Lansing State Journal from Lansing, Michigan on November 26, 1981 · Page 28
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Lansing State Journal from Lansing, Michigan · Page 28

Lansing, Michigan
Issue Date:
Thursday, November 26, 1981
Page 28
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- J " J S .-- i , 1 OB LANSING STATE JOURNAL Thurs., Nov. 26, 1981 Mid-Michigan News BnnH " nr. wmm is By DAN HAGER Journal Correspondent By the time William A. Burt came to Lansing in 1853 to serve a term in the State Legislature and develop a reputation as a diligent, active lawmaker, he already had an international reputation in another field. - Burt was a scientist and inventor whose accomplishments had been recognized by his peers on two continents. That's quite a feat for a frontiersman whose total classroom experience as a student amounted to six weeks. Tales of Mid-Michigan Burt for a long time lived in as primitive conditions as anybody in Michigan. His principal occupation was as a surveyor, running lines and leaving posts in the wilderness as part of the network by which the property boundaries of later settlers could be authenticated. IT WAS IN THAT JOB that he encountered a problem peculiar to surveyors in parts of Michigan and some other regions. When using a magnetic compass, how can one tell directions if there's so much iron in the earth nearby that the needle is jumping around like a nervous cat? Burt put his practical genius to work on the problem and designed an instrument that wasn't bound by just earthly phenomena. He figured out how to use the sun to verify position and direction. He termed his new invention a solar compass. It proved so much more accurate than the magnetic compass that eventually it was used routinely even in non-iron areas. For his accomplishment Burt was awarded medals in Philadelphia and London. Like most of the early arrivals in Michigan territory, Burt was a Yankee. He was born in Massachusetts in 1792 but was taken to upstate New York by his parents before his first birthday. After 11 years there they moved to western New York south of Buffalo. BURT HAD A COUPLE of soldiering stints in the War of 1812, and in 1817 he roamed the west as far as St. Louis, mostly on foot. Back home he was usually building sawmills and grist mills and doing other mechanical work. After he brought his family to Macomb County, north of Detroit, to settle in 1824, he kept up that kind of work. He built the mill at Dexter, west of Ann Arbor, in 1828. But Burt's first love was surveying the land. Although he had rarely darkened a schoolhouse door, he read voraciously on the subjects that interested him astronomy, geology, mathematics, navigation and surveying. His first official appointment as a surveyor was in 1831 when his home county gave him the job as its surveyor. Two years later he became a deputy United States surveyor. He also ran lines preparatory to the building of a railroad from Detroit to Ypsilanti and later worked oh government contracts in Iowa and Wisconsin. He laid out the township lines where Milwaukee now is. IN SOME PARTS of his Michigan work, which included setting up a railroad route from Port Huron to Saginaw that later became a wagon road, he was bothered by a shaky needle. As a perfectionist,' he couldn't tolerate doing inaccurate work especially when the future civiliza- - See BURT, Page 12B ' - i fJ ) X: J William Burt's solar compass, for which he received awards. Boiiecl! is a real laugn. Her funny column hits close to home three times a week in Living Today TT I In- :t U c a eDouraal 5 , s r rsr AOi THE MINOLTA WEATHERMATIC A IS A GREAT VS))' f M f rv- MICHIGAN "ALL WEATHER" CAMERA. CAN BE l livTPTi p'T ' V iT - :--y , 1 1 -VS& TAKEN UNDER WATER TO 16 FEET. USES i ,J " 1 tS?7 '-lUlL ?vNT! I fzas , n I HX. IL EASY TO LOAD 110 FILM. Kim Y """""1 1 111101, I ? JM (tU Jl:UllK1 I rTrhFTr11 f - - I oon7n vis. chainwide S I I I I I I I U . 'J 4 V V$r rixIX LL ... . .J. V T A. 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