Journal of Geodesy

, Volume 78, Issue 9, pp 558–568 | Cite as

The International Association of Geodesy 1862 to 1922: from a regional project to an international organization

  • W. Torge


Geodesy, by definition, requires international collaboration on a global scale. An organized cooperation started in 1862, and has become today’s International Association of Geodesy (IAG). The roots of modern geodesy in the 18th century, with arc measurements in several parts of the world, and national geodetic surveys in France and Great Britain, are explained. The manifold local enterprises in central Europe, which happened in the first half of the 19th century, are described in some detail as they prepare the foundation for the following regional project. Simultaneously, Gauss, Bessel and others developed a more sophisticated definition of the Earth’s figure, which includes the effect of the gravity field. In 1861, the retired Prussian general J.J. Baeyer took up earlier ideas from Schumacher, Gauss, Struve and others, to propose a Central European Arc Measurement in order to study the figure of the Earth in that region. This led to a scientific organization, which soon extended from Central Europe to the whole continent and later to the globe, and changed its name in 1886 to ‘Internationale Erdmessung’ (International Geodetic Association). The scientific programme also widened remarkably from more local studies based on geometric data to regional and global investigations, with gravity measurements as an important source of information. The Central Bureau of the Internationale Erdmessung was hosted at the Prussian Geodetic Institute in Potsdam, and with Baeyer as Director, developed as an efficient tool of the Association. The scientific research extended and deepened after 1886, when F.R. Helmert became Director of the Central Bureau. A stronger international participation then took place, while the influence of the German states reduced. Of great practical importance were questions of standardization and reference systems, but first attempts to interpret gravity field variations and to monitor geodynamic phenomena by geodetic methods indicated future tendencies. With the First World War and the expiry of the last international convention in 1916, the international cooperation within the frame of the Association practically came to an end, which ended the first epoch of the Association. Nevertheless, due to the strong commitment of two scientists from neutral countries, the International Latitude Service continued to observe polar motion and to deliver the data to the Berlin Central Bureau for evaluation. After the First World War, geodesy became one of the founding members of the International Union for Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG), and formed one of its Sections (respectively Associations). It has been officially named the International Association of Geodesy (IAG) since 1932.


Arc measurements Baeyer Helmert Figure of the Earth History of geodesy International Association of Geodesy 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für ErdmessungUniversität HannoverHannoverGermany

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