We have moved! Please visit out new site at: library.noaa.gov. Questions? Email us: ncl.webmaster@noaa.gov

NOAA Central Library
 Contact Us | Catalog | Ask-A-Librarian | Feedback | A-Z Index
All of NOAA

Upon the termination of hostilities the Coast Survey returned to normal operations. Julius Hilgard ran the Survey in a caretaker capacity until the death of Superintendent Bache. Much of the work in the Southern states for the next year involved surveying and clearing harbors. In spite of the urgency, the survey crews still headed north in the summer. By September of 1865, Clarence Fendall for one had found a new foe in the form of breakers smashing onto the rocks of Maine. He wrote Assistant Hilgard that "my working boat has been stove into by the rocks" and although he stops outside the 3 fathom line, "the boat is swept by the ground swells, so far upon the rocks as to prevent our getting any sounding at all, owing to the confusion which arises while we are among, or nearly among the breakers . . . ." Business had seemingly returned to normal at least for the field men of the Survey. But the world had changed.

Before the Civil War the Coast Survey was a big fish in a little pond. Now it was a medium-sized fish in a big pond. The national perspective had changed and national priorities were changing as well. The science infrastructure also was changing. The Department of Agriculture was formed during the war; a national weather service and fisheries commission were soon to be formed. Men of boundless energy would soon be maneuvering to form a geological survey, while underemployed Army officers were considering the possibility of conducting a geodetic survey of the country. During this critical period the Coast Survey was adrift without a strong leader. The Chief was dying and there was no longer a strong hand to guide (or control depending on one's perspective) the direction of American science. Perhaps it would not have mattered if he had been well as there was a new generation of men who had been tested by the war. These men would not have shied from difficult but bloodless political and administrative battles with the old guard of American science. Prior to the war the Coast Survey was basically whatever it wanted to be relative to the physical sciences. Following the war, the Survey's options became more and more constrained while at the same time its leadership suffered from want of vision with a few notable exceptions.

Of those Coast Surveyors who served with distinction during the war, many died or left the Survey within a few years of the end of the war. Samuel Gilbert, Clarence Fendall, and Frederick W. Dorr were all dead by 1870 from diseases contracted during the war. John Oltmanns died by 1870 from the effects of the rifle wound that he received on the Pearl River in 1862. Preston West became the chief mining engineer for Alexander Agassiz at the Calumet & Hecla Mine. Alexander Strausz went on to become an orange packer at Pilatka, Florida, while William Budd apparently became a merchant captain. Richard Cutts, John Donn, Cleveland Rockwell, and Charles Boutelle remained on the Survey. As mentioned earlier, Robert Platt stayed in the Navy but sailed continuously for the Coast Survey for many years and then the Fish Commission. No record was found of the post-Civil War career of George D. Wise, but he never returned to the Survey.

Within a few years of the end of the war, the roster of the Coast Survey differed significantly from what it was during the Bache years. Besides those mentioned above as staying with the Survey, other long-time employees included the topographer Henry Whiting; the hydrographer and physical oceanographer Henry Mitchell; Charles Schott, head of the computing division; and Assistants George Davidson, James Lawson, Augustus Rodgers, and William Greenwell on the West Coast. Of these men, only Whiting and Cutts entered service during Ferdinand Hassler's superintendency. All of the rest entered on duty under Superintendent Bache; as such he continued to cast a long shadow over the operations of the Survey for at least the next thirty years.

Many changes occurred in the sixty years from the passage of the law authorizing a Survey of the Coast in 1807 to the death of Alexander Dallas Bache in 1867. It was probably little noted at the time, but the transition from the superintendence of Ferdinand Hassler to that of Alexander Dallas Bache marked a milestone in the way American scientists thought of themselves and how they conducted their profession.

In 1842 Ferdinand Hassler wrote of the tedious repetitive procedures required to produce 341 one gallon-capacity brass vases to use as standards for liquid capacity. In describing his own labors, Hassler stated: "This task is the most fatiguing and trying for all faculties of a man in attention and care; it has been executed with the same minute, faithful care and accuracy, as I have described in rendering account of the weights.... It must be evident that these measures cannot be brought to their required accuracy at once; the operation is therefore a successive approach to the truth.... Thus, alternately weighing and grinding down, the measure is brought every time nearer to the truth, until it is considered within the limit...."(1) If any one quote ever epitomized a man's philosophy and view of himself, this was it for Ferdinand Hassler, a persevering investigator pursuing a solitary quest for truth.

Within five years of the death of Ferdinand Hassler, Superintendent Bache wrote, "A superficial examination of a subject, or the taking for granted of a prescribed routine, is apt to impress one with notions of the great accuracy of processes and results, in which are concealed constant errors of grave importance. Turning up the surface, develops these concealed errors, and leads to scientific discovery. The action of different minds accelerates the progress of truth, and on this account I have published the report of Assistant S.C. Walker, as of high interest to the astronomer...."(2) Bache's phrase, "the action of different minds accelerates the progress of truth," marked a turning point in the understanding of the linking of ideas and the synergism which occurs within a community of scientific investigators. Hassler, although he corresponded with European scientists and a small community of American scientists, remained at heart a lone investigator. Bache, if not the prophet, was certainly the leader in the movement towards scientific collaboration and teamwork. His management of the Survey was a manifestation of these ideals.

The theme of each of the Superintendents was the same: the search for scientific truth. Hassler went about it alone, alternately "weighing and grinding," solving his problems in a serial manner coming ever closer to the practical limits of "truth." Bache, in turn, sought his solutions in parallel with the scientific community "accelerating the progress of truth." It was during the Superintendency of Alexander Dallas Bache that American science grew up. No matter what the discipline or the problem to be solved, much of American science for the 130 years since the death of Alexander Dallas Bache has been carried on through teams of investigators or as collaborative efforts between individuals and organizations. Not only did Bache cast a long shadow over the operations of the Coast Survey, but over all of American science.

The Coast Survey for its part would continue on although the next 50 years would be quite difficult; but the spirit of both Hassler and Bache would continue to guide the organization and give it hope. The surveyors, sailors, and scientists of the Coast Survey would embark on new projects, help subdue the frontier waterways of Alaska and the Philippine Islands, and participate in ferocious political battles that affected the science community over the next half century. Through it all, the Coast Survey and the Coast and Geodetic Survey as it became known in 1878 would survive and continue to guide the mariners of the World into the ports of the United States and its territories. This was fortunate as the Survey's greatest work was yet to come.


1. Hassler, F.R. 1842. A report showing progress in the fabrication of standards of liquid capacity measures. House of Representatives, Treas. Dept., Document No. 176, 27th Congress, 2nd Session, April 8, 1842. p. 7-8.

2. Bache, A. D. 1848. Report of the Superintendent ... 1848. p. 57.

Return to Contents

  Last modified:    Wed, 2-Jan-2008 18:55 UTC Library.Reference@noaa.gov
Dept. of Commerce - NOAA - NESDIS - NCEI
* External link: You will be leaving the Federal
   Government by following an external link.
USA.gov - The U.S. Government's Web Portal