B ath was the birthplace and home of the Father of American Mapmaking, Henry Gannett. He was a pioneer, explorer, topographer, civil engineer, author, co-founder of the famous Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. and co-founder and president of the National Geographic Society. These are but a few of the many titles and accomplishments of Bath’s own Henry Gannett.

Gannett was born on Aug. 24, 1846 and lived with a large family of three brothers and three sisters on High Street. During his formative years, he was a fierce competitor and an excellent student, being near the top of his class graduating from Bath High School in the class of 1864. He obtained a bachelor of science degree from Harvard in 1869 and the following year graduated from Harvard’s Hooper Mining School.

In 1871, he joined the Ferdinand Vaneveer Hayden expedition to survey what would become Yellowstone National Park. Gannett possessed great endurance which was needed in the hazardous work he carried out in Colorado and Wyoming. He continued to work on this project until 1879. The Shoshone Indians often challenged the small survey team. Gannett surveyed and re-christened many of the lakes and mountains in the territory. He was honored many years later when the highest peak in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountain Range was named for him Gannett Peak and a mountain in eastern Alaska became Mount Gannett.

He completed the mapping of this area and joined the group pressing the government to form an agency for mapmaking. The United States Geological Survey was established (Gannett had lobbied for “Geographical” to be included in the title), and Gannett joined its staff, becoming the geographer for the 1880 United States Census. His work established a new standard, and he was later to be the chief geographer for the censuses of 1890 and 1900.

O.J. Mitchell of Los Angeles, a member of Gannet’s staff, wrote of him: “In the 1880’s I used to be a clerk in the Survey Division, of which Henry Gannett was head. Gannett was one of the greatest men and minds I have ever known. He could write a letter with his right hand, draw a map with his left, dictate to his stenographer and hold a conversation with another person all at the same time.”

In 1890, President William Harrison named Gannett as chairman of the U.S. Board of Geographic Names whose purpose was to eliminate the confusion and contradiction of geographic names appearing in governmental publications.

In 1897, President Grover Cleveland put Gannett in charge of the examination and surveying of the forest reserves to protect the national forest and woodlands.

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt selected Henry to edit the Conservation Commissions data concerning the nation’s resources. Gannett preached ecology nearly one hundred years before the remainder of the country took up the fight.

In 1878, Gannett was co-founder of the Cosmos Club of Washington, a club composed of men interested in science, professionally or otherwise. Membership was very restricted by high qualifications of those who had performed meritorious original work in science, literature, or the fine arts and had to be recognized as distinguished in a those fields. Membership grew and by its twenty-fifth anniversary there were 567 members.

Ten years after the formation of the Cosmos Club, Gannett and four others called 33 scientists together at the club for a special meeting on Jan. 13, 1888. They proposed the organization of the National Geographic Society. It grew into a powerful popular agency and numbered 350,000 members by 1914. Henry Gannett served as president from 1909 until his death in 1914.

In 1899 he received the degree of LL.D from Bowdoin College for his services to geographic science.

Gannett chaired a special committee that rendered a verdict that Rear Adm. Robert Peary had, beyond all question, reached the North Pole. (Controversy had arisen since Peary had not left a physical marker at the pole in 1909.)

Gannett is widely considered to be the father of American Topographic Mapping. One practice was to organize maps as quadrangles and so Gannett is known familiarly as the “Quad Father.”

Few men have made greater personal contributions to their country and all its citizens. Gannett was proud of his birthplace in Bath and visited home as often as his official duties would permit. His life’s work allows every American, as well as visitors to our country, to travel from one city to another, one state to another, or across this vast nation without trouble by using maps compiled by him. Surely the manufacturers of today’s Global Positioning Systems (GPS) appreciate Gannett!

Courtesy of Bath Historical Society Newsletter No. 36 – December 1995. Excerpts from research article on Henry Gannett by John E. Gaylord,

Bath Independent, Reeds History of Bath, U.S.

Geological Survey HQ in Reston Virginia.

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