The U.S. General Land Office (GLO) was established in 1812 with responsibility to survey and control the dispersal of public lands. All public land was required to be surveyed prior to settlement, and the first director of the GLO, Thomas Hutchins, set up a systematic process of rectangular survey for the public lands and launched the great national project to survey and map the public domain in the entire country, a procedure which got under way in the famous “seven ranges” of southeast Ohio. Each surveyor was to record not only geography, but also features of the landscape with economic import, such as roads, Indian trails, existing settlements, Indian lands, mineral deposits, and of particular interest, railroads and their rights of way. Of note is that unlike most surveys of the time, the surveyors were instructed not to apply new names to the landscape, but to use “the received names of all rivers, creeks, lakes, swamps, prairies, hills, mountains and other natural objects.”
By mid-century the GLO had completed most of the surveys for the lands between the Appalachians and the Mississippi, and so focused most of its attention to the American west for the rest of the century. The GLO published mostly state maps, which were issued in annual reports, bound into state atlases, and in a few atlases that combined all the current maps in progress. These maps produced by the GLO are the most accurate and detailed maps of the U.S., based on rigorous and comprehensive surveys not hindered by commercial concerns. These maps proved very useful to private American mapmakers, and they were often the basis for state and county maps in the second part of the nineteenth century. This 1866 map shows Kansas and Nebraska five years after the former was achieved statehood and the latter was reduced to close to its present borders. The map contains lots of interesting information, especially on minerals and, as noted by Wheat, railroads in this region then undergoing considerable growth.