The Topography/Mapping the Shoreline gallery contains images of plane table mapping of the shoreline, introduced to the United States by Ferdinand Hassler, the first Superintendent of the Coast Survey.
After beginning the shoreline mapping of the United States in 1834, the work progressed rapidly and within 100 years virtually all of the United States shoreline, with the exception of much of Alaska, had been mapped at least once by a Coast and Geodetic Survey topographic mapping crew. The detail of this mapping was sometimes incredible leading to criticism of the work as too costly. However, today the over 10,000 topographic maps produced by early Coast Survey topographers are the only scientific view that environmental scientists have of the extent of early wetlands, estuaries, and shoreline configurations. The topographic surveys also contain a record of the urban development of the coastline, particularly in areas of repeat surveys. Plane table mapping was replaced by aerial photography over a 25-year period beginning during World War I. The Coast and Geodetic Survey was among the leaders of the many agencies involved in the early development of aerial photography, or photogrammetry as it became termed when used as a mapping method.