10,700 square metres
  • one Zijp or Schermer morgen (Zijper of Schermer morgen) = 8,520 square metres

During the French occupation, measurements were standardised and regional variations eliminated. Initially Louis Napoleon decreed in 1806 that the Rijnland morgen would be used throughout the country, but this only lasted a few years. It wasn't long before the metric system was introduced. Since then land has been measured in square metres (hectares, ares and centiares).


A hont was made up of 100 roede. The exact size of a hont of land varied from place to place, but the Rijnland hont was 1,420 square metres. Another name for hont was "honderd", a Dutch word meaning "hundred". The word hond is derived from the earlier Germanic word hunda[8], which meant "hundred" (or "dog"). After the metric system was introduced in the 19th century, the measurement fell into disuse.


A square roede was also referred to as a roede. Roede (or roe) was both an area measurement as well as a linear measurement. The exact size of a roede depended on the length of the local roede, which varied from place to place. The most common roede used in the Netherlands was the Rijnland rod.

  • one Rijnland rod (Rijnlandse roede) was 14.19 m²
  • one Amsterdam rod (Amsterdamse roede) was 13.52 m²
  • one 's-Hertogenbosch rod (Bossche roede) was 33.10 m² ??
  • one Breda rod (Bredase roede) was 32.26 m² ??
  • one Groningen rod (Groningse roede) was 16.72 m²
  • one Hondsbos rod (Hondsbosse roede) was 11.71 m²

When the Dutch metric system (Nederlands metriek stelsel) was introduced in 1816, the old names were used for the new metric measures. An are was referred to as a "square rod" (vierkante roede). The rod and the square rod were abandoned by 1937, but the Rijnland rod (Rijnlandse Roede), abbreviated as "RR²", is still used as a measurement of surface area for flowerbulb fields.


A square voet was also called a voet. The word voet (meaning "foot") could refer to a foot or to a square foot. The exact size of a voet depended on the length of the local voet, which changed from region to region. The most commonly used voet in the Netherlands was the Rijnland foot.

Historical measures of volume


A okshoofd (earlier spelling: oxhoofd) was a measurement of volume representing the volume held by a large barrel of wine. The measurement was also used for vinegar, tobacco and sugar. The measurement is still used by businesses in the wine and spirits trade. There were six ankers in an okshoofd.

There is a saying in Dutch: "You can't draw clean wine from an unclean hogshead". (Men kan geen reine wijn uit een onrein okshoofd tappen.)


  • aam – 4 ankers = 156 Litres

There were four ankers in an aam. It was used for measuring the volume of wine. The size of an aam varied from place to place. It was anything from 141 to 160 Litres.


An anker was also a measure of volume representing the volume held in a small cask holding around 45 bottles. It was then about 35 Litres in size.


  • stoop – 1/16 anker


  • mingel – 1/2 stoop


  1. Much of the information on this page was obtained from various unfootnoted articles found on the Dutch version of Wikipedia, including "Metriek stelsel", "Nederlands metriek stelsel", "Pond (massa)", "Ons (massa)", "Last", "Medicinaal pond", "Mijl (Nederland)", "Roede (lengte)", "El (lengtemaat)", "Voet (lengte)", "Duim(lengte)", "Anker", "Aam", "Morgen" and "Roede" and "Hont". Some of the information was also found in other articles on the English Wikipedia, including "Apothecaries' system". In accordance with Wikipedia policy to avoid references to other Wikipedia articles, the source of this information is not footnoted in each sentence.
  2. NMi website
  3. NMi page on historical measures
  4. C.R. Boxer: The Dutch Seaborne Empire 1600-1800. pp. 341-342
  5. VOC Glossarium
  6. A. Hoogendijk Jz., De grootvisserij op de Noordzee, 1895
  7. R. Degrijse, Vlaanderens haringbedrijf, 1944
  8. Universität Heidelberg - Hund

See also

  • Weights and measures
  • Historical weights and measures
  • SI
  • W.C.H. Staring, De binnen- en buitenlandsche maten, gewichten en munten van vroeger en tegenwoordig, met hunne onderlinge vergelijkingen en herleidingen, benevens vele andere, dagelijks te pas komende opgaven en berekeningen. Vierde, herziene en veel vermeerderde druk, 1902.
  • J.M. Verhoeff, De oude Nederlandse maten en gewichten, 2e druk, 1983; Publikatie 3 van het P.J. Meertens-Instituut voor dialectologie, volkskunde en naamkunde van de Koninklijke Nederlande Akademie van Wetenschappen.

External links