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Because of his employment as a gauger in the New York Customs House, and also his well-deserved reputation as a metrologist, Hassler was appointed the first Superintendent

of the Office of Weights and Measures on November 2, 1830. His immediate task was to compare the weights and measures used at the various customs houses in order to standardize the collection of duties from one custom house to the next. Ironically, his work was set back because a ship carrying the needed scientific apparatus from New York to Washington, D.C., was stranded on an uncharted shoal in Chesapeake Bay and the instruments lost.(1) Once the comparisons were started, it was found that: "The standards, where any such existed, were transmitted to Washington, and it soon appeared that they were of so irregular a character, and so unworthy of confidence, that the comparison of them, indefatigably pursued by Mr. Hassler, was a task entirely beneath his attention. The measure which proved nearest to the standard was a folding yard stick from Philadelphia, the length of which is stated as 36.0002465 standard inches."(2)

Hassler threw himself into this work with his usual energy. The results were first reported in House of Representatives Document No. 299, 22nd Congress, 1st Session.(3) This document is the first scientific document ever produced from the Office of Weights and Measures, today's National Institute of Standards and Technology. Hassler, reflecting his background as a Swiss jurist, once again displayed his ability to intertwine highly technical concepts with relevant social concerns:

"Among the means of distributing justice in a country, which is the aim of the establishment of Governments, rank unavoidably the fixation and distribution of accurate weights and measures for all the daily dealings of active life.

"Faint traces of such regulations have been preserved for us by history from early nations, anterior even to those which we are in the habit of calling the ancients. But the researches upon have interest only for the philosophic inquirer, and are entirely foreign to the practical purposes of an establishment of standards in the present times. To quote here the fact, is only to show that establishments of this kind are, by their nature, subject to lose the sufficient accuracy, regularity, and even the recollection of their principles; that, therefore, they need, at certain epochs, a complete revision, or even new establishment, by the more refined scientific means of the time, to adapt them to the more refined social intercourse."(4)

Hassler had not lost interest in surveying and astronomy during this period. With his uncanny ability to promote the Survey of the Coast, and it might be added himself, he spent February 12, 1831, observing an eclipse of the sun "under the Colonnade of the south front of the President's house at the City of Washington."(5) If he had not made the acquaintance of "Old Hickory", President Andrew Jackson, by then, it is assured that he did during his strategically placed observations of the eclipse. Not surprisingly, on July 10, 1832, the law governing the Survey of the Coast was again modified to allow the employment of civilians.(6)

Prior to the passage of this act, Representative Aaron Ward of New York attacked Hassler and the previous conduct of the Survey of the Coast on May 29, 1832, on the floor of the House of Representatives. He stated that Hassler had spent over $200,000 and had worked over ten years with meager results. Once again, the argument was advanced "that a correct knowledge of our coasts may be obtained in a much shorter time, and at very moderate expense, by adopting the chronometric mode."(7) As before, public criticism of Hassler played right into his hands. He responded on June 18, 1832, in the Washington Globe, significantly a pro-Jackson newspaper. He states that only $55,631.02 had been spent on the Survey up until his dismissal in 1818 of which $37,549.98 went for instruments and expenses associated with procuring the instruments; approximately $13,000 in actual field expenses; and approximately $4,600 in setting the work to rest in 1818. He states that, "The ten years stated dwindle, therefore, into seven months and eight days actual field work..." as opposed to Ward's ten years. Without calling Mr. Ward a liar, misinformed, or even just plain wrong, Hassler goes on to say, "The other parts of Mr. Ward's statements are foreign to the subject."(8) To Ward's credit, upon receiving "detailed correct statements" from Hassler, "he immediately agreed to correct what he had said, in accordance with them, when the question would again come up in Congress..."(9)

Following passage of the bill, Hassler took the liberty of writing Louis McLane, then Secretary of the Treasury, with his plan for proceeding ahead with the Survey of the Coast. As the first point of his plan, he stated the following principle as the foundation of any work to be accomplished: "In all the applications of exact sciences to practical purposes, the main aim must always be to obtain the greatest certainty of accuracy in the results; thence also to obtain the means of proving them by the principles of the science itself; it is even necessary to aim at a much more minute accuracy than might be considered satisfactory, if that degree of accuracy shall be secured which is absolutely requisite in the ultimate results."(10) He coupled the principle of attaining the highest accuracy possible with conducting coherent triangulation surveys as the foundation of that accuracy. Concerning economy, he argued, "In point of economy of time and money, it must be at once obvious, that only that method can be economical in both respects, which gives directly accurate and constant unchangeable results, and the most in a given time: this is obtainable by the trigonometric operations above described, and by no other."

Having learned his lesson well in 1818 concerning time of completion of the survey, he stated emphatically, "To presume upon stating a precise time within which such a work, undertaken in any way whatsoever, will be fully accomplished, is altogether preposterous, and might be considered as a proof of a want of acquaintance with the subject.... The men in whose trust the work is given must, by their honesty and zeal for the work, deserve the confidence of the Government in this respect, as well as in all others: their honor and credit are too closely enlisted in the task, not to call forth all their exertions towards presenting honorable and early results...."(11)

Hassler gambled in writing this letter that the country was ready to conduct the Survey of the Coast along the scientific principles that he knew such an endeavor required. He won the gamble and was re-appointed Superintendent of the Survey of the Coast on August 9, 1832. Although he had the acquaintance of President Jackson and the Survey of the Coast was placed under the Department of the Treasury, his primary champion throughout this political battle was Edward Livingston, the Secretary of State. In fact, Hassler had wanted the Survey placed under Livingston in the Department of State. In response to a letter dated January 2, 1833, the Russian Admiral Krusenstern makes it plain whom Hassler most thanked for his re-instatement in the Survey. Krusenstern writes, "... It appears from your letter that we are chiefly indebted for the great undertaking, so important to navigation and hydrography, to your scientific Secretary of State. Mr. Livingston, indeed, could not have given a more convincing proof of his superior mind, than by appreciating your merit, and intrusting to you, in spite of your antagonists, that great national work."(12)

Under this new plan, Hassler's salary was set at $3,000 per year with $1,500 for expenses while in the field, and he would continue as Superintendent of the Office of Weights and Measures with no additional compensation. Although a large remuneration for the period, under his original contract in 1816 he received a salary of $3,000 and $2,000 for expenses without the added responsibilities of Weights and Measures. Inflation had occurred over the intervening years and disputes over travel expenses and field related costs would cause Hassler many administrative and monetary problems over the next few years.

Following his appointment, Hassler dropped his work on Weights and Measures and commenced preparations for reinstituting the field work of the Survey. He began the process of collecting the instruments from their various repositories. (Some were with the Army engineers, some were being used by Simeon Borden on the survey of the state of Massachusetts, some were decorations in various officials' offices, and some were broken beyond repair.) He asked for funds to cover the cost of field work in September and received a reply from Asbury Dickins, Acting Secretary of the Treasury, "that no advances can be made to any public officer or agent for disbursement without the consent of the President; and, owing to his absence from the seat of Government, that cannot now be had. On the President's return, which is expected about the middle of next month, application will be made to him for the necessary authority."(13)

Although the War Department and Navy Department were supposed to provide him with assistants for work in the field, they also were mired in their own bureaucracy. In spite of his past experience with Felch and Roberdeau, Hassler felt that it was in the interest of the country to have Army and Navy personnel associated with the Survey as, "It will have the advantage of preparing officers in an essential part of their employment, and of giving them a knowledge of the localities of the country, by which they may become particularly useful in the future."(14) Less than thirty years later, the truth of this statement would be borne out in the American Civil War.

Hassler had only the help of Lieutenant V. Bomford, a recent graduate of West Point; Midshipman James L. Henderson; and his son Scipio, who as before was unpaid. Undaunted, he went to New York and recovered the existing survey monuments in preparation for conducting the secondary triangulation. In the scheme of operations, Hassler planned to carry primary triangulation, of very large-sided figures and high accuracy, parallel to the coast and in advance of a secondary triangulation. This secondary triangulation would use the primary triangulation monuments as starting points and then establish a relatively high-density network of surveyed monuments and landmarks that would control the hydrographic and topographic surveys. With no funding and minimal personnel, the secondary triangulation was not begun in 1832. As a consequence, hydrographic surveys were not begun until 1834.

Political battles still had to be fought. On February 27, 1833, there was a proposal to place the Survey of the Coast under the direction of a committee composed of the Under-Secretary of the Treasury and representatives from the War and Navy Departments. Hassler reacted immediately by writing his champion, Secretary of State Livingston, that "a Committee can do no work in this business, impedes all work ... that under any Committee whatever, established as above, the work being impossible, I would be obliged to withdraw instantly, and leave the whole to its unhappy fate, from which I had tried to rescue it, and for which your kind exertions had so well laid the foundation, and concurred with me to make it honorable and useful to the country."(15)

Livingston seemed to have stifled any further discussion concerning a committee. It is odd that Livingston was able to exert this power over a function that neither resided in his department nor for which he had any direct need. Andrew Jackson respected Livingston as a legal scholar and writer, but he repeatedly criticized Livingston's manner of dealing with people. In fact Jackson was working towards easing Livingston out of his cabinet at this time.(16) In this instance, he must have concurred with his judgement regarding Hassler and the Survey.

Before taking to the field, new instruments were ordered from Troughton in London to replace those injured by misuse over the years and those provided to the War Department for surveys in the western states. Captain Andrew Talcott, who invented the Talcott method of latitude determination, had been provided with a suite of instruments from the Survey of the Coast for surveying the Ohio boundary. On April 13, 1833, Hassler arrived in New York to begin preparations for the field work. Many of the administrative details had been ironed out. Although it would be a few months until they were all together, he had begun the hiring of civilian assistants with the first being James Ferguson; followed by Robert Livingston, the grandson of Secretary Livingston; and Edmund Blunt, Jr., of the famous Blunt charting and mapping firm of New York. Captain William Swift, United States Army, brother of Hassler's old friend General Joseph Swift, became his chief administrative assistant and would remain so for many years. On April 26, Hassler headed to Staten Island to begin survey operations and stayed in the field until December 11.

Hassler related to the Secretary of the Treasury an incident that occurred during the field campaign that illustrated the hazards of life in the field. A letter written from Bald Hill, near Wilton, Connecticut, July 27th, 1833, described the incident: "....on the 24th instant, about half past two, P.M., a storm appearing to threaten us, I took preliminarily the telescope off from the theodolite, and secured it, in a bed, in another tent, -- but could not return to the instrument itself before the strength of all of us, assistants and men, was needed, to hold the tent of the instrument and the instrument itself against the severest gale, with hail and rain. With difficulty I brought the theodolite, with the help of an assistant, out of the tent in the open hail-storm, leaving the tent, the instrument's stand, &c., &c. to be blown down the hill; but, in putting down the instrument, we were blown off from it, and my coat taking it in by the wind, occasioned that it was upset. The repeating circle, treated in the same manner, escaped all accidents and injury. The derangement of the adjustment, and other accidents to the theodolite, I have been able to repair, I hope, without further consequences. While we engaged at the instruments, all our tents except one were fully blown away, partly broken; and the three barometers that were in one of them were entirely broken, so that they have been sent to New York to repair. Not three hours before that, I had been bled, on account of the severe pain in my breast, occasioned by a fall upon a rock three days before, which had been so severe as to deprive me of speech, and made me apprehend some internal lesion. The severe drenching and exertions which the storm brought upon me, together with all the other, are perhaps the cause that I am still suffering under the effect of the fall, particularly in stooping for observations."(17)

Natural hazards and hazards caused by the medical practices of the day were not the only problems affecting Hassler during the field season of 1833. Although working in predominantly rural areas, his signals were disturbed, removed, or destroyed on a sufficiently regular basis that he was compelled to issue a public notice from Tashua Hill, Connecticut, on September 2, 1833, requesting that "all the signals ... be left undisturbed in all possible respects...." He further stated that agreements will be made with property owners for use of their land and "that any deterioration, disturbance of their perpendicularity, or otherwise injuring, shall be prosecuted by them as trespass ... with all the claims for damages that such disturbances would occasion to the work of the Survey...." This sort of notice seems to have done as little good then at stemming vandalism of survey marks as they do in the Twentieth Century; the following year he complained that vandals were even digging up the porcelain cylinders that he had buried in "secret places."

Overall, 1833 had been a very successful year for the Survey of the Coast. The most significant accomplishment was the training of James Ferguson and Edmund Blunt such that they were able to take over independent field parties engaged in the secondary triangulation by the end of the year. Captain Swift had also been trained in the survey operations. The Survey was expanding and the foundation laid for the rapid expansion of the triangulation network with the accompanying ability to conduct the hydrographic and topographic surveys.

Hassler returned to Washington, D.C.; and, in early January, 1833, he wrote a series of reports and letters to the new Secretary of the Treasury, Roger B. Taney. Either Taney had absolutely no interest in dealing with the Survey of the Coast, or he was aware that the Survey was being transferred out of his department. Whatever the cause, the only letter that Taney ever wrote to Hassler was dated March 12, 1834 informing him that, "The superintendence of the Coast Survey has, with the approbation of the President, been transferred from the Treasury to the Navy Department." Although not as drastic as the action of 1818, the effect on Hassler must have been somewhat akin to being struck by lightning a second time.


Hassler's reaction to the transfer of the Survey of the Coast to the Department of the Navy was predictable. He resigned on March 14, 1834. Although Hassler never served in any military organization, either in Switzerland or the United States, he counted many friends among the military men of his adopted land and welcomed young officers to the field parties. He also displayed no personal fear of either elements or man throughout his life. What was the source of his jaundiced view of placing the Survey under the Secretary of the Navy? The key to his attitude lay in Hassler's view that, if he was given the trust to be placed in charge, no man without his scientific abilities or little concept of the requirements of the work could rightfully criticize his actions in directing the Survey. In going to the Navy, he feared control. He didn't fear this for himself, but for his vision of the precepts under which he felt the Survey must be conducted. Recalling Chaplain Felch and Colonel Roberdeau, it is easy to see how Hassler could infer that his aim of accuracy would be sacrificed to the false economy of hurry-up detached surveys. But that isn't the argument that he makes in his resignation. He adds a corollary to Colonel Roberdeau's argument concerning military control by civilians: "The experience of all countries where an army and navy exist, has proved that in works of this nature it is impossible to make the officers of either one of the departments work under the other with that harmony and individual zeal which is an absolute sine qua non of the success of the work, and I might add to this my own experience in my work in this country. The moral organization of such a work has peculiar difficulties, which have in all countries decided to give their direction to some man of science, unconnected with either army or navy...."

On March 22, 1834, Hassler wrote to Levi Woodbury, the Secretary of the Navy, that he had spoken directly to President Jackson who had assured him that he had "his full concurrence in preventing the difficulties and the clashings that might accrue from the concurrence of collaborators taken from the citizens, the navy, and the army, which you know it is indispensable to unite." Hassler goes on to say that as "nothing personal" caused him to submit his resignation, that he "considered it proper for me to yield to the President's wishes" and continue his work on the Survey of the Coast.

Hassler's fears proved groundless over the next few years as the civilian employees and Army and Navy personnel all did their jobs well with little or no dissension in the field. There was also little or no interference with Hassler's scientific principles. However, Hassler chafed under administrative controls for much of his time while associated with the Department of the Navy.

As with every time that Hassler was subjected to a change of administration, a change of department, or a change of secretary of the department that the Survey was attached to, he was asked by Secretary Woodbury the time to complete the survey and the funds necessary to complete it. The request for this information was actually written the same day that Hassler tendered his resignation. Hassler bluntly replied concerning the time required: "... I would distrust the ability or veracity of the man who would undertake to decide upon this by the statement of any positive time..." Hassler then spent the next few months responding to other queries of Woodbury and preparing for the upcoming field season.

In May, Hassler provided a report to the Secretary detailing all work that had been accomplished from the beginning of triangulation in 1817. This report was quite lengthy, including 55 separate sections, but sheds light on the chasm existing between Hassler's view of the Survey and that of the politicians of the day. As an addendum to the law of 1832 which allowed Hassler to be reappointed as Superintendent of the Survey of the Coast, it was stipulated that no permanent national observatory would be erected. This was, in reality, a warning to Hassler that the Congress was not ready to fund any permanent scientific institution and that the Survey of the Coast was to be finished in a short time. Hassler didn't take the hint. Section 16 of his May 1834 report stated: "This peculiarity of the law of 1832 I have always considered ... as intended to provoke a more direct and separate proposition for the establishment of a proper national observatory, upon a greater scale than a mere accessory to the Coast Survey, and properly adapted to the standing of our country among the civilized nations that have a navy...."(18) Hassler was also totally oblivious to the political realities of the day, as the previous President, John Quincy Adams, had been roundly spoofed and criticized for his advocacy of "a lighthouse in the skies;" i.e., a national observatory.

Two items of technical interest are mentioned in this report. Section 31 relates that all longitudes of the initial triangulation and surveys were related to the City Hall of New York City, "there being no other point within the limits of the Survey astronomically determined, nor any fixed point in the United States from which the longitude could be counted." In an early reference to the establishment of sea level as a vertical datum, Section 32 addresses the practice of observing vertical angles as well as horizontal angles at all of the main stations and that: "These observations will furnish in time an interesting collection of data upon the elevation of all these points over the elevation of the sea..."


The last base line that Hassler measured in his career was the Fire Island base line, measured in 1834. This was the longest and most accurate base line measured up to that time.

In June, 1834, Hassler took to the field and proceeded to New York where he attended to some administrative details and hired workers to assist in the manual labor associated with the Fire Island base line measurement. This base line location was so chosen as to be able to transfer the distance from the beach to the stations of Rutlands [spelled Rulands on some documents] and Westhills located on hills in the interior of Long Island. These two stations were occasionally referred to as the "mountain base", which was used as the base for the large triangles tying together the Long Island and Connecticut triangulation.

Prior to beginning the measurement, the secondary parties under Blunt and Ferguson were completing their work for the spring; Ferguson on the north side of Long Island Sound and Blunt on Long Island. Midshipman John Dahlgren, later of ordnance development fame, was engaged in placing the earthenware cones, used for permanent station markers, at the secondary stations occupied by Ferguson. By the end of June, Hassler had collected all of his assistants and the hired men and commenced reconnaissance work for the Fire Island base line. Initially, two possible lines were selected; both from the vicinity of Fire Island Light to Station Head and Horns, approximately eight miles to the east. These initial lines were found to project over intervening sandhills and rough topography; as a consequence, Hassler chose to run the base line down the beach.

To assure that the line was laid out as straight as possible, Hassler controlled its direction with a surveyor's transit and placed stakes every four hundred meters along the line as determined by preliminary chaining. Once the line was laid out and the preliminary measurement completed, he was then ready to begin the accurate measurement of this line with his 8-meter base measurement apparatus. As to the actual operation of this instrument, in 1825 Hassler informed the reader of his "Papers": "I might now describe the manipulation of this apparatus in the actual measurement of a base line, but I consider the use of each part of it so obvious to a person sufficiently acquainted with these subjects, as to render such description unnecessary."(19)

In his report to the Secretary of the Navy concerning this base line dated November 11, 1834, Hassler once again failed to relate the methodology of using the apparatus. Joseph Henry described the apparatus and its use in 1845: "... the whole measuring rod consisted of an assemblage of four iron bars, each of two metres (39.4 inches) in length; these were clamped together and supported in a wooden trough, prepared for the purpose; the bars had previously been accurately compared with a copy of the French standard, which had been obtained by Mr. Hassler in 1799. It also requires no inconsiderable skill to place the rods in two consecutive positions in a straight line, and to make the beginning of one coincide with the ending of the other. In the French and English surveys, the latter object was attempted to be effected by the simple contact of the ends of the rod with a fixed obstacle, while in the American survey, the same object was more accurately attained by an optical contact. For this purpose, a hair [actually a strand of spider cocoon silk] was stretched across a semicircular opening at the end of the bar, and made to coincide with the image of the intersection of two lines drawn on a plate of ivory attached to a microscope, which was itself fixed for the time on a stand entirely separate from the support of the rod. The microscope remaining undisturbed, the rod was carried forward to a new position, and the hair stretched across the opening in the hinder end made to coincide with the same point. The microscope was next moved forward and adjusted to the hair on the front end of the rod, and so on to the end of the operation."(20)

This operation was repeated approximately 1,800 times in the measurement of the Fire Island Base, each set-up being termed a "box" by Hassler. Because of the selection of the base line site on the beach, some of the sections of the line could only be measured at low tide. The final distance reported in Hassler's Third Report dated May 8, 1835, was 14,058.9870 meters.(21) The base line was actually measured over 45 days in August, September, and October 1834. Hassler complained of the "equinoctial storms" causing delays in the work and sickness. He spent the winter calculating the thermal expansion of the bar caused by varying temperature with each setup and correcting the measured distance for any observed inclination of the bar. This had to have been an extremely tedious operation with all computations being double-checked by Lieutenant Swift and Passed Midshipman Dahlgren. Their computations fell within 0.10 inch of Hassler's. (22)

The Fire Island base line was located along the area of New York coastline where many vessels shipwrecked. Indicative of the state of knowledge of our coast at the time, Hassler noted that two vessels had stranded on Fire Island during the surveying operations on Long Island, and the remains of eight other wrecks of recent origin littered the beach. The survey party became salvagers, as pieces of one of the most recent wrecks were used by the survey party to shelter the measuring apparatus from the waves when passing between areas of high and low water. According to Hassler, a contributing factor to the high incidence of shipwreck in this area was that a ship approaching from the east at twilight would follow a long straight stretch of coast; but, at the west end of Fire Island, the coast took a more southerly turn. Ships would find themselves upon this projection some time after dark.(23) It was ironic that Hassler's son, Naval Assistant Surgeon Charles Augustus Hassler, died during a storm in the wreck of the U.S.S. ATLANTIC along the shores of Long Island in 1846.


During 1834, the secondary triangulation and the accompanying shoreline topography had advanced to such a stage that it became feasible to establish a sounding party. Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson (Woodbury had become Secretary of the Treasury where he would supervise Hassler's activities in Weights and Measures) wrote to Hassler in September that Lieutenant Thomas Gedney would be provided with a vessel of his choice to take up work in the Coast Survey. (24)

Gedney procured the schooner JERSEY for use on the Survey; and in October he commenced sounding operations in Great South Bay, between Fire Island and Long Island. It is probable that the ship was used merely as a base of operations for this survey and that all soundings were done by launches. This first surveying was done over a period of only a few weeks as winter was approaching and the ship was tied up for the winter in early December.

The sounding boats had six oarsmen, a coxswain to steer, two officers to observe horizontal sextant angles between fixed signals on shore to position the boat, two leadsman, and an officer for recording angles and soundings. An officer with a sextant and a boy with a spyglass were stationed at each of three shore stations. In the morning, each shore station would hoist a flag to indicate their readiness to commence work. The ship, in turn, would hoist a flag to the mast head; and, when it was started down, the officers on shore would measure the angle between a fixed shore point to the sounding boat or to the ship if it was the sounding vessel. This procedure would be repeated throughout the day every few minutes and give five angles per fix to be plotted. This redundancy reduced uncertainties associated with the location of soundings but greatly added to final processing of results. Usually, there were six to ten soundings taken in the interval between "fixes". The sounding boat would attempt to maintain a straight course and a uniform speed between fixes. In these early days, there was little understanding of the nature of uncertainties in the "problem of three points" as related to positioning a vessel. As this understanding grew, the requirement for shore observers was dispensed with, and the positioning of the vessel was accomplished completely by three-point horizontal angle sextant fixes. This method involved two sextant observers using a common center object and taking a left angle and right angle from that center object to position the vessel.(25)

The officers attached to this first survey ship in its first years of operation are worthy of note. Four rose to high rank in the Navy. David Dixon Porter became Admiral of the Navy, the highest ranking officer in the Navy, following the Civil War. John Rodgers, Benjamin F. Sands, and Thornton A. Jenkins all became Rear-Admirals.(26) Rodgers and Sands each became directors of the Naval Observatory while Jenkins was instrumental in restructuring the Lighthouse Service. The commanding officer, Thomas R. Gedney, although not rising to the highest levels of the Navy, did save the life of President Andrew Jackson, by knocking down a would-be assassin on January 31, 1835, at a funeral in Washington, D.C., just a few short weeks after taking leave from the JERSEY.(27)

Although the 1834 field season bore little fruit for the Survey, in 1835 the JERSEY made a discovery that assured the continuance of the Survey under Hassler's superintendence. The JERSEY finished the western half of Great South Bay and then worked westerly along the coast of Long Island. After finishing Long Island, the ship worked at the entrance to New York harbor, from the western tip of Long Island to Sandy Hook. Prior to this survey, ships approaching New York had to sail to the New Jersey coast and pass close to the shore at Sandy Hook as this was the only channel known into the harbor. Larger ships had to wait for high tide to enter the harbor. Hassler felt that there had to be another deep-water channel over the bar and instructed Gedney to search for it. Lieutenant Gedney discovered a channel which led directly into the harbor, farther to the north, that was two feet deeper than the Sandy Hook channel, was of sufficient width to allow vessels to beat into or out of the harbor under most wind conditions, and cut down the sailing time into New York harbor considerably. The military importance of this discovery was also pointed out: if the channel had been known to exist during the Revolutionary War, it would have made the blockade and occupation of New York much more difficult for the British. This channel, called New Channel on the survey sheets, became known as Gedney Channel.(28)

Hassler wasted no time in publicizing this discovery and in early 1836 took the plotted surveys and many of the naval officers who had worked on the survey to President Andrew Jackson. RADM Benjamin F. Sands recalled that, "We of the hydrographic party had to show off our charts at this special meeting, and the President, Andrew Jackson, expressed himself much pleased, to Mr. Hassler's great gratification."(29) Oddly, Hassler does not mention the discovery of this channel in either his 1835 or 1836 annual report, but in 1837 he writes of this discovery that has such "importance and great value, for the so highly important harbor of New York." He goes on: "Lieutenant Gedney found a channel that admits, even at low water, every size of merchant vessels. This channel has already been buoyed out for service in future; and the passing of the OHIO, 74 gun ship through it, is a fact of public notoriety."(30)

Although Gedney testified in 1842 at Congressional hearings (31) on the Coast Survey that he could have found and buoyed out Gedney's Channel by the old survey methods, this was doubtful as mariners had been entering New York harbor for over two hundred years on a regular basis and had not yet discovered any channel but by Sandy Hook. Hassler, continuing his 1837 report, promoted both the Survey and his methods when he expounded on the reason for this:

"That such a valuable discovery, which appeared to lie so near, was not made earlier, is to be attributed simply to the manner in which nautical surveys have generally been made. Without sufficient accurate fixed points on the shore, which the other works of the coast survey furnished, such a discovery was impossible; the most experienced and attentive seaman might have sailed about this channel ever so often, without being able to ascertain the fact; because the place of his vessel, at any time, presents him only an insulated point, disconnected with other parts, and even to a number of such points he is unable to assign a direction sufficiently accurate to aver any such facts; such discoveries can only be the result of a systematic work, grounded upon full mathematical principles, as applied in our works."

Equally important discoveries were made in Delaware Bay between 1840 and 1843 by adhering to Hassler's methods. Hassler only alluded to some of these discoveries in his report for 1841 when he stated, "The coast survey has far more than paid its expenses up to this time, by the advantages which it has procured to two of the principal ports of the country, New York and Philadelphia, the accurate knowledge of which has made known advantages in their navigation superior to those hitherto known." (32) Lieutenant Commanding George S. Blake, who conducted the surveys in Delaware Bay, expanded on these discoveries in his letter of January 11, 1844, to the Superintendent of the Coast Survey:

"DEAR SIR: In reply to your letter of the 6th instant, relative to recent discoveries made in the Delaware Bay by the parties of the coast survey engaged there, I beg to say, that our charts show a perfectly safe and direct channel, practicable for merchant vessels of the largest size, at low water, and, when the tide is two-thirds up, for frigates, to the westward of a narrow dangerous ridge, about fourteen miles long, running through the middle of the bay, called upon the old charts Joe Flogger, or Folger, and where no channel has heretofore been supposed to exist.

"The advantages of this discovery to the commerce of Philadelphia, as well as to the naval establishment there, when this channel is properly buoyed, must be very great....

"Other discoveries have been made in the Delaware of much importance. Among them, three channels over the 'ridges of Cape May,' which, when properly buoyed, will be of very great utility to the great and increasing coal trade of Philadelphia ...."

In an amazing comment on the accuracy of the existing charts of Delaware Bay, Blake continues:

"I should add, that there is no chart extant of the Delaware, deserving the name. The situation assigned by the most authentic chart to one of the principal light-houses is nearly seven miles in error. Many dangerous shoals having but few feet water upon them, and upon which numerous wrecks have occurred, are laid down from three to five miles from the truth, and the bay is in one part represented as fifteen miles in width, when it is actually but seven."(33)

Not just the soundings were capturing the attention of the hydrographers attached to the Survey. In 1838, Lieutenant George Mifflin Bache wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury with a suggestion that the United States adopt a system of standardized buoy coloring such that: "On sailing up a sound, bay, or channel, or entering a harbor, all the buoys on spits extending from the shore, which are to be left on the right hand, are painted red; all those on the left hand, are painted black."(34) This suggestion was first put into effect by Lieutenant Commanding John R. Goldsborough, commander of the Coast Survey Schooner WAVE and assistant in the Coast Survey, in 1847 in Long Island and Fisher's Island Sound from Bramford Reef off New London to Montauk. For the last century and a half, mariners in United States waters have followed the maxim "Red right return", which was first suggested and developed in the Coast Survey.

Lieutenant Bache also conceived the idea in 1842 of plotting a geological map of the seafloor based on plotting of the bottom specimens that were acquired during normal sounding operations.(35) It also became apparent through the efforts of the Coast Survey hydrographers and the coastal topographers that both the configurations of the shoreline and the bottom of the sea were changing as a result of tides, currents, and storm waves. Thus, the early beginnings of marine and coastal geology in the United States had their roots in Hassler's Coast Survey.

Although the early years of the Survey had few remarkable adventures at sea, one episode stands out relative to "normal" shipboard occurrences. In August, 1839, the Brig WASHINGTON, Lieutenant Commanding Thomas Gedney, was engaged in surveying operations in the eastern end of Long Island Sound when it noticed an odd-appearing vessel anchored off of Montauk Point. This was the schooner AMISTAD which had left Cuba on June 28 with a cargo of 52 slaves.(36) Under the leadership of the man who became known as Cinque, the slaves took over the ship and killed the crew leaving only two Spaniards alive to help navigate the ship to Africa. Cinque killed the captain with his own hands. The Spaniards, using the compass of which the Africans were ignorant, headed north and arrived off New York on August 20. The AMISTAD encountered the New York pilot boat, asked the way to Africa, and then proceeded east along the south shore of Long Island to its encounter with the WASHINGTON.

Lieutenant Commanding Gedney sent a boarding crew to the AMISTAD. When the officer in charge of the boarding party found only Africans on deck with large cane knifes, he leapt into the rigging and with pistol drawn ordered them below. All went except Cinque who jumped overboard and swam for forty minutes eluding the boat crew. Ultimately he was captured and a prize crew under Passed Midshipman David Dixon Porter took the AMISTAD to New London and the custody of a United States Marshall. Gedney, apparently not too concerned about the social implications of this episode, applied for, and apparently received, salvage value of the schooner and its non-human cargo. Cinque and his fellow Africans were charged with murder and piracy; the Spanish minister filed a claim for the ships, slaves, and cargo on behalf of the King of Spain; the two surviving Spaniards filed a claim for possession of the slaves; and aroused abolitionists filed claims against the two Spaniards for false imprisonment. At the initial hearing in New Haven, the judge instructed the jury that the Africans had committed no crimes against the United States and that they were to decide only if they were slave or free. President Martin Van Buren, concerned about the Southern vote in the upcoming election, sent a warship to New Haven to seize Cinque and his band and transport them to the South before abolitionists could appeal if the court found that they were legally slaves. However, the court ruled that the Africans were kidnaped into slavery and hence legally free. In a disgusting turnabout, the Government appealed that decision. Former President John Quincy Adams eloquently defended the Africans before the Supreme Court where it was decided that they were neither slaves nor subjects of Spain. The court directed that they "be declared free, and be dismissed from the custody of the Court, and go without delay."

Through their own work and the assistance of abolitionist societies and missionary societies, Cinque and his fellow Africans earned their way home to Sierra Leone. He and his band stood as symbols of the humanity of the African slaves and the power of the human spirit. They became a powerful influence in further turning the tide of Northern public opinion against the institution of slavery. Their capture, incarceration, and trial were a step on the road to the American Civil War.

By the time of Hassler's death, the Survey had a small fleet operating along the East Coast of the United States. The Brig WASHINGTON and the schooner JERSEY each had four sounding boats, the schooners GALLATIN and NAUTILUS had three sounding boats each, while the schooner VANDERBILT had one sounding boat. The schooner NAUTILUS was the first United States vessel built from the keel up as a hydrographic survey vessel. The schooner EXPERIMENT was found to be unfit for hydrographic survey work (as Hassler had predicted when the vessel was first assigned to the Survey) and was returned to the Navy. All of these ships and their accompanying boats left a legacy of 808,147 soundings along the coast of the United States from Long Island Sound to Delaware Bay that were acquired before Hassler's death.


Hassler's problems after entering the Department of the Navy did not emanate from attempts to control the direction of his scientific activities. Hassler ran into the biggest administrative headaches of his career when his accounts were transferred from the First Auditor under the Treasury Department to the Fourth Auditor, Amos Kendall, Esquire.

Amos Kendall was as stubborn and high-principled in his way as Hassler was in his. Kendall was not a career civil servant but came to Washington in 1829 as one of President Andrew Jackson's most ardent supporters and one of his most trusted advisors. Kendall has been described as "a spectacularly homely man -- nearsighted, stooped, with a chronic illness that produced a sallow complexion accentuated by his prematurely white hair. He seemed perpetually enveloped in a profound silence -- until he picked up his editorial pen. Then all manner of thunderbolts shot out of him."(37) He had been a Jackson ally as editor of the Argus of Western America, an influential western newspaper. He was a member of Jackson's "Kitchen Cabinet", and perhaps the most influential of all of Jackson's advisors. Indeed, John Quincy Adams, an avowed political foe of both Jackson and his successor, Martin Van Buren, wrote in his diary on December 4, 1840: "Both the men have been for twelve years the tool of Amos Kendall, the ruling mind of their dominion."(38) In short, second to the President and, at least in Adams' mind, superseding the President, Kendall was the most powerful and influential man in the United States Government at the time his and Hassler's paths crossed.(39)

Kendall came to Washington with a missionary zeal to root out corruption. He was particularly sensitive to abuses in the charges for traveling and believed that "a republican government can only be sustained by 'perpetual vigilance,' and that scarcely any man is to be trusted when his interests conflict with his public duties." When appointed Fourth Auditor, Kendall immediately took to task his predecessor and assured that he was thrown in jail. He then "discovered and hurled from office" the "numerous peculators" that were uncovered in the customs houses and other agencies receiving public monies.(40)

Although it was not until 1834 that Hassler came under his purview, Kendall had lost none of his zeal. Hassler first got an inkling of this zeal when engaged on the measurement of the base line at Fire Island. He was informed that $2,107.78 of his first quarter vouchers had been suspended. In honesty, Hassler conducted his administrative affairs in a cavalier manner and cared little for the opinion of those who were not men of science. He engaged in business affairs with the Government that were bound to raise eyebrows. The two extreme examples of this were the "jersey wagon" that he used as his personal conveyance for transportation in the field and about town and the selling of his personal library to the Survey.

The "jersey wagon" was first built in 1817 as a conveyance designed especially to carry Hassler's instruments, books, and personal gear from station to station. It was a peculiar rig; very large, low to the ground, mounted on easy springs to cushion the motion of the instruments, and boxy in appearance. It was designed with many compartments that allowed Hassler to reach needed instruments and books without disturbing the others. It attracted much attention wherever it went, which Hassler seemed to enjoy immensely.

When Hassler was taken off the Survey in 1818, he then took this carriage with him to the Boundary Survey. Upon his resignation from the Boundary Survey, Hassler bought the wagon at auction for $1,200 and then stored it on his farm at Cape Vincent until 1832 when he was reinstated as Superintendent of the Survey. (This was also a prime example of Hassler's lack of common sense in financial dealings, as it was by no means apparent that Hassler would have use for such a vehicle again.) He then sold the carriage back to the Government for $1,000.00 and spent approximately $500.00 of Government funds in refurbishing it and preparing it for the work. This was probably the most expeditious manner for him to procure his needed transportation and increase the efficiency of the Survey. However, Hassler was not content to confine the use of this vehicle to the field. Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, who was head of the Depot of Charts and Instruments from 1833 until 1837, related that:

"... Many will recollect him in his coast survey carriage, drawn by four fine Sorrell horses which were kept in fine order. Some of his friends did not like his thus driving about, as it were, at the Government expense, but he always replied, 'Would you wish the horses to eat without working?'

"I can see him, mounted in his landau, for it more nearly resembled one than anything else, occupying the back Seat, muffled up, while his coachman was mounted on a high box, driving four in hand, always at a Rapid Rate. The Coachman was his cook and body servant, a German by birth and very faithful to him.... The running gear was of the most solid and best material and many extra pieces in case of accident. The comparison [caparison] of the horses was strong and useful, of the best leather and entirely without gilt or silver. It suited his purposes and he affected to care little about looks...."(41)

Such a carriage and such behavior served as a lightning rod for Kendall. Kendall never overtly accused Hassler of corruption, but argued that Hassler was never authorized to procure anything and that he is "to be provided," and he is not "to purchase or provide himself." Kendall told Hassler that he "has no power under them [his instructions] to purchase a tent, field-equipage, a wagon, a horse, a book, or an instrument, without previous authority from the Secretary under whose authority he acts for the time being."(42) Kendall disallowed such items as $454.30 for the purchase of books belonging to Hassler by the Government and all expenses related to Hassler's carriage including the wages of the driver and care for horses. At first glance, these items were reasonable to focus upon, but Kendall went on: $363.17 for the purchase of a theodolite; $68.23 for the hire of "assistants" in the field (if the voucher had been written "hands", it would have been allowed); $1.00 for cutting the top of an apple tree for line-of-sight; medicine chest and blankets for the baseline party on Fire Island; even 12 cents for "horsekeeping;" all and more disallowed.

In an amusing aside, it seems that food supplies were allowed for camp life. Wilkes relates this story concerning the rate of consumption of Hassler's beverage of choice:

"On one occasion he was settling his accounts at the Treasury and they had put him down as allowed so much whiskey. He was greatly enraged at this -- he had never drunk a drop of Whiskey in his life and despised it and all who used it. He drank light wine and the accounting officer had entered it as whiskey, which he declared he would not submit to & and if they did not allow it, to strike it out and he would pay for it himself. The quantity of dozens was very large & it was decreed improbable that he should have consumed so much, some three bottles a day. He seldom drank anything else."(43) (44)

Hassler argued that the precedent had already been established for his hiring of personnel in the field, traveling to and from the field for both himself and his assistants from their homes, traveling from station to station, and basically making the procurement actions necessary to keep the Survey operating within the constraints of its budget. Kendall retorted: "...If the former officers have inadvertently passed accounts which were not authorized by law, or any lawful instruction given to Mr. Hassler, it is the duty of the latter (Kendall) to refuse to make like allowances for the future." Kendall goes on, "Thinking it their duty [himself and the 2nd Comptroller] to settle the accounts according to their understanding of the law and instructions, they will not hesitate to overrule any precedent founded in palpable error, even if set by themselves."(45) Hassler was presented with a conundrum. Even if Kendall set a precedent, he (Kendall) would not be bound by it. This, coupled with salary disputes concerning Hassler and his technical personnel and a surprise charge for the ship JERSEY to the Coast Survey budget, effectively froze any action related to the Survey by Hassler for the next year and a half.

Within all of this, there is something fascinating about the highest levels of the United States Government being concerned with such trifles. Kendall's early efforts as Fourth Auditor had saved the Government over $1,000,000 per year from reforms put in effect in the Navy Department. The total appropriation for the Coast Survey in 1834 was $30,000. Hassler's battles with Amos Kendall would consume much of his energy over the next two years; heavily involve Mahlon Dickerson, the Secretary of the Navy; and eventually come to President Jackson for final resolution.

Hassler first attacked the issue of disallowed vouchers. Voucher by voucher, point by counter-point, Hassler presented his case and virtually won all arguments with the Fourth Auditor. From thousands of dollars disallowed over vouchers from most of 1834 through early 1835, Hassler appeared to have only ended up being charged with a few hundred dollars. In a fit of pique concerning his books, he stated that he would return the money paid for his technical library. Whether he did or did not is unclear, as in fact, he had most of the technical books available in the United States at that time. It only made sense that those books should be made available to the civilians and military personnel working with the Survey, and that the Government should pay for their use. A technical library appeared on the inventory of the Coast Survey in 1842. Concerning the jersey wagon, if the Government wished to have him return the money and take possession of it, he would only have had to have another conveyance procured at a probable higher cost and have the work disrupted in the meantime. Concerning traveling to and from his home to the workplace, what nonsense that ever should have been questioned.

Kendall was appointed Postmaster General on June 1, 1835, ending his scrutiny of Hassler's accounts. Each probably breathed a sigh of relief. One can only wonder if Amos Kendall, who had chased many "peculators" from office and even had some imprisoned, enjoyed sparring with the proud old man. Hassler certainly proved a worthy adversary.


Hassler did not proceed to the field in 1835 until late fall, and then for only what could be described as a cursory examination of the field work. The reasons for this were varied. As related above, he was virtually consumed with disputing the disallowed vouchers and assuring that his honor was not impugned. But besides that, he had been tasked on March 10, 1835, by Levi Woodbury, the Secretary of the Treasury, with producing a set of standards for all of the customs houses of the United States. Hassler at this time superintended the Coast Survey under the Secretary of the Navy, but reported to the Secretary of the Treasury for his work related to Weights and Measures. Woodbury wanted the 1,600 finely machined weight, length, and volume standards that were required for the 100 customs houses (sixteen standards per facility) delivered by December 1, 1835. This, as with the incessant questions of time of completion of the Coast Survey, reflected again the naivete of the Government concerning the magnitude of such a task. Hassler did not even have an assistant at the time as Samuel Schmid, who had worked with him on Weights and Measures since 1831, had quit in the summer of 1834.

Three other factors affected Hassler's ability to take to the field in 1835. The Department of the Navy had procured the schooner JERSEY in late 1834 and charged it to the Coast Survey appropriation. This was an unplanned for expenditure as the original law of 1807 stipulated that "public vessels in actual service" be used for the Survey. This appears to have been bureaucratic chicanery, as the Navy bought the vessel and then stated that, because it had no other use but on the Coast Survey, all costs associated with its procurement and outfitting were to be charged to the Survey. Then in July, the schooner EXPERIMENT, Lieutenant George S. Blake, Commanding, was ordered onto Coast Survey duty. The EXPERIMENT was already a United States vessel, but other costs accrued with this transfer. With these two unexpected costs, Hassler stated that he had insufficient funds for himself to proceed to the field on the primary triangulation. The detailing of the EXPERIMENT to Coast Survey duty also generated additional work for Hassler, as it required the production of computations and drafting of survey sheets which Hassler claimed took him three months.

The third factor was the state of Hassler's personal finances. In a dispute over compensation, on May 15, 1835, he wrote to Secretary of the Treasury Levi Woodbury that if the given allowance was not increased, that he would devote himself entirely to Weights and Measures at the rate of $3,000 per year. This was the compensation agreed upon in 1830. Hassler continued: "... last spring I was obliged to borrow money to enable me to leave here for the measurement of the base-line for the Coast Survey; since then, not only this debt is not paid, but it has been increased, and I am unable to move without that assistance."(46) Woodbury, after consulting with President Jackson, wrote back that, if he chose to abandon the Survey and work only on the Weights and Measures, his compensation would be reduced to $1500 per year. Hassler backed down and accepted staying on the Survey. This episode appears to have been the source of Hassler's personal antipathy for Woodbury. In fairness to Woodbury, Hassler's timing was incredibly poor for this showdown; just the month before, Hassler informed Woodbury that he could not possibly finish the standards for all the customs houses in the desired time "if even every man in the country, capable to work any part of it, was employed." This truthful, but seemingly casual, response to the Secretary's desires probably tempered Woodbury's view of Hassler's worth to the country. Up until this time, correspondence and, apparently, relations had been amicable between the two. Woodbury, while Secretary of the Navy, had secured a position for Hassler's son Charles as an assistant naval surgeon. While Secretary of the Treasury, he had allowed the hiring of Hassler's son Edward as an assistant for Weights and Measures just two months earlier.

The incessant in-fighting and personal financial turmoil took its toll of Hassler's spirit. He wrote to his old friend, former President James Madison, on July 27, 1835: "Either I must find some station in this country, affording me means of a decent livelihood, and the establishment of my family, or I am compelled to the painful necessity to leave again this country, after I have spent in it the best thirty years of my life, in the attempt of rendering myself useful.... I have also lost all my property (which in my native country Switzerland would have constituted a reasonable independence) by the sacrifices which I have made & losses which I have incurred in the Coast Survey."(47) Although Hassler claimed that "Difficulties never subdued me in my life", it seemed that he was reaching the end of his resources.

However, other than the few acrimonious exchanges with Woodbury concerning compensation, all of his correspondence in 1835 on Weights and Measures was remarkably optimistic. Here Hassler is seen at his best, immersing himself in a challenging scientific project requiring initiative, inventiveness, and persistence. Hassler demonstrated his talents as a chemist and metallurgist in the construction of the weight and length standards. He required brass, a mixture of copper and zinc, of very high purity to achieve the proper specific gravity of the metal and to retard the effects of oxidation. As the zinc used in the United States was imported and of uncertain purity, Hassler hit upon the idea of refining the zinc minerals found at Perkiomen, Pennsylvania. These minerals were at that time a nuisance, as they were thrown away "as a refuse from the other ores from which the mine was worked."(48)

Within six months, Hassler had built a refractory furnace, procured and transported the zinc ore and copper to the site of the furnace at the U.S. Arsenal in Washington, D.C., and obtained many machine tools for use in constructing the various standards. On September 18, 1835, Hassler had "the satisfaction to present to you [Woodbury] a small sample of the first pure zinc ever produced in this country..." Hassler immediately grasped the strategic and economic importance of the refinement of this metal over and above its use in the production of standards. He suggests that his demonstrating the successful refining of zinc should "perhaps, be considered as of interest for the country in general ... and the prosecution of the result could become a means to make the country independent from abroad in this respect." Given the nature of the technical problems to be overcome and Hassler's limited resources, he did not complete 100 sets of standards by December 1, 1835.

The argument over the allocation of funds for the naval vessels engaged in sounding operations began to intensify in December with Hassler writing Secretary Dickerson on December 24 to present documents that showed the sounding parties had cost over $16,000 since their inception, instead of the $7,000 claimed by the Navy. Dickerson counters by attempting to charge the Coast Survey for keeping officers on active duty during the winter months instead of furloughing them at reduced pay. Hassler was informed of this not by Dickerson, but by Lieutenant George Blake of the EXPERIMENT. Hassler asked for redress on January 2, 1836, and received no response. February 17, Hassler sends a letter to Dickerson asking for increased pay for the Navy and Army officers attached to the Survey "as a compensation for the extra expenses, to which their constantly moving life subjects them." No response. March 1 and March 6 two more letters were sent to Dickerson on financial matters.

On March 8, 1836, Hassler crossed the Rubicon in relation to the Navy Department. He hand-carried a letter to President Jackson addressing: "REASONS For placing the Coast Survey in the Treasury Department, and neither in the War, nor Navy Department."(49) Hassler listed thirteen points as to why the Department of the Treasury was the most rational location for the Coast Survey. Actually, only three of these were reasons for transferring the Survey to the Treasury Department, while the other ten were complaints about the management of the Survey under the Navy. This letter had its desired affect. In a flurry of activity beginning March 22, 1836, the new Fourth Auditor, T. C. Pickett, finds that $9409.30 had been wrongfully charged to the Coast Survey appropriation. On March 23, Dickerson related this to Hassler.

There must have been great personal animosity between Hassler and Dickerson, in spite of the fact that Dickerson as a Senator in 1818 had voted against the law to exclude Hassler from the Survey. Hassler replied on March 24 that he was gratified by the return of the funds which had been charged "improperly as you state." Dickerson sent his last letter to Hassler on March 25. This was a strongly worded letter that informed Hassler that many of his concepts as to the organization of the Survey were incorrect, that he had no contract with the Government, and that he labored "under a delusion, if you suppose the government to be amenable to you for the performance of the conditions of your alleged 'positive and acknowledged contract.'" He ended this diatribe with: "I hope in the course of this day or to-morrow, to have the superintendence of the Coast Survey transferred from this department to that of the treasury." Hassler had won.

This in no way ended the Navy's interest in having functions of the Coast Survey reside within the Navy Department. There was strong support for this from other quarters, as evidenced by Congress funding the Navy to survey Georges Bank and some South Carolina and Georgia ports in 1837. The Georges Bank surveys were conducted under Charles Wilkes, Hassler's student and protege. Indeed, in 1832, the Navy had sent a survey expedition to Narragansett Bay at the time that debate was reviving the reinstatement of Hassler. Fortunately, the survey, although nominally under the command of Captain Alexander Wadsworth, was run by Lieutenant Wilkes, following the methods developed by Hassler. As such, it qualifies as the first hydrographic survey conducted in United States waters by scientific methods. Serendipitously, Lieutenant Thomas R. Gedney and Lieutenant George S. Blake were assigned to this survey work and introduced to the methods that they would employ as the commanding officers of the first two vessels on the Survey of the Coast.

It is possible that the rivalry for control of the Survey extended back to its very beginnings. The first hydrographic survey conducted by the Navy was accomplished by officers and crew of the U.S.S. CONSTITUTION in 1811(50), the year Hassler was commissioned to proceed to London to acquire surveying instruments. Echoes of these first bureaucratic battles between the Coast Survey and the Navy would continue to reverberate even into the Twentieth Century.


Hassler had one last matter to attend to before he could be satisfied that he was being treated properly by the Government. That was the issue of just compensation for him and his assistants. His first official letter upon entering the Treasury Department related to adjustment of compensation for Captain Swift, his accounting officer in the field; the manner of paying the army and navy officers attached to the survey; the pay and permanent employment of a "chief mechanician," and a clerk at the Washington office; and, of course, his own pay. He attached to this letter a long essay "Upon the principles of the determination of Salaries, or Compensations in a Republican Government."(51) There was no civil service as we know it today; and, it would seem, no real rules for establishing salaries, per diem rates, and other compensations. This document was an early attempt to establish a set of principles governing the tacit contract between the Government and its employees.

Hassler divided the employees of the Government into two classes: 1) elected officials, upper level executive officers, and upper level administrative officers, all of whom make policy; and 2) those who do the work required "in all the varied parts of the administration of a country." Hassler acknowledged that "To remedy the evils that may be apprehended in the first class, would need treating the principles of constitutional questions" which was not his primary intention. As such, most of this essay was concerned with the "workers".

The highest class of worker in Hassler's hierarchy was the judge, the need for whom arose from "allaying the difficulties of misunderstanding between his neighbors...." As Hassler went on concerning judges, he displayed his firm belief that the least government was the best government as he states: "... the trust laid in him [the judge] gave him the means to govern his neighbors; thus arose gradually governments, which circumstances extended, modified, and ever after rendered obnoxious." (Hassler did not make a joke here. This was a concise statement of his beliefs.) The remuneration of a judge must be such that he is independent "in intellectual, moral, and pecuniary respects" and sufficient to place him in a respectable rank in society.

Concerning all other officers of the Government, Hassler stated that they are to be paid in proportion to the quality and quantity of work produced. For certain classes of labor, he recommended piecework payment, while for others a salary. He advocated salaries for clerks (writers and accountants) as well as military officers. He advocated payment of overtime: "All extra office hours... it is proper in justice to pay to the respective man thus charged...." Hassler suggested that stipends for travel expenses be periodically adjusted: "...for it must be observed, that with the increase of the facility of traveling [the growth of railways and steamboat traffic] the expenses do not decrease, often, rather the inverse is the case...." He recommended adequate compensation "to keep men of respectability satisfied in the Government's services" and recognized that the work suffered if a man was not working cheerfully or felt that he had been reduced to a menial state. "That such a state of things is a direct loss for the nation, and contrary to all economy, is evident."

Hassler's view was that the Government entered into a "positive contract" with the man appointed to any office, be it civil, military, or naval; and that the services performed must be positively stated or tacitly understood. In his own case, he had earlier written out what today would be called a position description describing both his duties and what was expected of the Government in return. Perhaps most importantly, he espoused that if the Government breached the contract, "...that its service loses all respect, and the officers, whom their situation forces to submit to it, lose their respectability among their fellow citizens, their own self esteem, and all attachment to the government."

Hassler spoke out against the spoils system arguing that the "removal of an officer rendering good services ... without cause of dissatisfaction, under, suppose an idea of rotation in office, ... can never be done without injustice and real damage to the regular course of business...." A more insidious problem was addressed with the "patronage in appointments, in reference to its influence upon elections." Hassler argued that this influence was regulated, not by an ever-expanding amount of money being paid to such appointees, but by a finite amount being divided into ever smaller amounts in order to purchase more votes. The consequence was: "The low salaries which of course only such people accept as can do no better, will always purchase low personal attachment, never good services for a republic...." Hassler argued that for a republican government to operate effectively, it requires permanent, well-paid employees whose "attachment to the business, the regularity, which habit and time can alone establish, with proper knowledge of the duties of an office, render an officer more efficient, and keep up regularity and system; of which much of the respectability of an office depends."

This early treatise spelled out the requirements for the modern civil service and also addressed many of the pay issues affecting the modern military. However, Hassler's goal in writing this document was to get what he considered adequate compensation for himself, his assistants, and the Army and Navy personnel working on the Coast Survey. Hassler was asking for $3,000 salary and $3,000 expenses for himself retroactive to 1832; a return to the system of paying his chief accounting officer, Captain William Swift, U.S.A., a 2 and ½ percent commission on all vouchers passed as was the practice before Amos Kendall reviewed the accounts; sea pay year around for the naval officers attached to the Survey as they were subject to being furloughed at reduced pay during the winter months when they were required for processing sounding and navigation records; and an unspecified increase in pay for his civilian assistants.(52)

In a letter to President Jackson in May 1835, Hassler claimed that he had lost $16,000 in personal funds to the Survey "which I certainly can consider as a fully sufficient share on my part to promote the public good in this line..."(53) This resulted in an immediate increase in his expense allowance to $2,000 per year from $1,500. But later Hassler argued that the additional $500 per year was consumed in further disallowances by auditors resulting in a net loss to himself.

Hassler enlisted friends and the field assistants in this dispute. Hassler's old friend Lieutenant Colonel Abert, by 1836 head of the Topographical Engineers, wrote to Woodbury: "Mr. Hassler may have peculiar notions on these subjects, which may not exactly tally with an Auditor's views, but those notions are rather in manner than in matter: in the latter he will generally be found to be correct. But genius has always its peculiar notions, its short and rapid roads to results, hence men of genius are considered in advance of their age, and labor more for posterity than for their own time." In this letter, Abert perceived the future roll of Government in promoting science and scientists as "It is government alone which can create such men, as it is the wants and means of government alone, which can compensate them for their labours and encourage them in their pursuits."(54)

Secretary Woodbury passed Hassler's requests on to Congress as he stated that he had no power to enact the raises and increased allowances. All previous salary negotiations had been conducted under the auspices of the Executive Branch. The Committee on Commerce wrote back on July 4, 1836, recommending all that Hassler had requested. Woodbury dug in his heels, refused to grant the raises in question, and prodded Hassler to proceed to the field on July 26. Hassler refused until he received his back pay dating to 1832, some $6,000. During these altercations, Hassler continued to work on Weights and Measures and delivered the first six complete sets of standard weights on July 29.

One must feel sorry for Woodbury in one respect during this bureaucratic in-fighting. He was one of Andrew Jackson's most competent cabinet members and was a capable, resourceful public servant. According to Charles Wilkes, Hassler "always styled Mr. W. a pumpkin head and was very loud in his denunciations. He lived next door to him on 13th street. They both occupied the 2nd Story, and, in summer, when the windows were open, almost every word that Mr. Hassler said in his abuse could be heard. Notwithstanding all this, Mr. Woodbury was too high minded to resent it. He believed Mr. Hassler an excentric and irritable man; at the Same time, that he was very capable in his duties and conscientious in their performance."(55) Wilkes saw Hassler often during these years and reported on his state of mind in this period:

"... His appearance was very often somewhat that of a foolish and deranged person. His mind too frequently dwelt on Small things and very trifling incidents, which often gave him affront. The failure to get an audience at once from one of the Secretaries always irritated him for days. It is almost impossible to give an idea of his sudden ebulition of Passion. He Seemed to lose all control of himself and permitted his Nervous system to guide him. I have seen him jump Madly over his high haircloth sofa and rush up and down his chamber, at which I could not help laughing aloud, which brought him to himself, and told him one day he could not make such a leap again in his Senses."(56)

Sometime in early August, Hassler met with Andrew Jackson and the following exchange (although there are many different versions of this exchange, they all agree in spirit) was reported to have taken place:

Jackson: "So, Mr. Hassler, it appears the Secretary and you cannot agree about this Matter."

Hassler: "No, Sir, ve can't."

Jackson: "Well how much do you really think you ought to have?"

Hassler: "Six thousand dollars, Sir."

Jackson: "Why, Mr. Hassler, that is as much as Mr. Woodbury, my Secretary of the Treasury, himself receives!"

Hassler, rising from his chair and pointing to himself: "Mr. Voodbury! There are plenty of Voodburys, plenty of Everybodys who can be made the Secretary of the Treasury. But, there is only one, one Hassler for the head of the Coast Survey."(57)

Acknowledging the indomitable will of a kindred spirit, President Jackson granted Hassler's demand for a higher expense allowance. Not only did Hassler receive his increased expense allowance, but within the next few months he assured that all of his field assistants received raises ranging from 30 to 50 percent of their base salary, and all points relating to Army and Navy officers were resolved favorably; in addition, he was allowed to hire more field personnel and office personnel. Jackson put a stipulation, that if Congress so saw fit, that all of his actions regarding the Coast Survey could be overturned. In his eighth and final message to Congress, Jackson invited "the early attention of Congress ... to the enactment of some express and detailed provisions in relation to the various claims made for the past, and to the compensation and allowances deemed proper for the future." It was remarkable that Andrew Jackson relented in this matter. Hassler's views concerning a professional civil service flew in the face of the political philosophy of Jacksonian democracy. This was also at a time when the average college professor was making less than $1,500 per year making Hassler's compensation seem very generous.

As a result, Hassler engaged in a second public affairs blitz in which he had more copies of his Principal Documents Relating to the Survey of the Coast, Volumes I and II, printed and distributed to members of Congress and other influential men. Volume III he had printed in late 1836. Hassler had all of the Principal Documents, as well as documents relating to Weights and Measures, printed at personal expense reminiscent of modern day political candidates buying media exposure. He also launched a newspaper campaign calculated to evoke public sympathy and Congressional support. Not surprisingly, Congress did not overturn President Jackson's orders concerning the Coast Survey.

What had Hassler accomplished in these two years of acrimonious debate? By many accounts, Hassler has been described as a somewhat eccentric old fool who wasted his time and energy in fighting various Secretaries and Auditors. He, of course, was concerned with his own livelihood, and what to him were matters of honor. But, more importantly, he was fighting for the place of science and scientists in a young Government that had none.

What must have been most important to Hassler was that he had won the right to conduct the science and affairs of the Coast Survey, within the constraints of its budget, in the manner which he judged best. It appears that his arguments succeeded in divorcing the Coast Survey from most of the abuses of the spoils system and rotation in office, as not until the 1880's was there an instance of political maneuvering affecting either the removal or appointment of civilians to the Survey. By improving the financial status of Army and Navy officers associated with the Survey, he made it desirable for the best and the brightest of the young officers to seek duty on the Survey. By fighting for and obtaining what he felt to be just compensation for himself as a man of science within the Government, he raised not only the stature of himself and the Coast Survey, but the stature of all scientists and scientific organizations that would follow in his footsteps. The scientific infrastructure that exists in the United States Federal Government today owes much to this first professional scientist of the United States.


1. Letters from Hassler to John Vaughn, February 1, and February 17, 1831. Archives of the American Philosophical Society, Vol 2, No. 115, and No. 228. In: Cajori. 1929. p. 154.

2. Hassler, F. R. 1834. Journal of the Franklin Institute, New Series, Vol. 13. p. 238. Philadelphia.

3. Hassler, F. R. 1832. Weights and Measures -- Report from the Secretary of the Treasury in Compliance With a resolution of the Senate, showing the result of an examination of the Weights and Measures used in the several Custom-houses in the United States, &c. Document No. 299. House of Representatives, Treasury Department. 32nd Congress, 1st Session. July 2, 1832. 122 pp. Hereafter called: Hassler, F. R. 1832. Weights and Measures .... Document No. 299.

4. Hassler, F. R. 1832. Weight and Measures .... Document No. 299. p. 4.

5. Hassler, F. R. 1834. "Results of the Observation of the Solar Eclipse of 12th February 1831, etc.", Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Vol. 4. p. 131. Philadelphia, Hassler also referred to this in the aforementioned letters to John Vaughn of February 1, and February 17, 1831.

6. Chapter CXCI, Stat. L., Vol 4, p. 570. "An Act to carry into effect the act to provide for a survey of the coast of the United States." This act appropriated $20,000 for the Survey of the Coast, provided for surveying the coast of Florida, and under Section 2, gave the President of the United States the power to "employ all persons in the land or naval service of the United States, and such astronomers and other persons as he shall deem proper."

7. Hassler, F. R. 1834. Principal Documents.... p. 69.

8. Hassler, F. R. 1834. Principal Documents.... p. 71.

9. Hassler, F. R. 1834. Principal Documents.... p. 71-72.

10. Hassler, F. R. 1834. Principal Documents.... p. 74.

11. Hassler, F. R. 1834. Principal Documents.... p. 77.

12. Hassler, F. R. 1834. Principal Documents.... p. 106.

13. Hassler, F. R. 1834. Principal Documents.... p. 89.

14. Hassler, F. R. 1825. "Papers...." p. 245.

15. Hassler, F. R. 1834. Principal Documents.... p. 97-98.

16. Remini, R. V. 1984. Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845. Volume III, p. 56. Harper and Row Publishers, New York.

17. Hassler, F. R. 1834. Principal Documents.... p. 108.

18. Hassler, F. R. 1834. Principal Documents.... p. 144.

19. Hassler, F. R. 1825. "Papers...." p. 283-284.

20. Henry, J. 1845. "The Coast Survey." In: Princeton Review, April, 1845. p. 8-9.

21. Hassler, F. R. 1835. Second Volume.... p. 103.

22. Although this base line was reported as being measured to 0.0001 meter (implying an accuracy of 1 part in 100,000,000,) Hassler probably felt that the accuracy of the measurement was no better than 1 part in a few million. The minute differences in the computations for expansion of base bars because of temperature changes and the inclination of the base bar, as determined by Hassler, Dahlgren, and Swift, assuming that no error was made in the myriad of measurements conducted during the course of the base line operations, gave an upper limit for

the reported accuracy of 1 part in 5,535,000 (0.1 inch = 0.00254 meter; 0.00254/14,058.987 = 0.00000018067.)

Regardless of the ultimate accuracy of measurement, this base line was a monument to Hassler's genius as a scientist and engineer. As a measure of the accuracy attainable by his procedures and instruments used for both distance and triangulation, when the check base was measured on Kent Island in upper Chesapeake Bay, the difference between the computed triangulated distance and the measured distance was 4 inches. The Kent Island base line was over 300 miles along the arc of triangulation from the Fire Island base line. A second base line was tied to the Fire Island base line and measured at Epping Plains (approximately 350 miles along the arc of triangulation) in eastern Maine in 1857 which gave a preliminary difference of 8 millimeters in 8,716 meters between the computed distance of the baseline and the measured distance. Hassler, unfortunately, did not live to see these triumphs of his methods and instruments.

23. Hassler, F. R. 1834. Principal Documents.... p. 177-178.

24. Concerning the term "Coast Survey" versus "Survey of the Coast," it appears that there never was a formal law changing the name of the organization. Hassler used the term "Coast Survey" as early as 1827 in his reply to Colonel Roberdeau and used it with increasing frequency in official correspondence up until 1835 when "Coast Survey" is used almost exclusively.

25. The discussion of sounding and signaling methods is the author's interpretation of sounding methodology derived from many sources. Signaling methodology is referred to in House of Representatives Report No. 43, 27th Congress 3d Session, p. 38, within the testimony of Lieutenant Thomas R. Gedney. A description of intervals between soundings and the location of intermediate soundings is included in: The Committee of Twenty, Report of the History and Progress of the American Coast Survey up to the Year 1858, written and published under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This document contains descriptions of many other Coast Survey operations as well as listings of the major accomplishments of the Coast Survey up to 1858. A description of the functions of individuals on the survey boats, number of oarsmen, etc., is included in "The Coast Survey" in the New York Herald, August 3, 1881. Although written many years after Hassler's death, shallow-water sounding technology had changed little if any in the intervening years.

26. Sands, B. F. 1899. From Reefer to Rear-Admiral. p. 82. Frederick A. Stokes Co., New York. Hereafter referred to as: "Sands, B. F. 1899."

27. Remini, R. V. 1984. Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845. Volume III, p.228. Harper and Row Publishers, New York.

28. Hassler, F. R. 1837. Sixth Report of F. R. Hassler, as superintendent of the survey of the coast of the United States.... Senate Report 79, 25th Congress, 2d Session, December 12, 1837. p. 4.

29. Sands, B. F. 1899. p. 87-88.

30. Hassler, F. R. 1837. Sixth Report of F. R. Hassler, as superintendent of the survey of the coast of the United States.... Senate Report 79, 25th Congress, 2d Session, December 12, 1837. p. 4.

31. House of Representatives Report No. 43, 1843. p.39.

32. Hassler, F. R. 1842. A report of F. R. Hassler, superintendent of the coast survey, showing the progress made therein up to the present time. House of Representatives Document No. 28, 27th Congress, 2d Session, January 3, 1842. p. 11.

33. Bache, A. D. 1844. A report of the Superintendent of the Survey of the Coast. Senate Document 16, 28th Congress, 2nd Session. December 23, 1844. p. 22.

34. House of Representatives Report No. 24, 25th Congress, 3rd Session. In: Bache, A. D. The report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey...." Senate Executive Document No. 6, 30th Congress, 1st Session, Appendix No. 5, p. 67.

35. Anonymous. 1848. Art. XXXI -- Review of the Annual Report on the U.S. Coast Survey in The American Journal of Science and Arts, Second Series, 1848, p.11 of offprint. In: Miscellaneous Papers on the Survey, p. 68; and Davis, C. H. 1849. The Coast Survey of the United States. p. 32-33. Metcalf and Company, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

36. Bishop, M. 1941. "Cinque, the Noble Mutineer" in the column, "That Was New York", The New Yorker, December 20, 1941.

37. Remini, R. V. 1981. Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832, Volume II. p.127. Harper and Row, New York.

38. Nevins, A., Editor. 1928. The Diary of John Quincy Adams 1794-1845. p. 514. Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, New York.

39. The following description of Amos Kendall is found in: Stickney, W., editor. 1872. The Autobiography of Amos Kendall, p. 586. Lee and Shepard Publishers, Boston. Stickney included a quote from Miss Harriet Martineau who visited Washington in 1834. Miss Martineau's description was included in the Memphis "Daily Enquirer" of September 27, 1860.

"I was fortunate enough once to catch a glimpse of the invincible Amos Kendall, one of the most remarkable men in America. He is supposed to be the moving spring of the administration; the thinker, planner, and doer; but it is all in the dark. Documents are issued, the excellence of which prevents their being attributed to the persons who take the responsibility of them; a correspondence is kept up all over the country, for which no one seems answerable; work is done of goblin extent and with goblin speed, which makes men look about them with superstitious wonder; and the invisible Amos Kendall has the credit of it all. President Jackson's letters to his cabinet are said to be Kendall's; the Report on Sunday mails is attributed to Kendall; the letters sent from Washington to remote country newspapers, whence they are collected and published in the "Globe", as demonstrations of public opinion, are pronounced to be written by Kendall. Every mysterious paragraph in opposition newspapers relates to Kendall; and it is some relief that his now having the office of postmaster-general affords opportunity for open attack upon this twilight personage, who is proved by the faults in the post-office administration, not to be able to do quite everything well. But he is undoubtedly a great genius. He unites with his 'great talent for silence' a splendid audacity.

"It is clear that he could not do the work he does (incredible enough in amount any way) if he went into society like other men. He did, however, one evening, - I think it was at the attorney-general's. The moment I went in, intimations reached me from all quarters, amid nods and winks, 'Kendall is here'; 'That is he.' I saw at once that his plea for seclusion (bad health) is no false one. The extreme sallowness of his complexion, and hair of such perfect whiteness as is rarely seen in a man of middle age, testified to his disease. His countenance does not help the superstitious to throw off their dread of him. He probably does not desire this superstition to melt away, for there is no calculating how much influence was given to Jackson's administration by the universal belief that there was a concealed eye and hand behind the machinery of government, by which everything could be foreseen, and the hardest deeds done. A member of Congress told me this night that he had watched through five sessions for a sight of Kendall, and

had never obtained it till now. Kendall was leaning on a chair, with head bent down, and eye glancing up at a member of Congress, with whom he was in earnest conversation, and in a few minutes he was gone."

40. Remini, R.V. 1981. Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832. Volume II, p. 167, 187. Harper and Row, Publishers, New York.

41. Wilkes, C. 1978. p. 219-220.

42. Hassler, F. R. 1835. Second Volume.... p. 5.

43. Wilkes, C. 1978. p. 220.

44. This view of Hassler's drinking habits was supported by John Charles Fremont who wrote in his memoirs, "When he accepted an invitation to dinner, which was seldom, his habit was to carry with him some bottles of these German wines [that were always on hand in his carriage,] as he would drink of no other kind, and only of his own." In: Fremont, John Charles. 1887. Memoirs of My Life. p. 57. Belford, Clarke and Company. Chicago and New York.

45. Hassler, F. R. 1835. Second Volume.... p. 4.

46. Hassler, F. R. 1835. Second Volume.... p. 125.

47. In: Cajori. 1929. Note 176, p. 129.

48. Hassler, F. R. 1835. Report of F. R. Hassler, as Superintendent of the Construction of Standard Weights and Measures, for the Custom-houses. Dated Nov. 28, 1835. In: Hassler, F. R. 1835. Documents Relating to the Construction of Standards of Weights and Measures for the Custom-Houses, March to November, 1835. p. 28. William Van Noorden, Printer, New York.

49. Hassler, F. R. 1836. Third Volume.... p.19-22.

50. Nelson, Stewart B. 1982. Oceanographic Ships Fore and Aft. p.9. Office of Oceanographer of the Navy, Washington, D.C.

51. Hassler, F. R. 1836. Third Volume.... p. 33-39.

52. This battle had its roots in Hassler's treatment by the Government and his need to recruit and retain qualified personnel, both civilian and military, to conduct the work of the Survey. The following is a review of Hassler's employment and compensation from the United States Government up to 1836.

1) Employment at West Point 1807-1810; compensation unknown; summarily removed by arbitrary decision of Secretary of War.

2) Government agent procuring Coast Survey instruments 1811-1815; $4700 per year; not paid by Government 1814-1815 required borrowing at high interest to live; Act of Congress in 1816 restored pay; $6,000 to $7,000 loss during period.

3) Superintendent of Survey of the Coast, August 1816 to April 1818; $3,000 salary, $2,000 expenses; arbitrarily removed by Act of Congress.

4) United States Surveyor on the International Boundary 1818-1819; apparently $2,500 salary, $2,000 expenses; resigned in dispute over salary and/or honor.

5) Gauger, New York Custom House 1829; compensation unknown.

6) Superintendent of Office of Weights and Measures 1830-1832; $3,000 per year.

7) Superintendent of Survey of the Coast and Superintendent of Office of Weights and Measures 1832-1835; $3,000 salary, $1,500 expenses.

8) Hassler threatens to quit the Coast Survey and devote all of his efforts to Weights and Measures in 1835; offered $1,500 to Superintend Weights and Measures only; has $1,500 expenses thence increased to $2,000 per year expenses for May 1835 until May 1836.

53. Hassler, F. R. 1835. Second Volume .... p. 120.

54. Hassler, F. R. 1836. Third Volume.... p. 50-56.

55. Wilkes, C. 1978. p.218.

56. Wilkes, C. 1978. p. 224.

57. Harpers Weekly 1878; Wilkes, C. 1978. p. 221; Nelson, Stewart B. 1982. Oceanographic Ships Fore and Aft. p. 12, Office of Oceanographer of the Navy, Washington, D.C.; Anonymous. 1855. "The United States Coast Survey" in Putnam's Monthly, November, 1855, Dix and Edwards, New York, p. 6 of offprint. In: Miscellaneous Papers on the Survey, p.231, bound volume of documents in Rare Book Room of NOAA Library.

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