The mighty optical theodolite makes tasks easier for a variety of professionals, from surveyors to meteorologists to engineers and beyond. This handy device has a storied history, and while our main goal might be to set you up with a theodolite, we also would like to share a few fun facts about these optical instruments.
1. First Came The Dioptra Of Heron
Heron of Alexandria, also known as Hero of Alexandria, was quite the ancient inventor. He is revered for his skills as a mathematician and justly so, but his list of inventions was equally as impressive. Among other items, he invented a steam-powered device (this was more than 2,000 years ago), a fire engine, an early version of a robot and the dioptra.
The dioptra was an early and surprisingly accurate surveying instrument, the precursor to early versions of the theodolite. With the dioptra, one could take precise horizontal and vertical measurements and calculate the distance between two points. The dioptra of Heron primarily was used for astrological calculations, mapmaking and building or surveying.
2. Then There Was Leonard Digges
We owe a great deal to those mathematicians of the past, they weren’t simply sent to the planet to torment Liberal Arts majors. Leonard Digges was an English mathematician and he is credited with the invention of the theodolite way back in the 1550s. It’s possible that there were earlier versions very similar to Digges’ theodolite, but he is the first known person in the west to describe this instrument as a theodolite.
3. Then Along Came Jesse Ramsden
We’ve written about Digges and Ramsden in previous articles, but they always deserve another shout out. Ramsden designed some amazing theodolites, and his Great Theodolite was used for the Ordinance Survey of Great Britain.
While you might think that a modern theodolite can be sometimes difficult to tote into the field, the Great Theodolite weighed about 200 pounds. In comparison, a modern optical theodolite might weigh about 30-40 pounds, although we have a few that weigh less than 20 pounds.
Another fun fact, not all of Jesse Ramsden’s theodolites weighed 200 pounds. Thomas Jefferson had a theodolite designed by Jesse Ramsden, and Jefferson offered to loan it to Lewis and Clark for their expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase. There actually was a spirited debate regarding the efficacy of taking the theodolite, but in the end, Jefferson won his point, and the theodolite made it through the wilds of the west and back again.
4. Check Out Our Historic Theodolites
At Warren Knight, we’ve been around for quite some time, in fact, our company started way back in 1908. Some of our early trade catalogs are actually in the Smithsonian at the American History Museum Library, which isn’t too shabby.
At any rate, we’ve been creating optical theodolites for quite some time, and a few of our early specimens can be purchased on sites such as eBay. If you have a surveyor in your life, an antique theodolite or perhaps a surveyor’s transit or even a nice Abney level might make a superb gift. It’s a smart (and tasteful) choice for that surveyor who has everything. Of course, you may need a more modern version of the optical theodolite, so read on for a bit more information about those new-fangled (and extremely accurate) options.
Should You Rent Or Buy A Theodolite?
Theodolites can be pricey, there’s no question about it, but owning your own equipment has its advantages. Obviously, you will want theodolite built specifically for the tasks you intend to undertake, such as surveying, but you also need to think about durability and the types of conditions where you might be using the theodolite.
If you do prefer to rent rather than buy your equipment, we can rent various types of theodolites as well as transits, total stations, field computers, data collectors, clinometers and many types of levels as well as tripods, rods and stands to help you out in the field. This can be a great option for those that only need equipment once in a while or perhaps while equipment you own is being serviced or repaired.
Our WK-20-8350 Telemetering Theodolite is an ideal component of the precision measuring system used for the calibration of Instrument Landing Systems including MLS, VOR, TACAN and VORTAC.
The WK-20-8400 Pilot Balloon Observation Theodolite was designed to observe and measure the elevation and azimuth of pilot balloons and weather balloons, as well as aircraft, ships and other moving objects to distances of 20,000 meters, depending on visibility.
While many of our theodolites can be toted from place to place, The WK-20-8500 Observation Theodolite is an ideal option in permanent facilities. Additionally, this theodolite includes an illumination system for night operation.
With our WK-20-9500 Electronic Mechanical Meteorological Theodolite, the user can transfer data quickly to a computer or Nomad PDA via RS-232 data ports. This model also includes an automatic power-down feature that prevents unnecessary power drain.
We also offer the WK-20-9600 Compact Electronic Meteorological Theodolite System, which is the perfect choice for out in the field, such as first-response MET operations. This model features a compact design and rugged construction that can handle many types of applications and conditions.
Lastly, the WK-20-9100 Electronic Meteorological Theodolite provides fast and accurate angle measurement with minimal reading errors. The user can read horizontal and vertical angles simultaneously on this theodolite’s LCD panel.
Custom Features & Theodolite Repair Keep in mind, our theodolites can be enhanced with video, motordrives, PDA software and custom optical systems, and we have a variety of accessories for many theodolites. We can create a custom design and produce the system you need to handle your tracking or observation tasks. Additionally, we can repair, service and overhaul all makes and models of optical theodolites, even those not manufactured by Warren Knight.