Unusual thick paper copy of the US Coast Survey progress chart from North Carolina to South Carolina, tracking the progress of the survey from 1847 to 1857 on along the Southeast Coastline.
The accompanying notes identify the location of Astronomical Stations, Magnetic Stations, Tidal Station Current Stations and a host of other information that provides a unique insight into the methodologies and historical details of the surveys.
While charts of this nature appeared in the annual reports of the US Coast Survey, we have never seen a progress survey of this type printed on thick paper.
The United States Coast survey was responsible for several major printing innovations, including electrotyping and photography as applied to cartography. Neither of these technologies were invented within the Coast Survey. However, because of the electrical and mechanical genius of George Mathiot, both of these methods were improved and applied to the rapid production of charts and maps with great effect by the end of the 1850's.
As noted by NOAA,
Electrotyping was an electro-chemical method of producing an exact replica of an engraved copper plate. This was a vitally important procedure as first-class copper engravings took years to produce and would be ruined after a few hundred impressions on a printing press. The Coast Survey began experimenting with electrotyping in 1846. Selmar Siebert, a senior engraver, conducted these experiments; in 1847 Bache reported, "Several of the plates have been copied by the electrotype process, preserving the originals from injury, and rendering possible an unlimited multiplication of copies from a single engraved plate." This early work was not without its risks, as the lower plate of the chart of Delaware Bay was destroyed by the adherence of copper to the original plate in 1849. Perhaps it is just coincidence, but the following year George Mathiot was first mentioned in the annual report as being in charge of the electrotyping division.
Under Mathiot, the electrotyping division prospered. At the end of 1851, Major Stevens reported:
The electrotyping department has improved so greatly the past year in all its arrangements and processes, that at my request its chief, Mr. Mathiot, has made a general report on the subject of electrotyping, (Appendix No. 55,).... The advances which have been made through the agency of the Coast Survey have scarcely been equaled in the history of any art. Not a single failure has yet occurred in Mr. Mathiot's process. A single plate has again been reproduced from the junction of plates with complete success.
"The time for reproducing a plate has been greatly abridged. Time has been saved, and a greater certainty given to the process ..."
The time saved was significant. During the first electrotyping experiments, no more than six plates a year could be reproduced. By the end of 1851 the time for producing a first reproduction of a plate was reduced to four days with all subsequent duplications reduced to three. The significance of this advance was that for the first time virtually unlimited printings of map sheets could be accomplished. In Stevens' words, "... in fifty days the plates can be made for fifteen thousand sheets of any Coast Survey map, however large and elaborate it may be."
The United States Office of the Coast Survey began in 1807, when Thomas Jefferson founded the Survey of the Coast. However, the fledgling office was plagued by the War of 1812 and disagreements over whether it should be civilian or military controlled. The entity was re-founded in 1832 with Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler as its superintendent. Although a civilian agency, many military officers served the office; army officers tended to perform the topographic surveys, while naval officers conducted the hydrographic work.
The Survey’s history was greatly affected by larger events in American history. During the Civil War, while the agency was led by Alexander Dallas Bache (Benjamin Franklin’s grandson), the Survey provided the Union army with charts. Survey personnel accompanied blockading squadrons in the field, making new charts in the process.
After the Civil War, as the country was settled, the Coast Survey sent parties to make new maps, employing scientists and naturalists like John Muir and Louis Agassiz in the process. By 1926, the Survey expanded their purview further to include aeronautical charts. During the Great Depression, the Coast Survey employed over 10,000 people and in the Second World War the office oversaw the production of 100 million maps for the Allies. Since 1970, the Coastal and Geodetic Survey has formed part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and it is still producing navigational products and services today.