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Last Friday, November 1, one of the Bureau’s most distinguished physicists, Dr. Herbert Grove Dorsey, retired from active service. Dr. Dorsey entered the Bureau in 1926 as Principal Electrical Engineer, after teaching physics at the Universities of Maine, Florida, and Cornell, and as a research engineer for Western Electric Co., National Cash Register Co., Hammond Research Laboratory and Submarine Signal Co.

Dr. Dorsey’s achievements are so well known that it seems superfluous to list them here. He improved the telephone mechanical amplifier to such an extent that it made speech possible through several in tandem, and was the first person to talk from New York to Denver. He invented the dynamic loud speaker, now used in more than 20 million radio broadcast receivers. He invented the fathometer, and developed RAR on the Atlantic coast by floating hydrophone stations and Sono Radio Buoys.

During his many years service with the Bureau he has been intensely active in developing sonic methods for application to hydrographic surveying, and has revolutionized the method of hydrography in exposed coastal areas. During World War II, he was actively engaged in the development of radar and shoran methods as well as submarine detection. As a result of the studies, these methods are now being adapted to hydrographic and geodetic surveying.

His famous laboratory on the second floor is known to all, with its mysterious wires, little red lights, and the constant clicking of the fathometer.

Dr. Dorsey is the author of numerous scientific articles on magnetism, expansion, electronics, optics, hydrographic surveying, etc., and is a member of many scientific organizations. He has given many talks before various distinguished groups and over the radio.

Not only in science has Dr. Dorsey taken a keen interest. At the outbreak of the war, he started giving his pint of blood to the Red Cross, and no doubt would have been continuing it to this day, if a bicycle accident had not publicized the fact that he was a wee bit past the age limit. However, he has given 17 pints to this worthy cause, and it was his example that served as an inspiration to so many of his fellow workers in the Bureau.

Dr. Dorsey claims his physical fitness and youthful appearance (he can put many a youngster in his teens to shame by the way he takes those steps two at a time) is due to his daily exercise. Twice a day Dr. Dorsey is seen peddling his famous bike to and from the office in all kinds of weather, his cap pulled down securely over his head, and his feet going a mile a minute.

Although the recipient of many awards and degrees, Dr. Dorsey’s modesty and friendliness have always remained unchanged. He is always ready to explain the mysterious workings of his fathometer to the high school boy writing his first theme on physics or give a lecture to some group of scientists from abroad. His smile and personality have endeared him to all those who know him, and his quick light step and friendly “hullo” will be much missed by all.

In keeping with his nature, he flatly refused to have any fuss or ceremony during his last day of official duty, and slipped quietly away after saying good-bye to his friends and co-workers. However, it’s a safe bet that Dr. Dorsey’s days of retirement won’t be those of leisure.

Our best wishes for your happiness, Dr. Dorsey. The Bureau is proud to count you among its many distinguished employees. [Dr. Herbert Grove Dorsey was the inventor of the Fathometer, Patent No. 1,667,540 issued April 24, 1928.]


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

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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