About Amerisurv| Contact    
Magazine | Newsletter    
Flickr Photos | Advertise    
HomeNewsNewsletterAmerisurv DirectoryJobsStoreAuthorsHistoryArchivesBlogVideosEvents
 
advertisement


Subscriptions
Sponsored By

Software Reviews
Continuing Series
     RTN
An RTN expert provides everything you need to know about network-corrected real-time GNSS observations.
Click Here to begin the series,
or view the Article PDF's Here
76-PageFlip Compilation
of the entire series
Test Yourself

Got Answers?
Test your knowledge with NCEES-level questions.
  Start HERE
Meet the Authors
Check out our fine lineup of writers. Each an expert in his or her field.
Wow Factor
Sponsored By


Product Reviews
Partner Sites

machinecontrolonline 


lbszone.com

GISuser.com

GeoJobs.biz

GeoLearn

 

Spatial Media LLC properties

Associates

ASPRS

newsnow 

Home arrow Archives   The American Surveyor     

Book Marks: Burt's Solar Compass: Its Conception, Development, Manufacturing, Marketing and Daily Use by Robert C. Miller Print E-mail
Written by Jack Owens, LS   
Friday, 01 July 2011

A 211Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Experience with navigational trigonometry in high school led Robert Miller to a lifelong interest in the astronomical triangle and the equipment used in defining its values. A broader interest in the history of technology and continuing research led him to the work of 19th century Philadelphia survey instrument maker William J. Young. Many of Young's letters had been preserved in the William A. Burt family records at a research library in Michigan. Burt's invention of the solar compass overcame the problems of local attraction that affected the readings of a magnetic compass in an area rich in mineral deposits. Miller's studies revealed that later accounts of Burt's invention written late in the 19th century did not seem to reflect some of the facts he had been uncovering in his research, or presented apparent fabrications. He therefore began writing a more accurate account of the invention of the instrument that would define the direction for much of the surveys of the Public Land Survey System.

Miller presents the development of Burt's invention from words taken from actual documents contemporary with the history as it unfolded, eschewing speculation as much as possible. He is careful to note when making assumptions necessary to fill in gaps in the record and tie documents together.

The story highlights the interaction and collaboration between the inventor, William A. Burt, and William J. Young, the survey instrument maker chosen by Burt to make both versions of his solar apparatus (the first version was called the variation compass) that would readily determine the true meridian for the surveyor.

Burt's talent for invention is evident. He had earlier sought a skilled tradesman to produce his first patented device, the typographer, considered by most authorities to be the first typewriter. It is not hard to conclude he wanted to obtain the best survey instrument maker for his second invention, a more complicated and intricate device, but Miller doesn't make such speculation. Following a biographical sketch of both men, he begins with Burt's first written complaints about local attraction affecting his laying out of public land survey townships in Wisconsin. Burt was as frustrated as other surveyors by the problem but determined to do something to over come it. Seeking someone who could produce his solar apparatus for determining the true meridian that could be attached to a surveyor's compass, Burt traveled to Philadelphia to seek out Young, inventor and patent holder of an improved surveyor's compass that is now considered the forerunner of the first transit. John Mullett, another Deputy Surveyor and one of Burt's good and lifelong friends, had earlier bought one of Young's improved surveyors compasses. Burt was a mill builder and likely recognized the quality, good design and workmanship in Young's instrument.

The account stretches from Burt and Young's first collaboration and continues over the next 30 plus years. As fate would have it, Burt did not make much money from his clever invention. Miller gives some of the accounting of the government's failure to recognize and pay Burt a rightful amount for the order it brought to the Public Land Survey System.

As a surveyor, I only disagree with Mr. Miller on one issue. He notes a shortcoming of the variation compass in which the variation (magnetic declination) could change between the time the meridian was determined and the compass turned to obtain any other bearing by the needle. This was not the type of local attraction which frustrated Burt and other surveyors. Such a type of rapidly changing location attraction would render a compass useless for determining direction. This was the type he encountered with his 1844 discovery of iron ore in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. By then he was using the improved solar compass, the final version of his invention.

The solar compass is an immediate mechanical solution for solving the P-Z-S triangle (the astronomical triangle that first drew Miller's attention so many years earlier). Even John Herschel, whom many thought the greatest English mind since Newton, gave Burt due credit for conceiving such a device. The solar compass, and its successor the solar transit, were used to lay out much of the Public Land Survey System, especially west of the Mississippi River. BLM surveyors report both were regularly used in BLM surveys up until the 1960s. As one who has retraced some of the lines laid out by the solar compass, it worked well achieving the accuracy attainable with the altitude method incorporated into its design and functioning.

At 135 pages, Burt's Solar Compass is compact but thorough. For anyone who enjoys the linking of original documents with surveying history, I recommend it. A companion CD provides transcribed copies of many of Miller's sources that history buffs will appreciate. The book may be ordered from This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it for $30.

Jack Owens has been surveying for 45 years and has been licensed in seven states. He has served on the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors Board of Directors, the MSPS Institute, teaches the Michigan Licensing Review, and has been a re-enactor for 23 years.

Book Info: Burt's Solar Compass: It Conception, Development, Manufacturing, Marketing and Daily Use
Author: Robert C. Miller
Specs: 135 pages. $30.
Publisher: Lansing, MI: Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors Institute, Spartan Printing, 2010.

A 211Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

 
< Prev

 American Surveyor Recent Articles
Editorial 
Thought Leader: Land is Too Important to Be Left to Land Specialists
A while back I was searching the Internet for an old treatise on land titles. A Google query yielded a book published in 1914. The author was Charles Claudius Kagey and the book was titled "Land Survey and Land Titles, a book for boys and girls, a reference volume for property owners, a text ....
Read the Article
Jason E. Foose, PS 
Decided Guidance: Wacker vs. Price - Irony in Sevenfold
This month's case takes us to Phoenix, Arizona in 1950. The Arizona Supreme Court went all guns-a-blazin' in Wacker vs. Price (216 P.2d 707 (Ariz. 1950)). Maybe it's just me, but I'm sensing plenty of irony and have taken license to point it out along the way. I like what the Court did with this case ....
Read the Article
Allen E. Cheves 
Around the Bend - A Visit to Carlson Software
The Ohio River is one of America's greatest, running near 1,000 miles between Pittsburgh and the Mighty Mississippi. Much of the coal and other products that fueled our nation's industrial expansion flowed between the shores of this maritime ....
Read the Article
Lee Lovell, PS 
Surveying & Mapping Economics Part 3 - Customers & Services
This article continues an inquiry into the economic conditions of the Surveying and Mapping industry (NAICS 541370) using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. This time we will look at customers and services. The data comes from the Economic Census conducted every 5 years on American ....
Read the Article
Jerry Penry, PS 
True Elevation: Black Elk Peak
Black Elk Peak, located in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, is the state's highest natural point. It is frequently referred to as the highest summit in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. Two other peaks, Guadalupe Peak in Texas and ....
Read the Article
Larry Trojak 
Bringing The Goods - Mobile Scanning an Integral Component
When Jim Smith, Jerrad Burns and Charlie Patton left the Memphis division of a major construction company in 2015, they took with them the knowledge of how to get even the most complex jobs done and what equipment could best serve them in making that happen. So when they joined West ....
Read the Article
 
Lee Lovell, PS 
Test Yourself 41: Integers, Integers, and Integers
ABF is a 5:12:13 triangle, ACF is a 48:55:73 triangle, ADF is a 3:4:5 triangle, and AEF is a 7:24:25 triangle, all with integer sides and inscribed in a semi-circle. What are the lengths of BC, CD, and DE? ....
Read the Article
Wendy Lathrop, PS, CFM 
Vantage Point: Sunset or Sunrise?
While we often think of legislated government programs as static, they do change over time. Such evolution and opportunity for transformation are part of the dialogue in reauthorizing these programs. Every so many years there is a sunset on each government program, and this September is the ....
Read the Article
 

deliciousrssnewsletterlinkedinfacebooktwitter

Amerisurv Exclusive Online-only Article ticker
Featured Amerisurv Events
List Your Event Here
please
contact Amerisurv


Google
 
AMERISURV TOP NEWS

JAVAD Intros
Spoofer Buster

GOT NEWS? Send To
press [at] amerisurv.com
Online Internet Content

Sponsor


News Feeds

 
Subscribe to Amerisurv news & updates via RSS or get our Feedburn
xml feed

Need Help? See this RSS Tutorial

Historic Maps
Careers

post a job
Reach our audience of Professional land surveyors and Geo-Technology professionals with your GeoJobs career ad. Feel free to contact us if you need additional information.

 

Social Bookmarks

Amerisurv on Facebook 

Amerisurv LinkedIn Group 

Amerisurv Flickr Photos 

Amerisurv videos on YouTube 

twitter

 




The American Surveyor © All rights reserved / Privacy Statement
Spatial Media LLC
905 W 7th St #331
Frederick MD 21701
301-620-0784
301-695-1538 - fax