Data Collection / People / Surveying History / Surveying & Mapping Education / Surveyor Safety / Government

Surveying History

Every instrument in Abraham Lincoln’s National Museum of Surveying has a story.

Compassing the Future
Every instrument in Abraham Lincoln’s National Museum of Surveying has a story. The story behind this compass is the tale of two immigrants – William Young, the compass maker, and John Lutz Mansfield, the surveyor. On display at ALNMoS for a six month period, the compass shows how Mansfield, Ill., came to be, and how Young created the tool that forged many American towns.

Young created a robust company and is credited with being the first American maker of many surveying instruments. This compass was made between 1841 and 1854. We can tell because Young changed how he signed the compass in 1841, and starting in 1854, he started using serial numbers. The Young compass had a mighty draw; it was America’s first answer to European material dominance. After acquiring a large amount of land, Mansfield took this compass and subdivided a portion of his acreage into the lots that became Mansfield, Ill., in 1870. Just think of all the towns Young made possible.

More than 140 years later, the compass is still in the possession of one of Mansfield’s descendants. Charles Mansfield III owns the piece and is allowing it to be on display at the museum.

Surveyors in the Civil War
We often don’t think of the role surveyors played in the Civil War. They laid out bridges, sketched pre-battle maps (often done in haste) and scouted, but their main role was in creating post-battlefield maps. These surveyors, in the midst of battle, would map their surroundings and give reports to the generals. They spent nights in tent making notes and creating maps by candlelight. They had to create the most accurate map they could under the constant fear of being shot at, with no time or safety to set up a nice grid system. Their work might define the general’s plan, which would dictate the lives of men. All this would happen while working from a tent. To honor the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the museum has created several new displays highlighting the role of surveyors in the war. This tent was donated by Ron Bolser, surveyor and member of the Vermillion County Military Museum.

For more info on surveyors in the Civil War, click here.

July Trivia Answer:
How many of the more than 350 unique NOAA Science on a Sphere datasets are directly related to surveying?

Of the 350 unique datasets, only ONE of them really fits surveying. This picture shows all of the routes taken by ships equipped with multi-beam echo-sounders. Mapping the bathymetry of the sea floor is a daunting task since there are 139,400,000 square miles of it. Naturally, most of the ocean is still in the dark, but it is vitally important to build this database for shipping and science. We don’t let the one dataset fact stop us from showing the role of surveying in Earth sciences.

Abraham Lincoln’s National Museum of Surveying is the only museum and tourist attraction of its kind in the country. Located in Springfield, Ill., the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, the museum preserves the legacy of surveying while ensuring its future through vivid images, superb storytelling and dynamic multimedia. Through the Reaching Our Orbit Capital Campaign launched in March 2012, the museum is raising funds to pay down its mortgage and expand its educational programs. An undisclosed source has pledged to match every donation received, up to $200,000, by the end of 2012. For more information and to find out how you can support the museum’s efforts, visit

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