Gunter's chain

Gunter's chain

Gunter's chain at Campus Martius Museum
Unit information
Unit system imperial/US units
Unit of length
Unit conversions
1 gunter's chain in ...... is equal to ...
   imperial/US units    22 yd
   metric (SI) units    20.1168 m
Gunter's link
Unit system imperial/US units
Unit of length
Unit conversions
1 gunter's link in ...... is equal to ...
   imperial/US units    1/100 Gunter's chain
7.9200 in
   metric (SI) units    201.1680 mm

Gunter's chain or the surveyor's chain (also known as Gunter’s measurement or surveyor’s measurement) is a distance measuring device used for land survey. It was designed and introduced in 1620 by English clergyman and mathematician Edmund Gunter (1581–1626) long before the development of the theodolite and other more sophisticated equipment, enabling plots of land to be accurately surveyed and plotted, for legal and commercial purposes.

Gunter used an actual measuring chain of 100 links. These, the chain and the link, have become units of their own.


The 66-foot (~20.117 m) chain is divided into 100 links, usually marked off into groups of 10 by brass rings or tags which simplify intermediate measurement. Each link is thus 7.92 inches long.

Gunter's chain reconciled two seemingly incompatible systems: the traditional English land measurements, based on the number 4, and the newly introduced system of decimals based on the number 10. Since an acre measured 10 square chains in Gunter's system, the entire process of land measurement could be computed in decimalized chains and links, and then converted to acres by dividing the results by 10.[1]


The method of surveying a field or other parcel of land with Gunter's chain is to first determine corners and other significant locations, and then to measure the distance between them, taking two points at a time. The surveyor is assisted by a chainman. A ranging rod (usually a prominently coloured wooden pole) is placed in the ground at the destination point. Starting at the originating point the chain is laid out towards the ranging rod, and the surveyor then directs the chainman to make the chain perfectly straight and pointing directly at the ranging rod. A pin is put in the ground at the forward end of the chain, and the chain is moved forward so that its hind end is at that point, and the chain is extended again towards the destination point. This process is called ranging, or in the US, chaining; it is repeated until the destination rod is reached, when the surveyor notes how many full lengths (chains) have been laid, and he can then directly read how many links (one-hundredth parts of the chain) are in the distance being measured.

The whole process is repeated for all the other pairs of points required, and it is a simple matter to make a scale diagram of the plot of land. The process is surprisingly accurate and requires only very low technology. Surveying with a chain is simple if the land is level and continuous—it is not physically practicable to range across large depressions or significant waterways, for example. On sloping land, the chain was to be "leveled" by raising one end as needed, so that undulations did not increase the apparent length of the side or the area of the tract.[2]

Unit of length

Main article: Chain (unit)

Although Gunter's chain was later superseded by the steel tape (a form of tape measure), its legacy was a new unit of length called the chain, which measured 66 feet (or 100 links).[3] This unit still exists as a location identifier on British railways, as well as in some areas of America. In the United States, for example, Public Lands Survey plats are published in the chain unit to maintain the consistency of a two-hundred-year-old database. Minor roads surveyed in Australia and new Zealand were in the 19th and early 20th centuries customarily one chain wide.[4]

In some places other lengths have been used, for example 8.928 inches (approximately 0.227 m) in Scotland and 10.08 inches (approximately 0.256 m) in Ireland.

The length of a cricket pitch is exactly one chain (22 yards).[5]

Similar measuring chains

A similar American system, of lesser popularity, is Ramsden’s or the engineer’s system, where the chain consists also of 100 links, each one foot (0.3048 m) long. The original of such chains was that constructed, to very high precision, for the measurement of the baselines of the Anglo-French Survey (1784–1790) and the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain.

The even less common Rathborn system, also from the 17th century, is based on a 200-link chain of two rods (33 feet, 10.0584 m) length. Each rod (or perch or pole) consists of 100 links, (1.98 inches, 50.292 mm each), which are called seconds (), ten of which make a prime (, 19.8 inches, 0.503 m). [6]

Vincent Wing made chains with 9.90-inch links, most commonly as 33-foot half-chains of 40 links. These chains were sometimes used in the American colonies, particularly Pennsylvania. [7]

See also


  1. Linklater, Andro (2003). Measuring America. Penguin. pp.16–17.
  2. Holloway, Thomas (1881). The practical surveyor. Horace Cox. London. pp.22–24. Retrieved April 7, 2009.
  3. Nesbit, Anthony (1847). A complete treatise on practical land-surveying, Ninth edition. Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans. London. p. 29. Retrieved April 7, 2009.
  4. McKay, Donald F. (ed.) (2009). "Land Title Surveys in New Zealand". Chapter 2, Section 8: Public Roads. New Zealand Institute of Surveyors.
  5. Craven, Ian; Gray, Martin; Stoneham, Geraldine (1994). Australian Popular Culture. Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 0-521-46667-9.
  6. Zupko, Ronald Edward. A Dictionary of Weights and Measures for the British Isles
  7. Denny, Milton. "The Colonial Surveyor in Pennsylvania", Surveyors Historical Society, 2013.

External links

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