Dry measure

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Dry measures are units of volume used in ancient measuring systems and still used in the US customary system to measure bulk commodities that are not fluids and that were typically shipped and sold in standardized containers such as barrels. They have been replaced by the same units used for measuring liquids in the imperial system and the metric system. They were or are typically used in agriculture, agronomy, and commodity markets to measure grain, dried beans, dried and fresh fruit, clams, and crabs. They were formerly used for many other foods, such as salt pork and salted fish, and for industrial commodities such as coal, cement, and lime.

The names are often the same as for the units used to measure liquids, despite representing different volumes, which is confusing for most people even in countries that still use them. The larger volumes of the dry measures apparently arose because they were based on heaped rather than "struck" (leveled) containers. For example, a container filled with grain heaped above the rim contains up to 25% more grain.[1]

Today, many units nominally of dry measure have become standardized as units of mass (see bushel); and many other units are commonly conflated or confused with units of mass.

Metric units[edit]

In the original metric system, the unit of dry volume was the stere, equal to a one-meter cube, but this is not part of the modern metric system; the liter and the cubic meter are now used. However, the stere is still widely used for firewood.

Imperial and US customary units[edit]

In US customary units, most units of volume exist both in a dry and a liquid version, with the same name, but different values: the dry hogshead, dry barrel, dry gallon, dry quart, dry pint, etc. The bushel and the peck are only used for dry goods. Imperial units of volume are the same for both dry and liquid goods. They have a different value from both the dry and liquid US versions.

Many of the units are associated with particular goods, so for instance the dry hogshead has been used for sugar and for tobacco, and the peck for apples. There are also special measures for specific goods, such as the cord of wood, the sack, the bale of wool or cotton, the box of fruit, etc.

Because it is difficult to measure actual volume and easy to measure mass, many of these units are now also defined as units of mass, specific to each commodity, so a bushel of apples is a different weight from a bushel of wheat (weighed at a specific moisture level). Indeed, the bushel, the best-known unit of dry measure because it is the quoted unit in commodity markets, is in fact a unit of mass in those contexts.

Conversely, the ton used in specifying tonnage and in freight calculations is often a volume measurement rather than a mass measurement.

In US cooking, dry and liquid measures are the same: the cup, the tablespoon, the teaspoon.

US dry measures are 16% larger than liquid measures; this is advantageous when cooking with fresh produce, as a dry pint of vegetables after trimming ends up being about a cooking (liquid) pint.

Struck and heaped measurement[edit]

The volume of bulk goods is usually measured by filling a standard container, so the containers' names and the units' names are often the same, and indeed both are called "measures". Normally, a level or struck measure is assumed, with the excess being swept off level ("struck") with the measure's brim—the stick used for this is called a "strickle". Sometimes heaped or heaping measures are used, with the commodity heaped in a cone above the measure.

As far back as medieval times, if not Biblical times, there was pressure from landowners to demand heaped bushels of commodities from their peasants, while at the same time peasants were obliged to purchase commodities from stricken containers. Rules outlawing this practice were circumvented through use of heavy round strickles, which would compress the contents of a bushel.[2]

US units of dry measure[edit]

unit symbol litres US pints gallons inches3
cm3 or ml
UK pints
1 pint pt 0.550610471 1 0.125 33.600312478 550.610471 1.1365225
1 quart qt 1.101220942 2 0.25 67.200624956 1,101.200308336 2.273045
1 gallon gal 4.40488377086 8 1 268.80249982 4,404.801233344 4.54609
1 peck pk 8.809767542 16 2 537.60499655 8,809.602466689 9.09218
1 bushel bu 35.239070167 64 8 2,150.42 exact[5] 35,238.409866755 36.36872