USGS Celebrates 125 Years of Topographic Mapping

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December 3rd, 2009 marks the 125th anniversary of the national program for topographic mapping for the United States Geological Survey (USGS).  The USGS was founded in 1879 by an act of Congress and tasked with the “classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain“.  This act was a result of a report by the National Academy of Sciences which had been asked by Congress to create a “plan for surveying the Territories of the United States that would secure the best possible results at the least possible cost“.

In 1884 the topographic mapping program was extended to the USGS.  Since then, the USGS has prepared a series of topographic maps across the United States at varying scales.  The most popular are the 1:24,000 scale topographic maps, aka the 7.5-minute quadrangles.  According to the USGS Topographic Maps site, over 55,000 7.5 minute quadrangles were produced covering the lower 48 states, representing the “only uniform map series that covers the entire area of the United States in considerable detail.”  More information about all of the topographic products from the USGS can be obtained from their USGS Maps Booklet and the Topographic Mapping Booklet (some of the information is outdated since the creation of The National Map which the topographic mapping program is now a part of).


Sample section of a 7.5 Minute Quadrangle
7.5 minute 1:24,000 scale, 1 inch represents 2,000 feet

For more history about topographic mapping at the USGS (and USGS history in general) visit:

A 125 Year History of Topographic Mapping and GIS in the U.S. Geological Survey 1884-2009, Part 1

~ History of the Topographic Branch (Division) (click on the link on the right to download the report)

~ The United States Geological Survey: 1879-1989



Accidental Geography

Spatial History Project