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A gallon is a measure of volume of approximately four and a half litres (in UK usage).


Historically it has had many different definitions, but there are three definitions in current use. These are the U.S. liquid gallon (≈ 3.8 litres) and the lesser used U.S. dry gallon (≈ 4.4 L) which are in use in the United States, and the Imperial (UK) gallon (≈ 4.5 L) which is in unofficial use within the United Kingdom and Ireland and is in semi-official use within Canada (See Canadian units).[1] The gallon, be it the Imperial or U.S. gallon, is sometimes found in other English-speaking countries.


A one U.S. gallon gas can purchased near the U.S.-Canada border. It shows equivalences in Imperial gallons and litres.

  • The U.S. liquid gallon is legally defined as 231 cubic inches,[2] and is equal to exactly 3.785411784 litres or about 0.133680555 cubic feet. This is the most common definition of a gallon in the United States. The U.S. fluid ounce is defined as 1128 of a U.S. gallon.
  • The U.S. dry gallon is one-eighth of a U.S. Winchester bushel of 2150.42 cubic inches, thus it is equal to exactly 268.8025 cubic inches or 4.40488377086 litres. The U.S. dry gallon is less commonly used, and is not listed in the relevant statute, which jumps from the dry quart to the peck.[2]
  • The imperial (UK) gallon was legally defined as 4.54609 litres. This definition is used in some Commonwealth countries and Ireland, and is based on the volume of 10 pounds of water at 62 °F. (A U.S. liquid gallon of water weighs about 8.33 pounds at the same temperature.) The imperial fluid ounce is defined as 1160 of an imperial gallon.

As of 1 January 2000 it ceased to be legal within the United Kingdom for economic, health, safety or administrative purposes[3]. In 2005 a major step in metrication i.e. kilometres and litres, was taken in Ireland, only excluding draught beer[4].

Worldwide usage of gallons

As of 2005 the U.S. liquid gallon continued to be used as a unit of measure for fuel in Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and the United States.[5]

The Imperial gallon is used colloquially (and in advertising) in the United Kingdom and Canada for the fuel economy figures, in miles per gallon (elsewhere in Europe, the effective fuel consumption is often advertised in litres per 100 km, or km per litre). It continues to be used as a unit of measure for fuel[5] in Antigua and Barbuda,[6] Belize,[7][8] Burma (Myanmar),[9][10][11] Cayman Islands, Grenada,[12][13] Guyana, Sierra Leone, and the United Arab Emirates.

The word has also been used as translation for several foreign units of the same magnitude.[citation needed]


The gallons in current use are subdivided into eight pints or four quarts. Pints are further subdivided into fluid ounces and liquid gallons are also subdivided into 32 gills, i.e. a quarter of a pint. The sub-units of pint and fluid ounce, despite having the same name in both Imperial and U.S. units, differ in volume and are therefore not interchangeable. The principal difference is that the Imperial pint contains 20 Imperial fluid ounces, whereas the U.S. pint contains 16 U.S. fluid ounces. A U.S. fluid ounce is approximately 4% bigger than an Imperial fluid ounce and therefore they are often used interchangeably, whereas U.S. and Imperial pints and gallons are sufficiently different that they should not be used interchangeably, although they often are.

Earlier in the 20th century, while Canada was still using the imperial gallon as its automotive fuel measurement, some US citizens referred to the imperial fluid measure as a "five quart gallon", since an imperial gallon has a volume equal to 4.804 US quarts.


At one time, the volume of a gallon depended on what was being measured, and where it was being measured. But, by the end of the 18th century, three definitions were in common use:

  • The corn gallon, or Winchester gallon, of about 268.8 in3 (≈ 4.405 L),
  • The wine gallon, or Queen Anne’s gallon, which was 231 in3 (≈ 3.79 L), and
  • The ale gallon of 282 in3 (≈ 4.62 L).

The corn or dry gallon was used in the United States until recently for grain and other dry commodities. It is one eighth of the (Winchester) bushel, originally a cylindrical measure of 18+12 inches in diameter and 8 inches in depth. That made the dry gallon (9+14)2 × π in3268.80252 cu in. The bushel, which like dry quart and pint still sees some use, was later defined to be 2150.42 in3 exactly, making its gallon exactly 268.8025 cu in (4.40488377086 L). In previous centuries, there had been a corn gallon of around 271 to 272 in3.

The wine, fluid, or liquid gallon has been the standard U.S. gallon since the early 19th century. The wine gallon, which some sources relate to the volume occupied by eight medieval merchant pounds of wine, was at one time defined as the volume of a cylinder six inches deep and seven inches in diameter, i.e. 6 × (3+12)2 × π230.90706 cu in. It had been redefined during the reign of Queen Anne, in 1706, as 231 in3 exactly (3 × 7 × 11 in), which is the result of the earlier definition with π approximated to 227. Although the wine gallon had been used for centuries for import duty purposes there was no legal standard of it in the Exchequer and a smaller gallon (224 in3) was actually in use, so this statute became necessary. It remains the U.S. definition today.

The original ratio between corn and wine gallons was (9+14)2:6 × (3+12)2 = 1369:1176, but 268.8:231 (i.e. the ratio between the rounded quantities, in cubic inches) is exactly 64:55 or approximately 13:11. This approximation is still applicable, although the ratio of 1.164115646 slightly changed to 1.163647186 with current definitions (268.8025:231 = 107521:92400 ≈ 1351:1161). In some contexts, it was necessary to disambiguate between those two U.S. gallons, so “liquid” or “fluid” and “dry” respectively were added to the names.[citation needed]

In 1824, Britain adopted a close approximation to the ale gallon known as the Imperial gallon and abolished all other gallons in favour of it. Inspired by the kilogram-litre relationship, the Imperial gallon was based on the volume of 10 pounds of distilled water weighed in air with brass weights with the barometer standing at 30 inches of mercury and at a temperature of 62 °F. In 1963, this definition was refined as the space occupied by 10 pounds of distilled water of density 0.998859 g/mL weighed in air of density 0.001217 g/mL against weights of density 8.136 g/mL. This works out at approximately 4.5460903 L (277.4416 cu in). The metric definition of exactly 4.54609 cubic decimetres (also 4.54609 L after the litre was redefined in 1964, ≈ 277.419433 cu in) was adopted shortly afterwards in Canada; for several years, the conventional value of 4.546092 L was used in the United Kingdom, until the Canadian convention was adopted in 1985.

Before and into the 19th century there were also several other gallons in use, with varying definitions. These are summarized in the table below. During some eras, the gallon was based on an exact conversion with a linear measure cubed. Other eras, the gallon was based on a rational approximation to the volume of a cylinder that could be used as a standard container, such as a basket, barrel, or jar. Other definitions were based on the density of a commodity, occasionally water, but more often a more marketable good such as wine or oats. Given these options and the variety of cultures that have used the gallon, it is not surprising that the exact value has drifted over the centuries.

Examples of gallons

Volume Definition Inverted volume
(gallons per cubic foot)
mass of
water (pounds
per gallon
@ 62 °F)
Cylindrical approximation
(in3) (L or dm3) Diameter
216 3.5396 Roman congius 8 7.8 5 11 0.01
224 ≈ 3.6707 preserved at the Guildhall, London (old UK wine gallon) 7.71 8.09 9 3.5 0.6
231 3.785411784 statute of 5th of Queen Anne (U.S. wine gallon, standard U.S. gallon) 7.48 8.33 7 6 0.04
264.8 ≈ 4.3393 ancient Rumford quart (1228) 6.53 9.57 7.5 6 0.1
265.5 ≈ 4.3508 Exchequer (Henry VII, 1091, with rim) 6.51 9.59 13 2 0.01
266.25 ≈ 4.3631 ancient Rumford (1228)          
268.8025 4.40488377086 Winchester, statute 13 + 14 by William III (corn gallon, old U.S. dry gallon) 6.43 9.71 18.5 1 0.00001
271 ≈ 4.4409 Exchequer (1601, E.) (old corn gallon) 6.38 9.79 4.5 17 0.23
272 ≈ 4.4573 corn gallon (1688)          
277.18 ≈ 4.5422 statute 12 of Anne (coal gallon) 6.23 10      
277.419433 (ca.) 4.54609 standard Imperial gallon (metric) (1964 Canada gallon, 1985 UK gallon)          
277.419555 4.546092 Imperial gallon (1824) (traditional UK ale gallon) 6.23 10      
278 ≈ 4.5556 Exchequer (Henry VII, with copper rim) 6.21 10.04      
278.4 ≈ 4.5622 Exchequer (1601 and 1602 pints) 6.21 10.06      
280 ≈ 4.5884 Exchequer (1601 quart) 6.17 10.1      
282 ≈ 4.6212 Treasury (beer and ale gallon) 6.13 10.2      

See also

  • Comparison of the imperial and US customary measurement systems
  • Glossary Index list of common terms


  1. "Weights and Measures Act: Canadian units of measure". Department of Justice. Retrieved on 2007-11-14.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Authorized tables, U.S. Code, Title 15, ch. 6, subchapter I, sec. 205, accessed 19 July 2008.
  3. "The Units of Measurement Regulations 1995 (Article 4)" (2000-09-20). Retrieved on 2009-01-28.
  4. "Metric usage and metrication in other countries" (2009-02-13). Retrieved on 2009-07-03.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "FuelPrices2005 (see chapter 12.2: Conversion units)" (pdf) 96. German Technical Cooperation. Retrieved on 2008-06-10.
  6. "The High Commission Antigua and Barbuda". Retrieved on 2008-01-15.
  7. "Belize Ministry of Finance::FAQ". Belize Ministry of Finance. Retrieved on 2008-01-15. “#Kerosene per US Gallon (per Imperial gallon)#Gasoline (Regular)(per Imperial Gallon)# Gasoline (Premium) (per Imperial Gallon)#Diesel (per Imperial Gallon)”
  8. "Belize shopping". Retrieved on 2008-01-15. “Although the Belize $ is pegged at two for every US$, they use Imperial gallons rather than the smaller US gallons (0.83 of an Imperial) when dealing with gasoline. The cheapest grade of gasoline was US$4.69/Imperial gallon”
  9. "500 Are Detained in Burmese Capital". Retrieved on 2008-01-16. “... the Government cut the ration of subsidized gasoline from six to four imperial gallons a week”
  10. Win, Aye Aye (2007-08-22). "Fuel Hike Protest Begins in Myanmar". Associated Press. Retrieved on 2008-01-16. “The government, which holds a monopoly on fuel sales and subsidizes them, raised prices of fuel from $1.16 to $2.33 per imperial gallon for diesel and to $1.94 for gasoline. A canister of natural gas containing 17 gallons was raised from 39 cents to $1.94.”
  11. "Burma's Activists March against Fuel Price" (2007-08-20). Retrieved on 2008-01-16. “The government, which holds a monopoly on fuel sales and subsidizes them, raised prices of fuel from 1,500 kyats (US $1.16) to 3,000 kyats ($2.33) per imperial gallon for diesel and to 2,500 kyats ($1.94) for gasoline.”
  12. "GRENADA VISITOR FORUM - Cost Of Living - Grocery Prices". Retrieved on 2008-01-15.
  13. "The Government of Grenada - The Ministry of Agriculture". Retrieved on 2008-01-15. “he price of gasoline at the pumps was fixed at EC$7.50 per imperial gallon...”

External links

Look up Gallon in
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