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GEORGE S. BLAKE

george s. blake
Coast and Geodetic Survey steamer BLAKE - in service 1874-1905. Note cable leading from bow, ship anchored in 600 fathoms.
This vessel pioneered deepsea anchoring under John Elliott Pillsbury.
Current surveys in the Windward Passage.


Steamer, length 148 feet, beam 26.5 feet, draft 11.7 feet. Built by E. J. Fardy in Baltimore, Maryland in 1874 at a cost of $84,600. In service 1874-1905 in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea. This vessel and the Fish Commission steamer ALBATROSS are the only two United States oceanographic vessels commemorated by having their names inscribed in the façade of the oceanographic museum at Monaco. The BLAKE earned this distinction by being the most innovative oceanographic vessel of the Nineteenth Century.

Lieutenant Commanding Charles Sigsbee, USN, modified the Thomson wireline sounding machine which became known as the Sigsbee sounding machine, a piano-wire sounding instrument that became the de facto standard for much of the world’s deep ocean sounding vessels until the advent of acoustic sounding methods.
Alexander Agassiz introduced the use of steel cable for deep ocean dredging and other oceanographic purposes, replacing forever hemp rope for virtually all over the side operations. Under Lieutenant Commanding John Elliott Pillsbury, USN, deep ocean anchoring techniques were perfected and the BLAKE anchored at one time in over 2200 fathoms while conducting Gulf Stream observations. Pillsbury’s Gulf Stream studies are considered among the best series of oceanographic observations made in the Nineteenth Century.

The first truly modern bathymetric map of a deep sea area was made from BLAKE soundings conducted in the Gulf of Mexico and the first three-dimensional view of the seafloor was made from these soundings, soundings off the Atlantic seaboard, and soundings made by the BLAKE and ALBATROSS in the Caribbean Sea. The ship is commemorated by the book, “Three Cruises of the Blake,” written by Alexander Agassiz, and by the naming of Blake Plateau and Blake Spur off the southeastern coast of the United States. In addition, Sigsbee Escarpment in the Gulf of Mexico is named for the commanding officer of the Blake during its Gulf of Mexico work. The ship was named for the naval officer Commodore George Smith Blake (1803-1871), a senior naval officer serving under Ferdinand Hassler in the 1830’s. He was connected with the Coast Survey from 1837-1848 and was Superintendent of the Naval Academy from 1858-1865.



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

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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