Four thousand years ago, land surveying was an important part of the Egyptian economy. They used sighting and leveling instruments, ropes, and plumb bobs to measure land areas, replace property corners destroyed by floods of the Nile River and to align the Great Pyramid at Giza (Khufu) with nearly perfect symmetry. Although there are few artifacts or papyrus documenting the methods of ancient Egyptian surveyors, it is believed that the tools they used were the predecessors of modern-day surveying instruments. The accuracy of their work can be seen in the fact that the north/south axis of the Great Pyramid of Giza is only 3′ 6″ from true north!
The first railroads were built in the 1820s and 1830s, primarily in the Northeastern United States and Mid-Atlantic region. These were developed to serve the growing industrialization of the region. During this time, surveying became a significant industry because of the need for accurate maps. This demand led to the development of advanced surveying techniques, which included geodetic surveying. Government assistance, particularly the detailing of Army engineers, played a vital role in assisting private enterprise in building the country’s first railroads. These engineers surveyed and selected routes, planned and designed track and structures and introduced a system of accountability to the companies.
So, as you can see, the history of land surveying dates back to the earliest days of civilization. It was used to help determine the exact plots of land that were needed for taxation purposes and to help identify the owners of that land. Today, it remains as a vital tool for many different types of land development and zoning purposes. It also plays a role in eminent domain, or the legal right of a government to take private property for public use.