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Fun Facts About Surveying: Theodolites, Famous Surveyors & More

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For just about as long as there have been buildings, the world has had surveyors. While the world’s earliest surveyors lacked sophisticated tools, they still managed to build monuments such as the Pyramids and even Stonehenge. Today’s surveyors still do many similar tasks, including recording boundary lines, created maps of the earth’s surface, helping to construct houses and skyscrapers, roads, bridges and much more.

Surveying tools also have been around for quite a long time. The theodolite, for instance, has been perhaps the most common tool of surveyors for more than 400 years. This optical instrument can measure angles in the horizontal plane as well as the vertical plane. There are many excellent examples of antique theodolites, but the huge Ramsden theodolites are probably the most famous. Ramsden’s theodolites were the primary tool used to create detailed surveys of Great Britain in the late 18th century. In addition to theodolites, a surveyor might use a clinometer, a GPS or a compass.

Theodolites are still quite similar to the ones used hundreds of years ago, although today’s optical instruments tend to be even more accurate. A total station is special device that has improved on the traditional theodolite and is quite popular with professional surveyors. This device is an optical instrument that not only includes a transit theodolite, it also contains an EDM or electronic distance meter and it records measurements for the surveyor.

Some of the world’s greatest historical figures have worked as surveyors. In the United States, this includes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. However, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are perhaps the most famous American surveyors. Benjamin Banneker is another notable surveyor. Banneker, the son of freed slaves, was an autodidact who eventually worked with team that surveyed the original borders of the District of Columbia.

Surveyors around the world can join in on the fun of International Surveyors Week, which is set annually in June. The highlight of the week is Survey Earth in Day, which also is known as SEAID. During this event, thousands of surveyors collect GPS data from known survey markers near their residence and share it with other surveyors. Any professional surveyor can use a GPS, total station or theodolite and get in on this event. During the most recent SEIAD event, more than 2,000 surveyors sent in data.

One fun activity that quite a few surveyors enjoy is geocaching, which isn’t actually surveying, but rather locating hidden caches using a GPS receiver. You can look for these fun hidden items or you also might consider hunting down some of the survey markers around the United States that the National Geodetic Survey has put in place. These markers are all over the country, on the tops of mountains, in cities and in many other locations. Unlike regular surveying, where you might need a total station or a theodolite and tripod, you just need a GPS receiver for these activities.

Carey Bourdier loves writing about precision scientific instruments. For further information about surveying products such as a surveyor compass, or to discover other alignment instruments, check out the Warren Knight website now.

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