Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Was Napoleon Short?

I read about this interesting history misconception the other day and it's sort of science related, so I thought I'd share it with anyone bored enough to read my blog.  :-)  It's a common to read that Napoleon, Emperor of France and King of Italy during the early 1800s, is often credited as being very short with a height of 5 feet 2 inches.  That is short for an adult male although not unheard of by any means.  Unfortunately this is not true.  Napoleon was actually 5 feet 7 inches tall, which is taller than the average man of that time period and location.

So why the misconception?  The misconception results from the difference between the French pouce and British inch of the time period.  The pouce was equal to 2.71 cm and the inch was equal to 2.54 cm.  This conversion confusion is the result of the missing five inches in Napoleon's height.  

Today in the U.S. 5 feet 7 inches is below average height for an adult male (5 feet 10 inches) although taller than the average height of a U.S. adult female (5 feet 4 inches).  For that time and location, however, Napoleon was not short.  He was taller than average.

It's amazing that a simple confusion resulting from conversion differences has led to such a large misconception that has carried through for nearly two centuries!  That's how many misconceptions start.  A tiny mistake is made that carries through to a larger mistake that gets repeated over and over until it becomes common 'knowledge'.  Misconceptions take place in all fields of study and it's the job of any good scholar to work to debunk those misconceptions. 

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