The First Total Station?

Some of the best parts of my job are the opportunities I get to visit equipment manufacturers, and to share with our readers an inside look at the products they use and the people that make them. In September 1997 I wrote about a factory visit to Zeiss in Germany, and in March 1999 I wrote about Geodimeter in Sweden. (Just for the record, I didn't include any historical information about Zeiss instruments in the 1997 article, but in the 1999 Geodimeter article I wrote, "The 140 (1981) introduced automatic electronic angle measuring, or what is known today as a total station.") I mention these two articles in particular because in my recent article about XYZworks (February 2003) I discussed what I considered to be the appearance of the first total station in 1979. Upon reading the article, former employees of Zeiss and Geodimeter (who are now with Trimble) took exception, and claimed that both Zeiss and Geodimeter invented the total station in 1971. Both individuals claim that both companies introduced a total station on the same day at the same show in 1971 (the Geodimeter 700 and the Zeiss Reg Elta). In talking with a couple of European colleagues, the history of Geodimeter was somewhat unclear. In my Geodimeter article, I wrote, "… Between 1971 and 1986, the company introduced no less than 25 different pieces of equipment, including the Geodimeter 700 (1971) … With the 700, for the first time, angle measurement was combined with distance measurement." But one of my European colleagues agreed with the Zeiss guy and said that Zeiss introduced the first total station in 1971.


It could be that the term was in wide use in Europe, but had not migrated to the United States. What is still at issue is the definition of a total station. To me, it represents an instrument that allows surveyors to press one button and get all the answers. Less important at the time was the fact that the data could be output to a storage device (a data collector), although we know today how essential offboard data collection has become. Those of you who were surveying at the time know the real impact automatic horizontal distances had on stakeout.

Obviously, my intention was not to make a false statement, or to give credit where credit wasn't due. Here's what I should have said: "My first experience with the term total station, (as was the experience of many other surveyors in the United States), was associated with Hewlett Packard."

The Passing of a Colleague

It was with sadness that I learned of the death of Dave Scott, LS, after a 14-month bout with cancer. I met Dave in 1987 while we both briefly worked for Wild Heerbrugg. His initial formal training was in Civil Engineering Technology and Education. He was a licensed surveyor in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and held a bachelor's and a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin. He was also a Fellow Member of ACSM. His work experience included teaching land surveying, managing the surveying division of a surveying and engineering company, product support for Wild Heerbrugg, and sales manager and director of training for C&G Software. Since 1989, Dave worked for Pentax in Denver as a system support specialist and as a product and marketing specialist. Those of you who knew him know that he was a good guy, very capable, and always eager to be of assistance. His cheerfulness will be missed.

About the Author

  • Marc Cheves, LS
    Marc Cheves was a former editor of the magazine.

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