History of Land Surveying

Since the beginning of recorded history, surveying has been a fundamental component in the study and development of the human environment. The importance of land surveying in society is evident in every building, establishment, every map, and any other land there is. Land surveying is actually one of the oldest professions there is, as its techniques and science has been employed in construction and land development since the ancient ages.

Ancient land surveying techniques involved the use of very simple tools such as pegs and ropes. These surveying tools were the very same ones used to exact geometrical measurements needed to erect the prehistoric monument Stonehenge in England. Ancient Egyptians used surveying tools in the form of rope stretchers to establish their great ancient cities from long ago. Ancient Romans also used surveying techniques to establish land boundaries as they conquered countries and various other places.

In 1620, Mathematician Edmund Gunter developed the gunter’s chain, which was used to survey plots of land for legal and commercial purposes. Leonard Digges formulated the idea of a theodolite, a surveying tool for measuring, in 1571, and in 1576, Joshua Habermel manufactured the first theodolite with a compass and tripod. Johnathon Sission further developed this surveying tool, as he incorporated a scope on the theodolite in 1725. The theodolite continued to improve and develop throughout the 18th and until the 19th century, serving as the primary tool used in the process of land surveying.

In the early 19th century at the onset of the Industrial revolution, land surveying finally became an official profession. More developments continued to happen in the industry going into the 20th century. In 1950, Dr. Trevor Lloyd Wadley solved the issue of accurately measuring long distances by developing a new tool called the tellurometer, which measures distances using a microwave transmitter and receiver. It was also around this time when Geodimeter introduced EDM equipment, or electronic distance measurement equipment. Around the 1970s, with many advances in the field of electronics, the EDM equipment was finally miniaturized, and soon after, total stations began to appear for the purpose of measuring both angles and distance with one tool while surveying.

The techniques land surveyors have used throughout history has changed very little. Throughout the passing of history, better improvements came along to make land surveying faster and the results more accurate. However, the process and purpose of surveying has remained the same. Land surveying is commonly used for distance and angle measurement, determining positioning, and leveling.

These days, the addition of referencing networks and coordinating systems for errors and accuracy in land surveying has been added to land surveyors’ roles. Modern land surveying now involves the use of GIS and GPS tools for high levels of surveying precision. Geographic Information System (GIS) allows surveyors to create accurate computerized maps that compensates for various characteristics of different regions and be able to report and chart where it would be advisable for businesses, governments, and individuals to build homes, roads, and various establishments. The primary methods and equipment that land surveyors use have remained the same for decades. The theodolite is still being used today, along with robotic total stations, and the addition of the real time kinetic or RTK GPS, which has significantly increased the speed of surveying. The use of GPS in surveying has allowed for larger scale work for major infrastructure projects and data reporting projects as well. Land surveyors also use ancillary equipment to help with their work such as tripods, instrument stands, staves, beacons, and many others.

Throughout history, there have been many famous and successful individuals that were land surveyors during their time. Three American presidents were known to be professional land surveyors. George Washington used land surveying as he expanded the nation to the west coast. Jefferson and Lincoln both also worked as land surveyors before they sat in office. The famous Lewis and Clark were both land surveyors, and the Mason-Dixon line is actually a survey line. Having land surveyors become presidents has proven the fact of how surveyors have held high esteem positions even in ancient days. Surveyors are responsible for many of the monuments and great buildings that were built so long ago and yet still stand strong today. They also did these by using the simplest tools. That is the true assessment of the remarkable skills and usefulness of land surveyors.