History of Surveying and Measurement


Work of Surveyors,

Metro Station in Moscow. Courtesy Grahame Lindsay.


UNESCO World Heritage Meeting - Struve Arc. 11 May 2016

Chair of the Permanent Institution, Jan de Graeve participated in the meeting on the Struve Arc on 11 May 2016.

Special Stamps to commemorate the Struve Meridian Arc

FIG Permanent Institution on History has worked to promote the positive image of the surveying profession and has introduced the Struve Meridian Arc at the World Heritage List of UNESCO. The Struves Arc has now been introduced on special stamps in both Finland, Sweden and Latvia. The Swedish stamp has a portrait of W. Struve and theodilite. The Latvian stamp is also showing a portrait of Struve and theodolite with triangulation of Lativa and market stone. The Finish stamp is shown above.

In Estonia, the Observatory of Tartu (central point of the struve Meridian Arc) has been restaured and officially opened by the president of Estonia on 27 April 2011. Together with surveyors from many countries, FIG was represented by Jan de Graeve, president of the IHHSM.
Read more about Struves Meridian Arc in FIG Publication no 50

FIG Publication No. 50: History of Surveying. FIG Report 2010

Exhibition on the Evolution from Local Measures to the Meter - Braine-l’ Alleud, Belgium, 9 January – 7 February 2009

History at NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, USA)

If you have an interest in the history of the American Coast and Geodetic Survey, there are many aspects of this on-line at http://www.history.noaa.gov/.
Also there is a book on the early years of the Coast Survey on-line at http://www.lib.noaa.gov/edocs/CONTENTS.htm
An autobiography titled "Earth Measurer" at http://www.history.noaa.gov/cgs_stories.html
refers to a well known American surveyor/geodesist Aslakson. http://www.history.noaa.gov/stories_tales/ak1.html has various Personal Stories.
At http://www.history.noaa.gov/stories_tales/jlawson.html is the autobiography of James Lawson in Western Tales.

In the NOAA Photo Library there are sections devoted to the history of the Coast and Geodetic Survey at
http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/collections.html (check Sailing for Science, Geodesy, and Historic Coast and Geodetic Survey Albums) and there are a number of images from our Rare Books Collection of the NOAA Central Library including various surveying instruments in the Treasures of the Library Album.

Paying Tribute to the Struve Arc - Hammerfest, Norway, 16-18 June 2006

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On the weekend of 16–18th June ten countries in Europe marked the occasion of 34 triangulation points of surveying importance being accepted by UNESCO for inscription on the World Heritage List.

In Norway the official gathering took place at the meridian monument at Fuglenes in the city of Hammerfest in the county of Finnmark. Professor Jan De Graeve from Belgium and Honorary Secretary of the International Institution for the History of Surveying and Measurement, Jim Smith from England, were guests of honour.

Head of Norwegian Mapping and Cadastre Authority Mr Knut Flåthen (left), Professor Jan De Graeve, Mr Bjørn Geirr Harsson, the Norwegian Minister of Fisheries and Costal Affairs Helga Pedersen, Honorary Secretary Mr Jim Smith, and the Mayor of Hammerfest Mr Alf E. Jakobsen.

Tartu Observatory Unveiled World Heritage Plaque - Tartu, Estonia, 18 June 2006

The Struve Geodetic Arc included in the UNESCO World Heritage List

International Institution for the History of Surveying and Measurement at the FIG/GSDI Conference in Cairo, Egypt 16-21 April 2005

The International Institution for the History of Surveying and Measurement held a one-day workshop on the 16th of April at the FIG/GSDI Conference in Cairo, Egypt 16-21 April 2005. During the conference also the plaque at the end of the 30th Arc was unveiled in Cairo on the 18th of April 2005.

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Eng. Hisham Nasr, Chairman of the Egyptian Survey Authority and Mr. Muhammed Salim Sulaiman from Tanzania and Jan de Graeve at the at the unveiling ceremony of the plaque of the 30th Arc.

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The plaque to recognize the northern end of the 30th Arc in Cairo.

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The Arc of the 30th Meridian Recognised in South Africa in June 2004

Proposal to UNESCO for the Struve Geodetic Arc to become a World Heritage Monument

On 28 January 2004 a dossier, together with a letter from the Finnish Minister of Culture, Mrs Tanja Karpela, was submitted to the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO for the possible inscription of selected surviving survey stations of the Struve Geodetic Arc as a World Heritage Monument. This was done by the Government of Finland on behalf of the Governments of the ten countries through which the meridian arc passes, i.e. the Governments of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova and the Ukraine representing their National Survey Departments. In FIG the International Institution for the History of Surveying and Measurement - an Organisation within the FIG has been very active in this process.

The Struve Geodetic Arc was measured over the 40 years from 1816 to 1855 and stretches from Fuglenaes near North Cape in Norway (latitude 70º 40’11 N) to near Izmail on the Black Sea (latitude 45º 20 03 N). A distance of 2820 km or 25º 20 08 of arc. In longitude the 265 stations lie between 22º 30 and 30º E.

Actually 34 of the surviving station marks have been selected for the present submission and these lie in ten different countries in today’s geography. The idea to seek a declaration to preserve a selection of the remaining Struve Arc points as a World Heritage site was originally presented by Aarne Veriö at a Scientific Conference in Tartu in 1993 where a Resolution was made. A corresponding Resolution proposed by Seppo Härmälä was then made at the FIG Congress in Melbourne in 1994 and the work to get all the necessary material together from these countries was initiated by Jan de Graeve and Jim Smith of the I.I.H.S.M. It gathered pace during the latter five years particularly with the help of Vitali Kaptjug from Russia. For the last 1½ years the Survey of Finland under Surveyor General Jarmo Ratia and his colleague Pekka Tätilä took over the task of assembling, collating, checking and reproducing all the documentation for the final submission document. However the whole project would not have been possible without the exceptional and unstinting support of the survey organisations and appropriate government departments in all the countries named above.

It is understood that it might be June 2005 before a decision is known but aside from that the project has graphically illustrated how surveyors and their political masters across ten countries can cooperate on a scheme of this sort. In fact it is the first such multi-country, cross border submission of a project and of a scientific nature which in itself meant that there was little by way of a precedent to follow.

As the first multi-country meridian arc it was a great step forward and it was not initially planned as one system. F G W Struve was working to the north whilst initially unbeknown to him a Russian military officer Carl F de Tenner was operating in a similar manner to the south. When it was decided to link up it was not a simple case of observing a common triangle as there were problems of reconciling two different units of measurement, the different instrumentation used and the political goodwill between the countries involved.

In the late 1800s David Gill in S Africa was starting out on a similar arc that would eventually go from Buffelsfontein near Port Elizabeth right through E Africa to near Cairo. He had the notion that this arc could be connected to that of Struve and produce one arc of 105º length or over 11 500 km. He was of the opinion that Struve’s son Otto had already extended the Arc of his father and Tenner to Crete but to date only details of the reconnaissance can be found, nothing to say that the work was actually carried out.

The preservation of these selected points will assist future generations to monitor the evolution of the geoid on which we live.

J R Smith

Contact addresses for further details:

Prof. Jan De Graeve, Tel. +32(0)2268 1025
Mr Jim Smith, e-mail jimsmith1780@gmail.com 
Mr Pekka Tätilä, e-mail pekka.tatila@nls.fi 

Press release in .pdf-format.

Struve Arc 150

Prof. Jüri Randjärv, Jan de Graeve and Jim Smith at the Struve monument outside Tartu Observatory.

From 25 to 28 September 2002 the Association of Estonian Surveyors, Estonian Land Board, Estonian Agricultural University and Tartu University held a conference in Tallinn and Tartu on “Struve Arc 150”. 50 delegates from 10 countries attended- namely Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Belgium and UK. Essentially it was commemorating the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Struve Geodetic Arc that ran from near North Cape in Norway to the Black Sea, but was an ideal opportunity to discuss the arc in detail and to progress the efforts of the International Institution for the History of Surveying & Measurement to have selected points in each country recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Monument.

13 of the 15 technical papers were published in a special booklet. In addition to the technical presentations the group visited the remaining Struve survey stations marking the terminals of the Simuna baseline and the starting point of the whole arc in Tartu (formerly Dorpat) observatory. At the latter point the Rector of Tartu University, Professor Jaak Aaviksoo, unveiled a special plaque at the point set by Struve on the meridian through the observatory. Four resolutions were passed, see attached report.

History of Surveying on web of Czech Technical University in Prague

Web pages of group of engineering surveying courses ensured by Faculty Civil Engineering - Department of Special Geodesy were created in frame of educational grant of Czech Technical University in Prague number CTU 02 15511. Address of English version of elective course History of Surveying is http://gama.fsv.cvut.cz/~hanek/DEJZ/EN/ and it offers two texts, which have been already published in English and German. These texts are focused on manufacturing of surveying instruments in Czech lands from the 16th century to half of the 20th century.

There are also about one hundred photographs of exhibits and their basic specification from documentation catalogue of successful exhibition „Surveying Instruments in Czech Lands“. This exhibition was organised by National Technical Museum with assistance of Czech Union of Surveyors and Cartographers on the occasion of standing committee session of International Federation of Surveyors in Prague „FIG Working Week Prague 2000“.

Reprint of The Compleat Surveyor by Leybourn (first published in 1653)

Now available for US$50, orders to W Robillard, 1601 Berkeley Lane NE, Atlanta, GA, USA 30329, email: robw@mindspring.com 

More information about The Compleat Surveyor, download here as .pdf-file.

THE COMPLEAT SURVEYOR William Leybourn 1657

The International Institution for the History of Surveying & Measurement (a permanent body within FIG) is proud to announce its 2nd publication of a reproduction of an important surveying text of the 17th century. The Compleat Surveyor was first published in 1653 printed by E & W Leybourn for E Brewster and G Sawbridge and was a folio edition (Wing L 1907). The second edition of 1657 is a more attractive volume and is 28.0 x 18.0 cm. Further editions appeared in 1674, 1679 and 1722.

William Leybourn (1626-1719) (alias Oliver Wallingby) started as a printer before working as a land and quantity surveyor. He was one of the surveyors of London after the great fire of 1666 where he associated with Robert Hooke. He was very influential in his profession and was often employed on the survey of the estates of gentlemen. In 1649 with Vincent Wing he wrote the first book in English on astronomy - Urania Practica.

Leybourn's book remained one of the standard treatises throughout the second half of the 17th century and the early years of the 18th, combining the necessary mathematics with a practical description of surveying instruments and their use. The book had an extraordinary popularity during that period and is rather well illustrated. This reproduction is authentic in that all pages were scanned by the latest technology, with side notes retained. A high quality paper commensurate with the original, except in thickness was used in its reproduction. The cover is a simulated leather binding, similar to the original.

The full title of the 1657 edition is :

"The COMPLEAT SURVEYOR: containing The Whole Art of Surveying of Land, by the Plain Table, Theodolite, Circumferentor, Peractor and other instruments: After a more easie, exact and compendious manner, then hath been hitherto published by any: the Plain Table being so contrived, that it alone will conveniently perform whatsoever may be done by any of the fore-mentioned Instruments, or any other yet invented, with the same ease and exactness; and in many cases much better.

Together with the taking of all manner of Heights and Distances, either accessible or in-accessible, the Plotting and Protracting of all manner of Grounds, either small Inclosures, Champion Plains, Wood-lands, or any other Mountainous and un-even grounds. Also, how to take the Plot of a whole Manor, to cast up the content, and to make a perfect Chart or Map thereof. All which particulars are performed three several ways, and by three several Instruments.

Hereunto is added a new way of Surveying of Land, by which a man may be satisfied whether his Plot will close before he begins to protract the same, with the manner how to order such Water Colours as are necessary for the beautifying of Maps and Plots; Also how to know whether Water may be conveyed from a Spring-head to any appointed place or not, and how to effect the same: With whatsoever else is necessary to the Art of Surveying."

In addition to The Compleat Surveyor he published a large series of books on land surveying or dialing including:

  • Planimetria or the Whole Art of Surveying. 1650 
  • Arithmetic, vulgar decimal, instrumental and algebraical 1657, 1678 
  • The Art of Numbering 1667 
  • The Line of Proportions 1667, 1678 and 1684 
  • The Art of Dialing, performed geometrically 1669, 1681 and 1700 
  • Introduction to Astronomy and Geography 1669 
  • Nine Geometrical Exercises. 1669 
  • Panorganon. 1672 
  • The Use of the Semi-Circle in the Surveying of Land. 1673 
  • Astroscopion, two large celestial hemispheres. 1673 
  • A Treatise of Navigation. 1674 
  • An appendice containing the Use of all the Instruments. 1678 
  • Dialing plain concave and convex 1682 and 1700 
  • In this book is added Francis Hall's Description of the Sundials of White Hall's Gardens 
  • Cursus Mathematicus. The Matematicall sciences in 9 books. 1690 
  • Pleasure with profit. 1694 
  • Mathematical Institutions. 1704.

This reproduction of the 1657 edition has been printed for the International Institution for the History of Surveying & Measurement as a means to acquire funds to progress its activities. In particular it is at present involved in the preservation of selected surviving survey points of the Struve geodetic arc, observed during the first half of the 19th century, as an UNESCO International Heritage site. The site of this spans 10 countries and stretches for some 2880 kms from North Cape to the Black Sea. It is hoped to be able to conclude the case to UNESCO during the coming year.

Contact address for enquiries regarding The International Institution for History of Surveying & Measurement is:  J R Smith
24 Woodbury Ave
Petersfield, Hants GU32 2EE
Tel/fax +44 (0)1730 262619
E-mail jimsmith1780@gmail.com 

A few copies still remain of Geodaesia by John Love, 1688 - the first book on Surveying in the USA - at US$50. To obtain either, or both, volumes: 

Please supply ........ copies of The Compleat Surveyor 2nd Edn. by W Leybourn at a cost of $50 per copy plus post & packing.

Please supply ......... copies of Geodaesia by John Love at a cost of $50 per copy plus post & packing.

Name and address

.............................................................. .................................................................................. 

Payment can be by cheque or check, payable to Walter Robillard- Book Account or American Express, Visa or Master Card credit card or FAX order to 404-248-1464 or e-mail to robw@mindspring.com Orders to W Robillard, 1601 Berkeley Lane NE, Atlanta, GA, USA 30329

Surveying and Mapping the Americas, proceedings of symposium at FIG XXII Congress, Washington, DC, April 2002

Exhibition at the FIG Congress in Brighton in 1998

The exhibition that was mounted for the FIG Congress in Brighton in June 1998 is now available on CD ROM. It is hoped that particularly national survey associations/professional bodies/ history groups and others will purchase this ROM so that the exhibit can be printed off and displayed around the world. Enquiries to WallisConsult@compuserve.com. The exhibit contains 154 images on 43 panels. The panels are best if reproduced to around a metre square.

  • Everest. The Man and the Mountain. J R Smith. 1999 Whittles Publishers. 320 pages. £37.50 ISBN 1-870325-72-9
  • With Compass and Chain. Early American Surveyors and Their Instruments. S Bedini.2001. Professional Surveyors Publishing Company Inc. 774 pages. ISBN 0-9665120-0-6
  • The Writings of the Roman Land Surveyors. B Campbell. 2000. Soc. For Promotion of Roman Studies. London. 570 pages. ISBN 0-907764-28-2
  • Drawing the Line. How Mason and Dixon surveyed the most Famous Border in America. E Danson. 2001. Wiley, New York. 232 pages. ISBN 0-471-38502-6
  • Time Lord. Clark Blaise. 2000. A A Knopf, Canada. 256 pages. ISBN 0-676-97252-7


J R Smith
24 Woodbury Ave
Hants GU32 2EE

Tel and Fax + 44 (0)1730 262 619


©2018 FIG