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Liesganig, Joseph Xaver

Liesganig, Joseph Xaver

(b.Graz, Austria, 13 February 1719; d. Lemberg, Galicia [now Lvov, U.S.S.R], 4 March 1799)

astronomy, geodesy.

Liesganig was the son of Wolfgang Lisganig, Hofmeister of Graz, and his wife Rosalie. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1734 and received his education at the Jesuit College in Vienna. From 1742 to 1751 he served the order in various academic and ecclesiastical posts (having been ordained in 1749) in Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia; in 1752 he returned to the Vienna Jesuit College as professor matheseos. At the same time he was attached to the Jesuit astronomical observatory (of which he was appointed prefect in 1756, a position he held until the order was suppressed in 1773) and professor of mathematics at the University of Vienna. He was made dean of the university’s philosophical faculty in 1771.

Liesganig’s scientific carrier may be said to have begun with his prefecture of the observatory. In 1757, at the suggestion of Bošković, Liesganig constructed with Joseph Ramspoeck a ten-foot zenith sector that indicated tangents instead of angles. He also designed a quadrant (built by Ramspoeck) with a radius of two and one-half feet; it was provided with micrometer screws for accuracy in reading. Another of Liebig’s instruments consisted of a Graham clock fitted with a gridiron compensation pendulum.

In 1758 Liesganig had used his zenith sector to determine the latitude of Vienna to be 48°12′34.5″. In 1760 Maria Theresia, at Bošković’s urging, commissioned Liesganig to survey the environs of the city. Liesganig for this purpose obtained from Canivet a copy of the Paris toise, on which he calibrated the Vienna fathom. During the following years, Liesganig established a series of bases near Wiener Neustadt and in the Marchfeld region; he incorporated these into a triangulation system with the azimuth of ML Leopold, near Vienna, and calculated the geographic latitudes of Warasdin, Brian (Brno), and Graz, (A later survey, made in 1803, confirmed the exactness of Liesganig’s measurements of the Graz-Vienna-Brunn triangle, but found other errors in his survey which were attributed to defects in his azimuth zenith.) He also carried out experiments with a seconds pendulum (1765) to determine the length of the Vienna fathom, and made computations with a sphere in which the reduction to sea level represented 2.3 fathoms per degree of meridian.

In 1769 Liesganig undertook a survey in Hungary between Szeged and Peterwardein (now Petrovaradin, Yugoslavia). For this purpose he constructed bases near Kistelek and Csuróg and linked them, by a chain of twenty-six triangles, to the meridian of Budapest. In connection with this project Liesganig wrote a manual on map-making methods, preserved in manuscript in the Vienna war archives.

From 1772 until 1774 Liesganig was engaged in a trigonometric survey of East Galicia and Lodomeria (now Vladimir-Volynsky, Ukrainian S.S.R.), which had just become a part of that province. He made use of five brass quadrants that had been built to his specifications by Ramspoeck and the Viennese clock-maker Schreibelmayer; each was equipped with a movable telescope having a cross-hair micrometer at the focal point and a fixed telescope having a micrometer at the focal point of a microscope. (These instruments could also be used as spirit levels.) During the same period Liesganig observed solar azimuths in Lemberg, near Cracow, and in Rzeszow, reducing all the measurements to the meridian and clock of the Lemberg observatory. At the same time he held the position of Imperial and Royal Building Inspector in that city and from 1775 was professor of mechanics at the Collegium Nobilium there, as well as provincial director of military engineering and navigation.

Liesganig made six circular maps from his data of the Lemberg area, although these lacked place names and topographical information. In 1784 he reviewed the cadastral survey of the area of Gutenbrunn, in Lower Austria; the following year he took over the direction of the cadastral survey of Galicia and prepared for it a manual that was translated into Polish, Czech, Slovene, and Italian. In this work he recommended that measurements be made in local linear units to permit their comparison to the Vienna fathom.


I. Original Works. Liesganig’s writings include Tabulae memoriales praecipue arithmeticae tum numerieat tum literalis cum tabulis tribus figurarum (Vienna, 1746); Prolusio ad auditores matheseos (Vienna, 1753); Tabulae memoriales praecipue arithmeticae turn numericae turn literalis, geometriae, etiam curmrum et trigonometriae, at que utriusque arehitectume elements complexae (Vienna, 1754); “A Short Account of the Measurement of Three Degrees of Latitude Under the Meridian of Vienna,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 58 (1767), 15-16; and Dimensio graduum meridiani Viennensis et Hungarici, Augustomm jussu et auspkiis suscepta (Vienna, 1770).

II. Secondary Literature. For early biographical literature, see Constant von Wurzbach, Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Österreich, XV (Vienna, 1866), 179-180. Important details are in Franz Freiherr von Zach, “Über die Sternwarte von Lemberg,” in Monatliche Correspondenz zur Beförderung der Erd- und Himmelskunde, 4 (1801), 547-550.

See also “Zusätze des Herausgebers: Über die Lemberger Sternwarte, Über die trigonometrische Aufnahme von Galizien und Lodomerien und die darauf gegrundele Karte dieser Lander, und Über die geographische Bestimmung von Lemberg,” ibid., 550-558; “Nachschrift des Herausgebers zu D. Seetzen’s Reise-Nachrichten,” ibid., 7 (1803), 24-36; “Geographische Bestimmung einiger Orte in Ungarn, aus Liesganig’s Ungarischer Gradmessung, nebst einem Verzeichniss aller in Ungarn astronomisch und trigonometrisch bestimmten Orte,” ibid., 37-48 (including commentary on 50-52 attributed in most biographies to Liesganig); “Beweis, dass die Oesterreiehische Gradmessung des Jesuiten Liesganig sehr fehlerhaft, und zur Bestimmung der Gestalt der Erde ganz untaugljch war,” ibid., 8 (1803), 507-527, and 9 (1804), 32-38, 120-130.

More recent treatments of Liesganig are Gunther, in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, XVIII (Leipzig, 1883), 637; A. Westphal, “Basisapparate und Basismessungen,” in Zeitschrift für Instrumentenkunde, 5 (1885), 257-274, 333-345, 373-385, 420-432 (esp. 342-345, 374); Ernst Nischer, Österreichische Kmtographen. Ihr Leben und Wirken (Vienna, 1925), esp. pp. 76-80; Richard Krauland, “Legates und Internationales Meter in Österreich,” in Österrekhische Zeitschrift für Vermessungswesen, 37 (1949), 30-42; K. Lego, “Abbé Joseph Liesganig zur 150. Wiederkehr seines Todestages,” ibid., 59-62; Paula Embacher, “Die Liesganig’sche Gradmessung,” ibid., 39 (1951), 17-22, 51-55; and Herwig Ebner, “Joseph Liesganig. Ein Beitrag zu seiner Biographic,” in Blätter für Heimatkunde, 36 (1962), 129-131.

Walther Fischer

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