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 graduate student named Frederick Haynes 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 United States.

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 pages 28 and 50 of A History of the Water Resources Branch, U.S. Geological Survey: Volume I, From Predecessor Surveys to June 30, 1919.


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How can I find USGS historical photographs?

The USGS Photographic Library, located at our library in Denver, Colorado , is an archive of still photographs dating from the 1870s and taken by USGS scientists as part of their field studies. The works of pioneer photographers W.H. Jackson, T.H. O’Sullivan, Carleton Watkins, J.K. Hillers, Thomas Moran, A.J. Russell, E.O. Beaman, and William Bell...

Is there a way to get alerts about streamflow conditions?

Yes! The USGS offers two services: WaterAlert - automated emails or text messages are sent to you whenever certain parameters (that you define) are exceeded at one of our gaging stations. WaterNow - Send an email or text message to WaterNow@usgs.gov containing the USGS Site Number of the gage you want to query (optionally add parameter codes to...

How can I obtain river forecasts (flood forecasts)?

River forecasts (flood forecasts) are made by the National Weather Service River Forecast Centers and released through local Weather Service Offices. The NOAA website has a map showing the location of the forecast centers, their areas of responsibility, and the location of the gages they use. The vast majority of current streamflow data used for...

Why might USGS streamflow data be revised?

Real-time USGS streamflow data are PROVISIONAL, meaning that the data have not been reviewed or edited. These data might be subject to significant change and are not official until reviewed and approved by the USGS. Real-time streamflow data can be affected by: backwater from ice or debris such as log jams algae and aquatic growth in the stream...

Where can I get real-time and historical streamflow information?

The best starting point for USGS streamflow data is the interactive National Water Information System (NWIS): Mapper website. Zoom in to your area of interest or use the search options in the left navigation window. The map displays active surface-water sites by default, but you can change the type of water site (surface-water, groundwater,...

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Information on the flow of rivers is a vital national asset that safeguards lives, protects property, and ensures adequate water supplies for the future. The USGS is the federal agency responsible for operating a network of about 7,000 streamgages nationwide. Data from this network are used by water managers, emergency responders, utilities,...

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Early streamgage data were recorded on paper.
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Early streamgage data recorded on paper

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Early streamflow measurement card
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Early streamflow measurement card

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Image: Oldest version of a USGS streamgage in Texas
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One of the oldest versions of a streamgage structure constructed in Texas.

Image: Early USGS streamgage in Texas
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Early versions of streamflow measuring equipment
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Early versions of streamflow measuring equipment used at this streamgage.
(Water-Supply Paper No. 64 Pl.1 Pg. 20A)