Nicholas Hunter Heck was born
at Heckton Mills, a small settlement on the Susquehanna River
six miles north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on September 1,
1882. He died at Washington, D.C., December 21, 1953, at the
age of seventy-one. Heck was the son of John Lewis and Mary
Frances (Hays) Heck. The ancestral Hecks migrated to America
from Germany in 1753. The village of Captain Heck’s birth
was named for his grandfather. Several of his ancestors served
with the Continental Army in the American War for Independence.
Heck’s early education was in private
schools at Harrisburg, whence he entered Lehigh University.
Despite an attack of typhoid fever, he was graduated with his
class in 1903 with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He remained
another year at Lehigh and, in 1904, received the degree of
Civil Engineer. Subsequently, he achieved further academic recognition
by his alma mater which conferred an honorary Doctor of Science
upon him in 1930, and by Fordham which awarded him the Doctorate
in Science (honorary) in 1941. Other honors included Phi Beta
Kappa and Sigma Xi. The American Geophysical Union presented
Heck with the William Bowie Medal in 1942. Parenthetically,
William Bowie was also a Lehigh alumnus. Heck served as President
of the Seismological Society of America from 1937 to 1939, and
he was President of the District [Washington] Philosophical
Society and the District [Washington] Chapter of the Society
of Sigma Xi and held memberships in the Federal and Cosmos Clubs,
both at Washington.
Besides honorary and nontechnical societies,
Captain Heck was a member or fellow of the Seismological Society
of America, The International Geodetic and Geophysical Union
, the Washington Academy of Science, the American Society of
Civil Engineers, the Society of American Military Engineers,
the National Geographic Society, the American Geophysical Union,
and the Geological Society of America (1935).
Heck’s professional career commenced
officially immediately after finishing college, when he joined
the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey with which organization
he served continuously for forty years until his retirement.
For twenty of those years he was Chief of the Division of Geomagnetism
and Seismology, subsequently designated the Division of Geophysics.
His technical interests, though dominated by
geophysics, were broadly distributed within that area of investigation.
In seismology, he carried out research on the energy consumed
in the production of earthquakes. His work on acoustics contributed
particularly on the velocity of sound in water at depths as
great as five miles. He developed ways for determining ship
locations and water depth by radio acoustics. [Sic: he developed
radio acoustic ranging, the first non-visual means of navigation
developed in human history; he introduced acoustic sounding
into the C&GS in 1923 and helped develop velocity tables
for use in establishing “true depths.] Captain Heck contributed
to methods of magnetic compass compensation. In the realm of
oceanography, Heck made some of his best-known additions to
science. Cruising off the coasts of Maine and Alaska and in
Caribbean water, he developed revolutionary electronic techniques
applicable to oceanic surveying. His (1906-1916) work with wire-drag
methods for locating dangerous, submerged rocks and other obstructions
to navigation was highly significant, particularly in its application
during the First World War.
Doctor Heck served with the United States Navy
in both American and European waters, particularly in the vicinity
of the British Isles, during World War I. He was commissioned
successively Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander and Captain.
Much of his time while assigned to the Navy was devoted to research
dealing with the detection of submerged submarines.
Captain Heck never married. His most immediate
surviving relative is a brother, Mr. Lewis Heck of Washington,
D.C. Mr. Heck, also a Lehigh alumnus, is with the United States
Coast and Geodetic Survey. Doctor Heck never forgot Lehigh,
as is evidenced by visits to the campus and lectures on seismology
and allied fields. He contributed to the Lehigh Alumni Bulletin.
His long and diversified list of publications speaks far more
eloquently than any memorial can of his versatility and ability.
Captain Heck’s name may be added to the list of distinguished
Pennsylvanians who have contributed to the advancement of the
sciences of the earth.
Offprint; Proceedings Volume of the Geological Society of American
Annual Report for 1954. Pp. 111-118, Pl. 8. July 1955.
Captain Nicholas H. Heck, retired Scientific Assistant
to the Director, and former Chief of the Division of Terrestrial
Magnetism and Seismology (now Division of Geophysics), passed
away here December 21, 1953, at Mount Vernon Hospital. Services
were held at Ft. Myer Chapel and interment in Arlington Cemetery
on December 24. Honorary pall-bearers were Admirals Studds, Knox,
Colbert, and Hawley; Captains Hoskinson, Roberts, Borden, Garner,
Hemple, Luce, and Rude; and Mr. Raymond Swick.
Captain Heck was born in Heckton, Pennsylvania in 1882. He was
graduated from Lehigh University with an A.B. Degree in 1903,
and received a degree in civil engineering from the same university
the following year and an honorary ScD. Degree in 1930. Fordham
University also conferred an honorary ScD. Degree upon him in
Captain Heck entered the commissioned service of the Bureau
in 1904, and served continuously for more than 41 years. During
that period he commanded several of the Survey's largest ships
and distinguished himself in several scientific and engineering
fields. He made significant contributions to the development
of wire drag and the initial development of radio-acoustic ranging,
and became an international authority on seismology and terrestrial
magnetism. He retired from active service in 1945.
Among the many publications to his credit is a popular book
entitled Earthquakes. He was author of numerous Bureau publications
on the subjects of wire drag, compensation of the magnetic compass,
velocity of sound in sea water, radio-acoustic method of determining
position in hydrography, and earthquake history of the United
States. He also wrote many other articles relating to magnetism
and seismology which were published in this country and abroad.
He was also a member of many professional societies. He served
terms as president of the Seismological Society of America,
the Philosophical Society of Washington, D.C., the Seismological
Association of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics,
and the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Sigma Xi. He was also
a member of the Washington Academy of Science, the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society
of Civil Engineers, Society of American Military Engineers,
Cosmos Club, and the Geological Society of America.
During World I he was assigned to the United States Navy and
assisted in research projects in London, England and New London,
Connecticut for developing means of detecting submarines by
underwater sound waves. It was from these studies that he was
able to participate in the subsequent development of our present
system of hydro surveys.
THE BUZZARD, 1/5/1954