This section is from the book "Amateur Work Magazine Vol6". Also available from Amazon: Amateur Work.
The question, "What coinstitutes the area of the United States?" would seem to the ordinary layman a simple one; but according to Bulletin 302 of theUnited States Geologial Survey, of which Henry Gannett is the author, it is quite the reverse. Jurisdiction extends to a line 3 nautical miles from the shore, but this strip of sea cannot properly be regarded as a part of the country. Supposing our country to be restricted to the sea and lake coast, there remains a question regarding the bays and estuaries. To what extent should the coast line be followed strictly, and where should we begin to jump across the indentations made by the sea? In this matter one can only follow his own judgment, making in each case as natural a decision as possible, as no definite criterion can be established.
The measurements and computations upon which these tables were based were made with great care and thoroughness in each case, and the results probably represented the areas as closely as they could be determined from the maps and charts in existence at both times. Most of the differences in these two sets of tables are trifling, amounting to only a few square miles or a small fraction of 1 per cent, being well within the limits of error of the planimeter and of the maps used. Some of them, however, are considerable, and a few are explained by the fact that more recent maps, which changed the position of boundaries between states, had been used by the Land Office, and its measurement Was, therefore, more nearly correct. Other discrepancies arose from differences in determining the coast lines.
Realizing the desirability of but one government statement of areas of the states and terrotories, an attempt has been made by Frank Bond, chief draftsman of the General Land Office; C. S. Sloane, geographer of the Census Office, and Henry Gannett, geographer of the Geological Survey, to come to an agreement on these figures. The results of their conference and co-operation are set forth in the aforementioned bulletin.
By this adjustment the area of the United State proper, which is given as 3,026,789 square miles, is Increased over the Census Office figures by 1,188 square miles.
The area given for Alaska is 590,884 square miles. It is subject to considerable modification in the future as the position of the coast line becomes better known. The area given for the Philippine islands is 115,026 square miles, and was determined by the Coast Survey of that archipelago, prepared at the instance of the Philippine Census. It also is subject to modification as accurate charts of the archipelago are made. The areas of Hawaii, 6,449 sqpuare miles, and Porto Rico, 3,435 square miles, are probably subject to only slight changes, as the charts from which they were measured are quite accurate. The areas given for the other small possessions of the United States, Gaum, 210 square miles; Samoa, 77 square miles, and the Panama canal strip, 474 square miles, will probably be changed in the future as their limits become more correctly defined.