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NOAA'S HERITAGE

In order to understand the consolidated agency, one must look first at the history and programs of its component organizations. In the case of NOAA, those histories are wide and varied and in one case, represent some of the oldest activities of the Department of Commerce -- dating back to 1807. The following sections will provide some insight into the major programs/organizations which, in October 1970, became NOAA.

Environmental Science Services Administration

The Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA), the largest single piece of the new NOAA, was itself the product of a reorganization plan. In Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1965, President Johnson proposed the consolidation of two long-standing agencies of the Department of Commerce -- the Coast and Geodetic Survey and the Weather Bureau. In addition, the new ESSA was to include the Central Radio Propagation Laboratory of the National Bureau of Standards. President Johnson's May 13, 1965 message to Congress noted that:

The new Administration will then provide a single national focus for our efforts to describe, understand, and predict the state of the oceans, the state of the lower and upper atmosphere, and the size and shape of the earth.

As described by President Johnson and, then Director of the Weather Bureau, Dr. Robert White, the creation of ESSA:

- responded to an increasing national need for adequate warnings of severe natural hazards (e.g., tornadoes, hurricanes, floods);

- responded to technological advances in capabilities to observe the physical environment and communicate and process environmental data; and

- would enable scientists to investigate the physical environment as a "scientific whole" rather than a "collection of separate and distinct fields of scientific interest". [5]

The creation of ESSA was the result of deliberations by a special committee established in May 1964 to review the environmental science service activities and responsibilities of the Department of Commerce. The committee, comprised of the heads of the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), the Weather Bureau, and the Coast and Geodetic Survey and supported by a panel of respected scientists from industry and academia, was established by Dr. Herbert Hollomon, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Science and Technology and reflect [Ed. reflected] the Department's longstanding commitment to management efficiency, the effective provision of quality public services. [6]


Coast and Geodetic Survey [7]

Often referred to as the Nation's oldest scientific agency, the "Survey of the Coast" was established on February 10, 1807 by President Thomas Jefferson. The increasing importance of waterborne Commerce to the new Nation prompted Jefferson to sign legislation to "cause a survey to be taken of coasts of the United States." [8] Using officers detailed from the Navy (for the seagoing portion of charting) and from the Army Topographical Bureau, the "Survey" conducted its early activities under the U.S. Department of Treasury where it shared vessels with the Revenue Cutter Service, forerunner of the Coast Guard. The Survey has a rich and interesting history but, since the focus of this volume is recent Department history (post World War II), the early years will be represented by the following highlights of significant events:

• 1816 -- Ferdinand Hassler, first Superintendent of the Survey begins geodetic work to lay the foundation for accurate surveys.

• 1818-1832 -- Survey of the Coast operations suspended; survey work performed by the Navy. During this period, Ferdinand Hassler became the first head of the newly created Office of Weights and Measures. This Office was incorporated in the Survey until, in the early 20th century, it became the National Bureau of Standards.

• 1834 -- first hydrographic survey along the south shore of Long Island;

• 1836-1838 -- the re-named "U.S. Coast Survey" conducts its first topographic surveys of the coasts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

• 1839 -- first nautical chart produced (Newark Bay).

• 1840's -- introduction of the first automatic recording tide gage.

• 1853 -- first issue of the Survey's "Tide Prediction Tables" published.

• 1875 -- Survey began publishing "Coast Pilots" with critical navigation information that cannot be portrayed on charts.

• 1878 -- Survey's name changed to "Coast and Geodetic Survey" to reflect the role of geodesy in the agency's work.

• 1882 -- William Ferrel, a survey mathematician, built an analog tide predicting machine that could produce a curve of future tide motions (used by the Survey until 1914).

• 1901 -- the Survey established a standard datum for the U.S. that provided a unified survey reference system for mapping and engineering work.

• 1904 -- weighted wire-drag surveys introduced in hydrography to reveal the depth and position of submerged rocks and other obstructions.

• 1907 -- Survey completed a line of geodetic levels across the continental U.S. which involved 33,000 miles of first-order levels and the establishment of 13,000 geodetic benchmarks.

• 1914 -- Survey's Rollin A. Harris and E.G. Fischer develop a new tide predicting machine which traced a continuous curve showing tide levels for each day of the year and indicated the time and height of high and low water; this "technical marvel" remained the principal tide predicting device until 1966 when replaced by computers.

• 1917 -- legislation formally creates a Commissioned Officers Corps to meet the Survey's need and expand the strength of the Navy and Marine Corps. Originally created as a specialized body of geodetic and hydrographic engineers, the NOAA Corps now includes biologists, meteorologists, oceanographers and other scientific disciplines. One of the Nation's seven uniformed services, this Corps of scientists and engineers supports the activities of all elements of the Agency. [9] It is interesting to note that in1972, the NOAA Corps became the first of the U.S. uniformed services to recruit women on the same basis as men.

• World War I -- Survey's ships and more than half of its personnel transferred to the Navy and Army to support the war effort.

• 1926 -- Survey given responsibility for charting the Nation's airways and publishing aeronautical charts.

• 1927 -- North American Datum established making it possible to connect all surveys and maps on a uniform base.

World War II placed unprecedented demands on the services of the Coast and Geodetic Survey. During the war, nautical chart production increased 10-fold, and aeronautical chart production increased a phenomenal 25-fold. Again, more than half of the Survey's commissioned officers and many civilian employees served in the military. Also, three of the Survey's nine major ships were ordered into duty with the Navy. In fact, the Coast and Geodetic Survey ship Pathfinder narrowly survived a kamikaze hit in the Pacific and was ultimately scuttled at Bataan in 1942 after taking two hits in the Japanese attack against the Philippines.



Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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