Why does the USGS use the spelling "gage" instead of "gauge"?

The spelling of “gage” is part of our very rich USGS history. 

In 1888, USGS Director John Wesley Powell met a very forward-thinking man named Frederick H. Newell. Powell was so impressed that he made Newell the first full-time appointee to the new Irrigation Survey, which was created to investigate the potential for dams and canals in the western U.S.

At that time, there were no practical and systematic techniques for obtaining daily streamflow (or “discharge”) records, so Newell set up a training camp on the Rio Grande River at Embudo, New Mexico. Newell’s “Camp of Instruction” developed water measurement methods that are widely used by the USGS today. During the next ten years, Newell continued to play an important role in the development of streamflow gaging techniques and methods, and he eventually became the first Chief Hydrographer of the USGS.

Newell is purported to be the person responsible for the adoption of the USGS spelling of “gage” instead of “gauge”. Around 1892, Newell reasoned that “gage” was the proper Saxon spelling before the Norman influence added a 'u'. USGS historian Robert Follansbee speculated that Newell might have also been influenced by the adoption of “gage” in the Standard Dictionary (the first dictionary produced by Funk and Wagnalls).

See A History of the Water Resources Branch, U.S. Geological Survey: Volume I, From Predecessor Surveys to June 30, 1919 - page 66


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2016 (approx.)

This video will provide a brief history and purpose for one of the oldest streamgages in Indiana. The gage is at the Wabash River at Lafayette, Indiana. The site number is 03335500. This video was produced at the request of the West Lafayette Parks Department where this historic gage is located. A QR code is displayed on an interpretive plaque next to the gage which is located in a high profile location within a city park adjacent to Purdue University. Park visitors can view a brief video on their smart phone which will educate them on the history of the gage and provide them with information on how to obtain current readings. The USGS WaterAlert text or email notifications is also featured. Our goal is to better educate the public on the importance of USGS streamgages in Indiana and the data we provide to the nation.

Some material in this video is copyrighted and for use by USGS only. Contact Producer for details.

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(Water-Supply Paper No. 64 Pl.1 Pg. 20A)