U.S. traditional & commercial
barrel sizes

Among traditional and commercial barrel sizes not defined in federal law were

1

Flour barrel 3 bushels (In U.S. Dept. of Agriculture statistics, a “barrel” is 196 pounds of wheat or rye flour or 200 pounds of cornmeal.)

sources

1

The present unit for a barrel of flour is fixed by some State laws, and generally by custom, at 196 pounds net. This unit, so far as we are aware, has nothing whatever to recommend it. It is an odd unit, which does not fit into our system of weights and measures at all, and the unit is not divisible into the ton, which is the large unit by which things are bought and sold in this country. Therefore in the flour trade the largest size unit which can be used is the barrel unit, because it does not divide into any larger size unit with which we are familiar. This unit has been in force for many years, and apparently is the 14 stones, the old English stone of 14 pounds. That is the only derivation we can get for that unit-is the old stone unit. Of course that has been obsolete for a large number of years.

A perplexing system of subdivisions arises when the half-barrel, quarter-barrel, and eighth-barrel sacks are considered—that is, a bag of 98 pounds, 49 pounds, 24½ pounds, and 12¼ pounds. The States, in establishing, as some of them have done, a flour barrel at 196 pounds, have failed to follow this system of subdivision for the smaller-sized sacks. While they have in general established 98 pounds as the half-barrel sack, we have laws that standardize 49 pounds and 48 pounds as the quarter-barrel sack and 24, 24½, and 25 in various States for the eighth-barrel sack, which, in a sense, makes three-sized barrels-the 192 pounds, the 196 pounds, and the 200 pounds, according as the 24, 24½, and 25 pound sack is established by State law. Then, in addition to this, a good many of the States are not making any attempt to enforce their laws at all, and a great many states do not have laws, with the result that there are a number of barrels on the market, such as the 46-pound quarter-barrel sack, which makes a 184-pound barrel. That, of course, would not be a standard barrel.

F. S. Holbrook, of the Bureau of Standards, testifying before the House Committee.
Hearings before the Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures.
House of Representatives. Sixty-Fifth Congress,
Second Session on H.R. 10957. April 16, 1918.
Washington: G. P. O., 1918.

2

Sugar barrel = 5 cubic feet.

3

Portland cement barrel = 4 cubic feet (4 bags to a barrel), equivalent to 376 pounds.

4

Whiskey barrel

The Revenue Service considered the whiskey barrel held 31 gallons, but the actual physical barrels seem to have held 50 gallons.

United States Code, title 15. ch. 6, sec. 231-242. 

U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Standards.
Circular 71, Rules and Regulations Promulgated under Authority of the Federal Standard-Barrel Law, 1917.

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