12:30 PM - 01:30 PM
7 October 2021

Matthes-Evans Topographic Map of the Grand Canyon

History & Heritage

Creation of the Matthes-Evans U.S.Geological Survey topographic map of the Grand Canyon in the early 1900’s was a herculean effort.

The Grand Canyon is an incredible topographic feature – one mile deep and 277 miles long and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The remote location, extremely rugged terrain, and climate presented enormously challenging field conditions to the surveyors. Creation of the Matthes-Evans Map was a 25-year effort – from 1902 to 1927 – and was impressive considering the surveying tools that were available at the time.

This presentation will describe the surveying tools and methods used, and the field work required, to prepare the Matthes-Evans Map, and the logistical challenges faced by the mapmakers. The methods include: long range triangulation to establish the location of the Grand Canyon (latitude and longitude); use of triangulation stations within the mapped area; lines of levels to establish elevation; and plane-table surveying. The Map is named for the two U.S. Geological Survey topographers who led the mapmaking effort - Francois E. Matthes and Richard T. Evans.

Matthes and others produced firsthand accounts that provide a historical record of the mapmaking effort and some of the trials and tribulations encountered by the surveyors. Matthes was a member of ASCE and his field notes contain several references to his membership in ASCE. These sources, plus the author’s onsite visits to triangulation stations and benchmarks provide the basis for the story of the map’s creation.

Learning Objectives:

  • Describe the surveying tools and methods used for topographic mapping in rugged terrain in the early 1900’s.
  • Discuss the state-of-the-art of topographic surveying during the era when the U.S. Geological Survey was beginning to map large portions of the rugged western United States.
  • Explain the achievements of, and contributions by civil engineers / ASCE members in the early topographic mapping of the rugged western United States.