There have been many famous and influential land surveyors in American history. On this Presidents Day, we are focusing on U.S. presidents that were also land surveyors! At least three U.S. Presidents had a professional career in land surveying before their ventures into politics, but numerous presidents over the years have influenced the profession in various ways.
1. George Washington. (1st president of the U.S.) One of the earliest and most famous land surveyors was George Washington himself. At an early age he became the Surveyor General of Virginia and helped with the surveying of the United States as it expanded westward.
2. Thomas Jefferson. (3rd president of the U.S.) Jefferson was born into a surveying family and got his start as a surveyor in Virginia. In the Land Ordinance of 1785, Jefferson was the originator of the current Public Land Survey System, which divides land into 6-mile squares, made up of townships, ranges, and sections. Later, he also sent the surveyors Lewis & Clark on their infamous expedition to explore the land gained through the Louisiana Purchase.
3. Abraham Lincoln. (16th president of the U.S.) A man of many skills and talents, Lincoln was a land surveyor as well as a law student prior to his career in politics. He surveyed numerous towns and roads in Illinois in the 1830’s.
Land surveyors sometimes cheekily refer to Mount Rushmore as “three surveyors and another guy.” We know from reading above that the surveyors were Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. What about the “Other Guy?” Theodore Roosevelt (26th president of the U.S.) was never a surveyor in an official capacity, but he contributed to the land surveying profession in many ways. He created surveying jobs in many of his great engineering projects such as the Panama Canal, and in his creation of the National Parks. After he lost the election of 1912, Roosevelt participated in an expedition to South America which included mapmaking and other surveying tasks. Therefore, to refer to him as “the other guy” and not a land surveyor, seems a little misleading.
Without a doubt, many American presidents have influenced the land survey profession over the history of our country. Presidents in the 1800’s authorized land surveys of roads and canals of national importance and assigned the responsibility of surveys to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; they also authorized surveyors to map out routes for the transcontinental railroads. Surveyors were needed to map out state and national boundaries as our country changed and expanded to the west.
Land surveying was certainly an important job in the early days of our nation, and clearly the people who surveyed the land were respected and held in high esteem. It is good to know that, as land surveyors, we are in good company.