1937: 1st National Surveying Teachers Conference

Iowa State College Surveying Camp, Camp Marston, Rainy Lake, Minnesota

July 25 to August 5, 1937

Professor J. S. Dodds, Chair Arrangements Committee


The beginning of the national conferences for teachers of surveying is closely tied to the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education (SPEE), now known as the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). The idea of a national conference had its inception at an annual meeting of SPEE at Madison, Wisconsin, in June 1936. In presenting, before the Civil Engineering Division, a paper on "Surveying" written by Professor John S. Dodds of Iowa State College, Professor Fuller of that school ended his remarks with several quotations from a paper on "Summer Surveying Camps" previously presented by Professor F. W. Welch of Washington State College and published by SPEE. Another paper presented was entitled "The Objectives and Work of Committee VIII" by Professor Paul Rice of Lafayette College. Committee VIII, Surveying and Geodesy, was a part of the Civil Engineering Division of SPEE and had been organized in May 1935. Later this committee was to become "Surveying and Mapping".

Inspired by comments in these papers and several questionnaires and studies, a few kindred spirits, such as Rice of Lafayette, Coddington of Ohio State, Fuller of Iowa State, Zelner of Minnesota, Brother Leo of Manhattan, Owen of Wisconsin, and Welch of Washington State spent an afternoon discussing the status of surveying.


From these preliminary discussions in Madison came an invitation from Professor Dodds to hold a surveying conference, in mid-summer 1937, under the auspices of Committee VIII of the SPEE, at Iowa State's Camp Marston on Rainy Lake. Camp Marston was on a small peninsula, extending from the south shore of Rainy Lake near the Canadian border, requiring a 35-mile four-hour boat trip from Ranier near International Falls, Minnesota, and inaccessible excepting by boat. It was a rather primitive type camp - good cabins; oil lamps; the lake furnished the water supply, shaving water, and bathtub. Such a location had many intangible advantages for a conference and very few distractions to take conferees away from the meetings such as our current busy national and state meetings in larger cities with their attendant related activities.



Camp Marston, looking northwest across Rainy Lake, The Canadian shore may be seen in the distant background. Photo from Wolf (1997) 




Delegates of the first national surveying teacher conference (SPEE 1937)



In that first conference 34 delegates attended (31 attendees from academia representing 26 different colleges, two representatives of instrument companies, and one government employee). Of note is that several attendees brought their families, a tradition that continues today since it enhances the sense of camaraderie among attendees. The conference lasted two weeks and included extensive discussion about methods of teaching civil and non-civil engineers, geodesists, photogrammetrists, and aerial surveyors. The committee reports that were developed, set the minimum suggested content of elementary courses in surveying for civil and non-civil engineers, advanced surveying (geodesy and adjustment of observations), a short course in photogrammetry, and a course in route surveying including curves and earthwork (SPEE 1937).



Bolkas, D., Olsen, M. J., & Ghilani, C. D. (2022). SaGES and the National Surveying Educator's Conferences: History of Surveying Education and Future Challenges. Surveying and Land Information Science, 81(2), 97-126.

Curtis, K. S. 1987. Fifty years of national conferences of teachers of surveying. Proceedings of the XIIth national surveying teachers conference. Madison, WI, July 5-10.

SPEE 1937. Conference Program. Proceedings of the first national surveying teachers’ conference, The society for the promotion of engineering education (SPEE), civil engineering division, committee No. 8 – Surveying and Geodesy, Ranier, Minnesota, July 25 August 5.

Wolf, P. R. 1997. Sixty Years of Surveying Teacher Conferences. Surveying and Land Information Systems 57(3): 133-146.