Lonely Planet Writer

Is Center, North Dakota really the centre of North America?

For decades the town of Rugby, North Dakota, has considered itself the geographical centre of North America. In 1931 the town erected a 15ft stone monument declaring itself as such, and tourists have from all around come to gaze at the centre of the continent.

Rugby, North Dakota
Rugby, North Dakota Image by Andrew Filer / CC BY-SA 2.0

But recently Peter Rogerson, a geography professor at the University of Buffalo, has calculated a different continental centre, 145 miles southwest of Rugby in a town called Center (yes, really).

The error comes from the difficulty of projecting  the Earth on a two-dimensional surface. Most projections distort the shape or area of landmass, resulting in geographical inaccuracies such as the well-known Mercator projection, which disfigures the size of Greenland to be roughly equal to Africa, even though Africa is 14 times as big.

Center, North Dakota
Center, North Dakota Image by Andrew Filer / CC BY-SA 2.0

Using a new method of projection using a computer programme of his own invention, Dr Rogerson discovered that the geographical centre of North America is in Center (but the name is only a coincidence). ‘When I ran my computer programme and looked at the final latitude and longitude, I was astounded to see that it was in a place called Center,’ he said.

Earlier projections were less precise, such as a 1931 calculation involving geographers balancing cardboard cutouts of states on a needlepoint to find their centers.