Survey Instruments & The Great Surveyors That Used Them

Surveying is one of the world’s most valuable professions. Surveyors have helped to create detailed maps of land and sea, as well ensuring that land is ready for development and construction. Throughout the years, our world has seen a myriad of great surveyors and the invention of many helpful survey instruments and survey tools. Here’s a quick look at some notable surveyors and the types of instruments they used.

Jesse Ramsden
Ramsden wasn’t actually a surveyor, but he had a huge impact on the development of survey tools and survey instruments. In addition to developing telescopes and micrometers, he is well known for developing huge theodolites, which were used to survey the whole of Great Britain.

George Washington
Before he crossed the Delaware or served his country as President, George Washington was a humble surveyor. Washington was just a child when he began learning about survey tools and instruments, and was only 17 when he became a professional surveyor. Before, he became a military man; Washington had surveyed as many as 60,000 acres throughout Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson’s father was a surveyor as well as a cartographer, and passed on his love of surveying and mapmaking to his son. While Thomas Jefferson’s career as a professional surveyor was short-lived, only a year or so, he put his skills to work as he designed and built his famous home, Monticello. Additionally, he had a large collection of impressive survey instruments, including a theodolite designed by the aforementioned Jesse Ramsden.

Lewis & Clark
Everyone knows that William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, along with a huge team of assistants and Sacajawea, mapped out and explored the Louisiana Purchase. You might assume that both of these men were skilled surveyors, but that actually is not the case. Clark was never formally trained as a surveyor, but rather learned his skills from his brother, who was a professional surveyor. These skills later were honed during his years in the army, where he also learned to use a variety of survey tools as well as learning how to map detailed maps.

Lewis was neither a professional surveyor nor a mapmaker, but he was skilled at celestial observation and navigation. In fact, one of his main teachers was Thomas Jefferson, who taught him how to use an octant as well as other navigational and survey instruments. He also picked up surveying skills from the leading surveyor of the day, Andrew Ellicott, who helped to survey and plan Washington, D.C.

Andrew Ellicott
Ellicott was the leader of the team that accomplished the initial survey for Washington, D.C. and, as stated above, was probably the most well-known surveyor of his time. He also was part of the surveying team that worked on the extension of the Mason-Dixon line, which identified the borders of Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. This “line” is actually named for the two lead surveyors that initially created this border, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. As stated before, he also served as a teacher for Meriwether Lewis, prior to the Lewis & Clark Expedition improving his skills and, no doubt, teaching him to use a variety of survey instruments.

Benjamin Banneker
Banneker is another surveyor who lacked formal training and, instead, taught himself how to conduct detailed and precise land surveys Banneker was the son of a freed slave, and it’s believed that a neighbor, who was a Quaker, provided early instruction to Banneker as well as providing him access to his large library. Eventually, Banneker became part of the team that did the initial surveys for the District of Columbia. He also authored a popular series of almanacs. He was a well-known astronomer and also an inventor, developing a clock that kept time accurately for more than 50 years, among other items.

David Rittenhouse
Rittenhouse worked with Andrew Ellicott on the Mason-Dixon line extension and he also was a noted inventor. He created some of his own survey tools, including highly precise telescopes that are quite similar to telescopes we still use today. He also constructed other survey instruments, including magnetic compasses. Additionally, he was a skilled astronomer, being one of the first scientists to chart the position of Uranus and observing the transit of Venus, which occurs when Venus passes between the sun and a superior planet, which would include any planet other than Mercury, as that planet moves inside Venus’s orbit.

When it comes to Warren Knight, our selection of survey instruments and survey tools includes a Surveyor’s Compass as well as a Forester’s Compass. We also have a Digital Azimuth Device that includes an FM transmitter with a range of six nautical miles. We also produce a variety of clinometers and theodolites. If you don’t see precisely what you need, we may be able to provide you with a custom design. Contact us at any time for more information about our survey tools.

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