Leica – 200 Years of Surveying History

Meet the pioneers and visionaries that have shaped the history of surveying

The origins of Leica Geosystems date back 200 years, with the founding of Kern & Co. in 1819. A little over 100 years later, in a small empty textile mill in Heerbrugg, Heinrich Wild developed the T2, the world’s first truly portable opto-mechanical theodolite, and therewith, building the foundation of modern surveying. A few years later, the fledgling start-up company, WILD Heerbrugg, introduced the world’s first aerial camera, the C2, along with the B2, the world’s first analogue photogrammetric plotter. Over the last two centuries, our company, in its various forms, has grown by becoming the world’s first in surveying innovation. A thirst for innovation, combined with a keen sense of entrepreneurship and an unwavering dedication to quality, has kept Heinrich Wild’s and Jakob Kern’s visions alive throughout the decades.


The City Museum Aarau opens the exhibition “Kern exakt200!” to celebrate 200 years of Swiss surveying history. In 1819 – exactly 200 years ago – Jakob Kern founded his measurement instrument factory in Aarau and laid the foundation for a successful company history.


Leica Geosystems announces the first product in their new BLK product series, the Leica BLK360, a highly innovative one-button imaging scanner.


With the Leica Pegasus:One the company announces its first vehicle-agnostic mobile mapping solution.


The Leica myWorld customer portal is introduced to allow customers to access product information, support tools and trainings online.


Acquired by Hexagon AB, Sweden, and start of a new era. The innovative power of Kern, Wild and Leica Geosystems still shape Hexagon’s world today.


IPO of Leica Geosystems (LGSN) on Swiss Stock Exchange. American company Cyra Technologies Inc. is acquired and thus the age of high-definition 3D scanning starts.


Leica Group split into Leica Microsystems and Leica Geosystems. Hans Hess becomes President of Leica Geosystems


Acquisition of civilian GPS businesses from Magnavox and introduction of System 200 – the first in-house GPS product.


Digitisation continues apace: in March the WILD NA2000, the world’s first digital level, causes a sensation at the USA’s most important surveying congress in Denver. It is awarded the photonics innovation prize.


WILD-Leitz merges with Cambridge Instruments to become the Leica Group.


Kern & Co. AG is acquired by the WILD-Leitz Group.


Formation of the Wild Leitz Group, acquisition of Leitz Wetzlar (including Leica Camera business) announced on 17 December 1986.


In partnership with American company Magnavox Corporation, the first GPS receiver for surveying applications, the WILD WM101, is launched.


Kern has a breakthrough in analytical photogrammetry with the DSR1 stereoplotter and the GP1 plotter.


The introduction of electronic theodolites, starting with the Kern E2, is a major step towards digitisation and automation. The in-built liquid compensator formed the basis for the inclination sensors used today.


«Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed». The first moon landing was filmed with a camera that contained a lens developed and manufactured by Kern.


The first infrared distance measurement instrument DISTOMAT DI10 (developed by WILD and French company Sercel) revolutionised surveying technology as the first close range metre. It can measure distances of up to 1,000 m with centimetre accuracy.


The hundred thousandth WILD theodolite is calibrated in Heerbrugg and shipped off to be used anywhere on the planet.


Kern launches the Switar-Objective 1:1,6,f=10 mm with the world’s fastest light transmission. This is an important milestone in optics and the stepping stone for the NASA order for the Apollo mission.


The new double-circle self-reducing tachymeter DK-RT is a standard instrument for land register surveys in Switzerland for decades.


The WILD C12 stereometric camera is launched. It is used for photogrammetric surveying. Countless police organisations around the world used such an instrument for decades.


The rapid development of aeroplanes means that aerial cameras can be used. Heinrich WILD developed a lens which is used in the new C2 aerial camera.


The first two A2 autographs are delivered to the Amt für Landestopografie along with WILD phototheodolites.


Heinrich Wild revolutionises surveying with the first theodolite T2.


Foundation of WILD Heerbrugg in Heerbrugg, Switzerland on 26 April 1921.


The 1904 model precision level was built based on a report created by Heinrich Wild, engineer at the department of topography.


Jakob Kern is awarded at a world exhibition in London for the quality of his products.


Delivery of a Borda circle, a twelve-inch theodolite, to General Dufour. It was an essential tool in the creation of the Dufour map of Switzerland.


Foundation of the «Mechanical Workshop Jacob Kern» in Aarau, Switzerland. Jakob Kern initially produced instruments for technical drawings and until 1900 these remained the main production branch of Kern. These instruments become the worldwide standard for technology and quality.