Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Sara from Mundelein. Sara Wonders, “Where does the idea of private property come from?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Sara!
Where in the world are you? Have you ever given that question much thought? Of course, you can probably name the city, state, and country you happen to be in at this moment, but how do you know exactly where you are within that particular city?
Let's say you're in your backyard at home. Your backyard is probably really easy to find. You just go out your back door and there you are. But where does your backyard end and your neighbor's yard begin? If there's a fence around your house, it might be easy to define that spot.
Most people don't have fences all along their property boundaries, though. So how do you know where they are? Does it even really matter? While your neighbors might not mind if you cross over onto their property once in a while, the entire system of private property and property ownership depends upon knowing exactly where boundaries lie between pieces of property.
If you want to buy or sell a piece of land, for example, you'll need legal documentation of the property at issue, including exact dimensions and boundaries. That means you'll need the professional services of someone trained to determine those things. Who are we talking about? A surveyor, of course!
Land surveyors are professionals who use their expertise in science, mathematics, and technology to establish official boundaries on land, in the air, and on bodies of water. Most land surveyors enjoy a work atmosphere that's a combination of outdoor exploration, indoor research, and preparation of legal documents and reports.
For example, a civil engineer, construction manager, architect, or real estate attorney might request that a land surveyor determine and certify the official boundaries of a piece of property. Before heading out into the field, a surveyor will usually start with indoor research. Using the Internet, old maps, and official real estate records, a surveyor will search for all relevant information about the piece of property in question.
Armed with information about the property, including old maps and previous legal descriptions, a surveyor will head out into the field to confirm the boundaries and confirm measurements. Depending upon the property at issue, this could involve strenuous walking and climbing, all while carrying a variety of sophisticated tools.
A surveyor's tools might include a theodolite and steel band, a total station, a level and/or a rod, and a Global Positioning System (GPS) surveying system. Most, if not all, of these tools, can be mounted on a tripod to help a surveyor generate precise measurements. Knowing how to work these gadgets to create an accurate picture of a piece of property and its boundaries requires an advanced knowledge of mathematics.
In the field, a surveyor will often use established reference points, known as benchmarks, to establish boundaries based upon their relative positions. Benchmarks, which are points that have been previously established with a high degree of certainty and precision, can include survey markers, geodetic control points, triangulation stations, and reference marks, just to name a few specific examples.
The science and profession of surveying has been around for a long time. One of the most famous early surveyors in the United States was a person you're already familiar with: George Washington. Before he became the first President of the United States, Washington was the county surveyor for Culpeper County, Virginia. Historians believe much of his military success can be traced back to his intimate knowledge of the land gained from surveying most of northern Virginia!