FIG Working Week 2000, 21-26 May, Prague

Historical Surveying Instruments from Bohemia

by Pavel Hánek and Antonín Švejda

Key words: history of land surveying, production and quality of the instruments.


1 Introduction

On the occasion of FIG Working Week Prague 2000 there will be held (within the framework of Prague 2000 European town of culture activities) an exhibition of "Historical Geodesy Instruments from Bohemia" in The National Technical Museum (NTM) from May 15 to July 15, 2000. The exhibit will focus on the two periods associated with advanced economic and political development of the Czech state: the reign of Emperor Rudolf II and the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

An important aspect of preparing for this exhibition has been the testing of the quality of the historical instruments using modern methods based on international standard ČSN ISO 8322 (1996) in addition to some tests which are no longer performed. These results have been incorporated into several thesis studies on geodesy which were defended at the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the Czech Technical University (CTU) in Prague.

2 History

One of the peaks of science advancement in the Czech lands occurred during the reign of Rudolf II (1552 – 1612). In his court, which was significant in Europe, worked the naturalist and doctor of medicine Tadeáš Hájek z Hájku, who conducted the first triangulation of the area surrounding Prague. Thanks to him, Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler came to Prague where he designed a new type of astronomical telescope in 1611 and defined the first two laws on the movement of planets. In addition, several important European craftsmen worked for the Emperor. Jost Bürgi (1552 – 1632) became the Emperor’s watchmaker in 1604. In 1610 he compiled logarithmic tables which J. Kepler himself relied on. Erasmus Habermel (+1606) designed a theodolite, levelling and triangulation instruments and artillery direction finder. He also made astronomical instruments, sundials and armillary spheres. The mathematical instruments of Doctor Franciscus Paduarius of Forli on exhibition also come from Habermel’s Workshop. A particularly fine decorative piece in the exhibition is the gilded theodolite with an azimuthal sundials and diagrams of mathematical functions from the period 1608 – 1613. The piece was created by Heinrich Stolle, who collaborated with J. Bürgi.

At the time, outstanding results were achieved in practical geometry which confirms the quality of the instruments. For example, a unique water tunnel was constructed in Prague during Rudolph’s reign. Just before the project was completed in 1593 a member of the court office, Isaac Phendler, made a drawing of it for the Emperor. The scale of the plan is 1: 540, and is also presented in exhibition.

The Thirty Years War brought economic collapse in the Czech Lands and resulted in the emigration of many intellectuals and a general decline in the importance of Prague. Nevertheless, thanks to Kristian Joseph Willenberg (1676 – 1731) and a charter by the Emperor, the Estate Engineering Institute in Prague (which was predecessor of the Czech Technical University) began to offer two-year instruction beginning on January 1, 1707. Lectures were given in arithmetic, geometry, practical geometry (geodesy) and fortress engineering.

In the 19th century, which witnessed economic growth and the Czech national revival, the growing economic influence of the Czech Lands resulted in new workshops devoted to the production of measuring instruments and aids. The first workshop was founded in 1808 by Josef Božek (1782 – 1835), a watchmaker and craftsman at the Prague Polytechnical Institute. His sons František (1809 – 1886) and Romuald (1814 – 1898) continued his work. The Spitra workshop manufactured instruments which were comparable with similar European products of that time. Three generations of this family (František, Václav Michal and Otakar) worked in Prague from 1820 till the end of the century. About 1840, another significant master, Mathias Richard Brandeis (1818 – 1868), started to produce his own measuring instruments. After his death, the workshop was taken over by the firm Haase & Wilhelm. Prague became a centre of this sort of production, and in 1890 there were 24 workshops of this kind; by the end of century there were 40 such firms. Of those craftsmen who did not stay in Prague we have to mention the forester Karl Gangloff (1809 – 1879).

Individual instruments were designed by many Czech specialists. We should note the hypsometer of Karel František Edvard knight Kořistka (1825 – 1906), professor of Prague Technical University. Professor František Müller (1835 – 1900) designed an instrument for graphical levelling. Forester and land surveyor Antonín Tichý (1843 – 1923) designed a logarithmic tachymeter. Professor of Czech Technical University F. Müller and his successor, professor and chancellor František Novotný (1864 – 1918), were authors of the first modern Czech textbook of geodesy (Compendium geodesy higher and lower, Prague (1884 – 1913).

In 1883 brothers Josef (1861 – 1945) and Jan (1863 – 1897) Frič established in Prague the family firm which, till the beginning of the 1950s, manufactured a full range of geodetic instruments and aids including a two-second triangulating theodolite 6R. In 1884 / 85 the firm made a small series of mining theodolites under the name of DUPLEX. The divided circle used in these instruments were made from glass for the first time in the world. The firm of Eichler was another important manufacturer in the town of Ústí nad Labem in the first half of the 20th century. Srb and Štys was a firm founded in 1919 and its successful department of geodesy was taken as a base for the national enterprise MEOPTA Košíře after 1945. They successfully overcame the obstacles caused by World War II and went on to attain high levels in European production. In 1961 Czechoslovak technical experts learned about the development of new full range of the theodolites. Shortly after this announcement production was stopped.

The Koula factory manufactured photo reproduction instruments and instruments for the evaluation of photographs. Between 1930 and 1935 the factory supplied semiautomatic and fully automatic aerial chambers to the Czechoslovak Army. Hand aerial chambers were also produced by the Prague firm HAAGER. Photogrammetry instruments were designed and produced by Prague’s firms A. LÖSCHNER and V. KOLÁŘ.

Ass. Prof. Pavel Hánek, PhD
Czech Technical University of Prague
Faculty of Civil Engineering
Department of Special Geodesy
Thákurova 7
16629 Praha 6

Dipl. Ing. Antonín Švejda
National Technical Museum Prague
Exact Sciences Department
Kostelní 42
17078 Praha 7

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