Modern Government Mapmaking

Image of modern mapping case

With the development of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology by the Department of Defense in the 1970s, government mapping and its applications increased twofold. The time of copper plates, lithographs, and printing presses was ending, and cartographers and surveyors were able to measure absolute or relative positioning at any hour of the day for anywhere in the world with a high level of accuracy. After its release to the public in the 1990s, the use of GPS by academics and the public skyrocketed, especially with the introduction of a software program to interpret this spatial data—GIS.

Geographical Information System (GIS) software has the ability to make maps with various layers of information, which is what makes GIS useful for many disciplines. In truth, GIS can be used to create maps of anything with spatial dimensions such as airline routes, natural resource pipelines, real estate for sale, and even the human body.

Today, geographic information underpins almost every industry and pervades our daily lives. Realizing the need for widespread digital access to geographic data and maps, the United States Geological Survey created The National Map, a collaborative effort to deliver topographic mapping information to a nation that consumes spatial data. In fact, over half of Internet users in the U.S. access a mapping application every month, and Google Maps is the most used smartphone application in the world. How much do you rely on modern mapmaking in your everyday life?

Modern Government Mapmaking