A huge--and hugely informative set of charts of Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, in a rarely-found issue on heavy chart paper.
The set, comprising Charts 4, 5 and 6 of a 6-sheet set, depicts the lower part of Chesapeake Bay as far north as the entrance to the Potomac. A trove of information, the charts include immensely detailed soundings; navigational hazards; navigational aids such as lighthouses and light ships; and sailing directions. Also provided is detailed topographical and cartographical information on the adjacent coastal regions.
This set is remarkable for having been printed on heavy paper, clearly intended as a working charts. Most examples of these and other Coast Survey charts that appear on the market were printed on very thin stock, folded, and trimmed for binding into government documents. The excellent condition of this set suggests that it never made it to sea.
The Office of the Coast Survey is the oldest scientific organization in the Federal Government. It dates to 1807, when President Jefferson established it for the purpose of fostering maritime commerce. The website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers this tribute:
These men and women (the Coast Survey hired women professionals as early as 1845) helped push back the limits of astronomic measures, designed new and more accurate observational instruments for sea and land surveying, developed new techniques for the mathematical analysis of the mountains of data obtained by the field parties, and further refined techniques of error analysis and mitigation. It was the Coast Survey that led American science away from the older descriptive methods to the modern methods of statistical analysis and the prediction of future states of natural phenomena based on mathematical modeling. Virtually all branches of science, including the social and biological sciences, have adapted similar methodologies and similar techniques in their quest for scientific truth. But, in the United States, it should be remembered that it was the Coast Survey that first trod that path.
Each Coast Survey chart represented an immense undertaking. For example, these charts of the Chesapeake present data gathered beginning in 1843 by separate parties focusing on terrestrial topography, triangulation, hydrography, and astronomical and magnetic observations. Their work was overseen by Edmund Blunt Jr., son of the famed New York chart publisher and First Assistant to Coast Survey Superintendent A.D. Bache. More than a dozen contributors are given credit on the charts, a figure including neither the many lower-ranking members of the survey parties, nor the assistant engravers, printers, etc.
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.