TIL that in 1918 the federal government tried to find the geographical center of the United States by balancing a US-shaped cardboard cutout on the head of a pin. They were accurate to within 20 miles.


TIL that in 1918 the federal government tried to find the geographical center of the United States by balancing a US-shaped cardboard cutout on the head of a pin. They were accurate to within 20 miles.



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17 thoughts on “TIL that in 1918 the federal government tried to find the geographical center of the United States by balancing a US-shaped cardboard cutout on the head of a pin. They were accurate to within 20 miles.

  1. Which projection did they use? Also, I’m worried that this information would be used to support a Flat Earth ideology.

  2. Unfortunately, locating the geographic center of the US was not very good for the people who live closest to that spot. Internet address geolocation services (that try to map physical addresses to IP addresses) use the geographic center of the US for any unknown address mappings.
    So when various law enforcement agencies use the data to investigate everything from crimes to missing persons, a large portion of that data sends them to those poor people’s farm in Kansas.

  3. Before computers, paperboard cutouts were commonly used to estimate center of mass, the area of complicated shapes, and integrals.

  4. I took a biomechanics class at university in the 80’s. It’s how we calculated center of gravity.

  5. You don’t need to balance it – at least not in the horizontal plane, which takes some manual iteration to solve. Hang it vertically from a point, and mark the vertical line passing through that point, using a plumbline. Hang it from a different point, and mark the vertical again. The two lines cross at the centre of mass or ‘balance point’.

  6. That’s calculus for you. You *could* use a series of equations and measurements to calculate the exact geographic center of the US, or you could do something like this. A surprising amount of calculus can be done with simple addition and subtraction if you have an intuition for it and know what you’re looking for.

  7. Wasn’t the geographic center of the US a big plot point in the book version of American Gods?

  8. There’s a similar hack that is used to estimate the area of shapes that are difficult to calculate – integrals for example. It’s essentially a manual monte carlo: draw a square or rectangle around the shape; then drop points at random locations onto the surface of the rectangle. Count up the dots on either shape, calculate the ratio, and you have it.

    This relies on reliably random locations, though. Dropping them by hand wouldn’t work well, but coordinates from a random number generator work well. And the more points you generate, the closer you converge to the actual area.

  9. The map in the thumbnail has the geographic center almost in North Dakota, how can that be the center?

  10. *”Which is why,” concluded Mr. Nancy, “the exact center of America is a tiny rundown park, an empty church, a pile of stones, and a derelict motel.”*

  11. I was once asked to work out the area of an irregularly-shaped plot of land. I photocopied the map, worked out the total area of the rectangular sheet of paper according to the map scale, and weighed it. I then cut out the irregularly-shaped land, and weighed that. A bit of simple maths, and I had the area.

  12. I’m so sleep deprived, I turbo’d through the title & thought, “well they must’ve compensated for the weight of the Rocky’s somehow?!” zzzzzzzzz

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