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Happy National Surveyors Week!


Allen Precision Equipment salutes America’s surveyors – the men and women who continue to shape the country with integrity and precision.

Colonial America

Founding a nation from scratch required careful surveying and accurate mapping. Because property lines were at stake, government officials appointed trustworthy individuals as surveyors. In 1763, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon’s combination of astronomy and surveying made them the logical choice to resolve the longtime Pennsylvania-Maryland border dispute. Founding Fathers and future Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson laid independence on the line, but they also laid the metes and bounds of the new nation. Benjamin Banneker was the nation’s first African American surveyor, appointed by Washington in 1789 to help lay out the District of Columbia.

New Frontiers

After President Jefferson finessed the Louisiana Purchase in 1804, effectively doubling the nation’s land mass overnight, he tapped Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead the U.S. Corps of Volunteers for Northwest Discovery. Conquering brutal conditions, the team spent two years surveying the wilderness and cataloguing indigenous peoples, animals, natural features, topsoil depth, and mineral deposits, from Camp Dubois, Illinois all the way to Cape Disappointment, Washington:

"Great joy in camp we are in viuew of the Ocian, this great Pacific Octean which we been so long anxious to See. and the roreing or noise made by the waves brakeing on the rockey Shores (as I suppose) may be heard distinctly."

                – William Clark, Surveyor, Nov. 7, 1805

In 1807, President Jefferson created the Survey of the Coast. Its mission: to map the U.S. coastline and create nautical charts for its shipping and defense. Today, we know it as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration. Ferdinand Hassler, the Survey’s first superintendent, established triangulation methods for land and sea that NOAA still use today.

Civil War

Another former surveyor turned President, Abraham Lincoln, held the nation’s boundaries together despite four years of bitter warfare. Alexander Dallas Bache’s survey results were instrumental in the Northern blockade strategy, and Edwin Hergesheimer’s 1861 map of the slave population by county graphically depicted the national controversy. The South seceded roughly along the Mason-Dixon line. Union surveyors gave their lives in combat at Yorktown, and Confederate surveyor Albert H. Campbell adapted photographic plates to reproduce maps in the field.

The Great Theodolite

Hassler designed The Great Theodolite especially for the Survey of the Coast. Weighing in at 300 pounds on a 30-inch circle and built by the English firm Troughton and Simms, The Great Theodolite was accurate to 1:100,000. Sadly, a tornado ripped it from its walk-around stand in November 1873.

Mapping Lady Liberty

In 2001, surveyors from Texas Tech University, in cooperation with the Historical American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the National Park Service (NPS), began mapping the Statue of Liberty – inside and out – using a Cyrax 2500 3D laser scanner and a Leica TCR 702 reflectorless total station.

Want To Know More?

Check out these links to America’s historic surveyors and equipment – and share them with future surveyors!

“Surveying History” at The American Surveyor

Surveyors Historical Society

“Re-Imagining the U.S. Civil War: Reconnaissance, Surveying and Cartography” (Library of Congress)

Henry David Thoreau’s survey of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s property

National Society of Professional Surveyors

USGS Historical Topographic Maps

Historical Maps of the United States

(University of Texas Perry-Castañeda Collection)

The Surveyors: Charting America’s Course

(NOAA video documentary)