Abraham Lincoln - The Surveyor

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During his life, Abraham Lincoln held many jobs including lawyer, tavern keeper, rail splitter, storekeeper, postmaster and surveyor.  His career as a surveyor began in 1833 when John Calhoun, Sangamon County Surveyor (Illinois), offered Lincoln a job as his assistant.

Upon accepting the appointment, Lincoln's first task was to learn about surveying.  He borrowed two text books - A System Of Geometry And Trigonometry With A Treatise On Surveying by Abel Flint (1804) and The Theory And Practice Of Surveying by Robert Gibson (1814) - and proceeded with his studies assisted by Mentor Graham, a schoolmaster.  As he concluded his studies, he purchased some second hand equipment with which he started his practice.

Lincoln's career as a surveyor lasted only a few years.  His projects included government surveys, road surveys, town lots, and private surveys.  Financially, there were difficulties and at one point his equipment was sold at auction to satisfy a debt.  A farmer named John Short bought the items for $120 and returned them to Lincoln.

The instruments passed through several owners and are now on display at "Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site".  Permission was recently granted to photograph the instruments and they are featured here.

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Display at 

Lincoln's New Salem

Exhibit Label


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Exhibit Label

Rittenhouse Compass & Staff


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Rittenhouse Compass

& Chain

Compass Face

"Rittenhouse and Compy"



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