Wisconsin Geospatial News

Norman Anderson and Arthur Robinson

As background, the State Cartographer’s Office was created through language in the state’s biennial budget which became law in the summer of 1973. Professor Arthur H. Robinson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and State Assemblyman Norman C. Anderson were the key players in making it happen. We met with them recently to gather their recollections of those events thirty years ago.

From what roots did the concept arise for creating a State Cartographer’s Office in Wisconsin?

Robinson: I had done some consulting work relating to the border between South Carolina and Georgia, and became aware that South Carolina had a person with the title of state cartographer who had records that helped me in my consulting task. I found that a few other states had similar positions. With the trend of mapping shifting from a federal to a state focus, it seemed obvious that Wisconsin needed an office to collect information useful to those doing the mapping here.

Through what process did it happen in Wisconsin?

Robinson: As an outgrowth of Wisconsin’s program of resource development which was initiated in about 1960 under Governor Gaylord Nelson, I was appointed to a short-term Committee on State Mapping. We recommended that topographic mapping be completed, and also that the state establish the function of state cartographer.

The Natural Resources Committee of State Agencies (NRCSA) then recommended to the legislature in early 1963 that specific language in the form of a bill be approved to form such a function. At the same time, to bring the issue into national view I wrote an article entitled “The Need for State Cartographers” that was published in the major journal in my field, Surveying and Mapping. However, the idea didn’t make it into our state’s final budget that year.

So, another ten years passed until the legislature did create the function. What made the difference this time?

Anderson: I had represented the east side of Madison in the legislature since 1959, and in 1973 my fellow Democrats chose me to be Speaker of the Assembly. As Speaker I appointed committee members and chairs, including to the Joint Committee on Finance. In general I kept my hands out of the business of the various committees. However in this case I told the co-chair who I appointed that I very much wanted to see the language creating the position and duties of state cartographer in the final budget.

My personal interest in maps goes way back, but a bit of serendipity is also part of this story. I purchased a lot on a lake in northwestern Vilas County in 1961 and discovered that one of my summertime neighbors was also from Madison — Professor Arthur Robinson. We became friends and when my colleagues elected me Assembly Speaker in 1973 he revived the idea for the state cartographer. I was interested and able to help.

Robinson: An ally in our efforts was Meredith (“Buzz”) Ostrom who had become Wisconsin State Geologist just the previous summer. Buzz was a strong proponent of topographic mapping which at the time was not completed over the state. The NRCSA continued to be active in those years and was also supportive.

The 1963 bill called for placing the state cartographer within the offices of the state’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. Yet, in 1973 the proposal that passed put the function within the U.W. system. Why the shift?

Robinson: We were concerned that the office should be insulated from political and budgetary pressures. The university seemed to best fit that need. Once the legislation was passed and implemented, we in the university acted to create an advisory committee that included representatives from state agencies as a way to ensure that their interests would be heard.

Anderson: The state geologist and climatologist were part of the university, so adding a state cartographer there seemed very logical. Since part of the mission of this new function was specified to be active in education, it made further sense.

How does your role in establishing the State Cartographer’s Office fit into your overall career accomplishments?

Anderson: I served in the legislature for twenty years and contributed to a variety of initiatives. In the mapping field, formation of the SCO clearly stands out, and many in that community know that after I left public office I lobbied for the Wisconsin Society of Land Surveyors for about twenty more years.

Robinson: Seeing the SCO formed after more than ten years of trying was very satisfying — one of my major achievements. I am most proud of having created a world map projection that has been widely embraced by cartographers.