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The Jefferson Grid

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The vast majority of America’s western land is divided into a lattice-work of farms, towns and forests. This grid pattern was first proposed by Thomas Jefferson shortly after the American Revolutionary War, when the federal government came into possession of large areas of land. Before this newly acquired land could be sold, distributed and settled, it needed to be surveyed.

Before the Land Ordinance of 1785 was adopted, colonies were surveyed using the British system of “metes and bounds,” where property boundaries were defined by local geography and topography. A typical description for a parcel of land might read: "From the point on the north bank of Muddy Creek one mile above the junction of Muddy and Indian Creeks, north for 400 yards, then northwest to the large standing rock, west to the large oak tree, south to Muddy Creek, then down the center of the creek to the starting point."

But relying on natural topography to define properties has its flaws. Trees die and rivers shift course. Besides, Thomas Jefferson, who would become the third President of the United States two decades later, realized that this approach wouldn’t scale well to large regions. So he proposed the grid system. Not only was it easier and logical, it allowed the government to plot and sell land to investors without them actually visiting the site.

Jefferson idea was adopted in 1785, and two hundred years later it is still being used by the federal government to survey land.

These satellite images of the Jefferson grid are curated by Israeli artist Shabtai Pinchevsky who became interested in the American checkerboard system of delineating townships, neighborhoods and plots in 2014. His instagram account has a whole lot more.

Related: What Happens When The Grid Meets The Curvature of The Earth?

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