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Gannett served as geographer of the 1880, 1890, and 1900 censuses, as well as the Philippine, Cuban, and Puerto Rican censuses. During this time, he became interested in place names. Gannett's efforts to resolve difficulties caused by proliferation, duplication, and confusion of place names led to the establishment of the U.S. Board of Geographic Names in 1890. He served as the board's chairman until 1910. Gannett was one of the founders of the Association of American Geographers and the National Geographic Society, serving as its president from 1910 to 1914. He was also the driving force behind the 1880 and 1890 versions of the Statistical Atlas of the United States.