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Coast and Geodetic Survey Heritage


In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson signed a bill for the "Survey of the Coast," thus establishing the United States Coast Survey. In its early decades, the Coast Survey was responsible for charting the coastlines. But its responsibilities grew with the acquisition of Alaska in 1867 and the 1871 law requiring the Coast Survey to carry geodetic surveys into the interior of the country. Thus in 1878 the U.S. Coast Survey became the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USC&GS). In 1965, the Coast and Geodetic Survey became a component of the Environmental Sciences Services Administation (ESSA). And then in 1970, ESSA expanded and was reorganized into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The purpose of this web site is to provide a look into the history of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey through a collection of histories, essays, extracts from previously published documents, presentations, and diaries and personal reminiscences.

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Science on the Edge: The Story of the Coast and Geodetic Survey from 1867-1970

Science on the Edge is the story of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, its transition into the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) and NOAA, and the American triumph of the Earth Sciences in the 20th century. John Cloud, historian, NOAA Central Library, is writing this history for the celebration in 2007 of the founding of the Survey of the Coast in 1807.

The history will feature the period from 1897 to 1970. The history begins with the great Re-organization of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, in which the modern relationship between the officers and personnel of the Survey and the US military services was devised and culminating a few years after 1917 in the system of the Uniformed Officers Corps, which later became ESSA Corps and is now NOAA Corps. Chapters are posted as they become available.

You will need Adobe Reader to view these files. A free Adobe Reader is available for download from Adobe.

Chapter One - The Wake of the Civil War (PDF, 2.7MB)

Chapter Two - Benjamin Peirce and "The Science of Necessary Conclusions" (1867-1874) (PDF, 1.5MB)

Chapter Three - Captain Carlile Patterson, the Great Captain of the Coast and Geodetic Survey (1874-1881) (PDF, 2.7MB)

Chapter Four - The Decline and Fall of Professor Hilgard (1881-1885)( PDF, 2.6MB)

Chapter Five - Superintendent Thorn Rescues the Coast and Geodetic Survey (1885-1889 (PDF, 2.8MB)

Chapter Six - The New "Epoch of Metrology" and the Tenure of Thomas C. Mendenhall in the Coast and Geodetic Survey 1889-1894 (PDF, 3.7MB)

Chapter Seven - Change in Direction by Successive Change in the Points of Direction: The Nadir of the Coast and Geodetic Survey under Gen. W.W. Duffield (1894-1897)(PDF, 3.2MB)

Chapter Eight - Henry S. Pritchett and the Great Reorganization of the Coast & Geodetic Survey (1897-1900) (PDF, 120KB)

Chapter Nine - The More Things Remain the Same, the More Things Change: The Continents and Continuity, Isostasy and Otto Tittmann (1900-1915) (PDF, 146KB)

Chapter Ten - The Survey Jones Made: E. Lester Jones and the Postwar Triumph of the Coast and Geodetic Survey (1915-1929) (PDF, 1.01MB )

Chapter Eleven - Extending Relief to the Nation: Director Raymond Stanton Patton (1929-1937) (PDF, 1.51MB)

Chapter Twelve - Leo Otis Colbert (1937-1941): The Survey on the Eve of War (PDF, 484KB)

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