Scientific advances between 1844 and the start of WWII brought efficiencies to
topographic and hydrographic surveying, increases in the amount of data collected, and
increases in data precision and data accuracy. New materials such as invar steel; new
machines and devices like electric motors, gasoline engines, airplanes, aerial cameras,
lanterns, the telegraph, wireless radio, and recording acoustic depth finders; and new
methods such as wire-drag surveys, photographic surveys, and radio-acoustic ranging, all
helped the survey do more, and do so more accurately, in less time, and at a lower unit
As noted by Robinson, ªinstrument development ¼ acted as an indirect stimulant
to the production of more accurate charts (Robinson 1952, 368).º As instruments
developed greater accuracy, precision, and speed, charts kept up. Shalowitz also ties
together charts and technology, stating that, ª[p]rogressive improvement in the nautical
charts is, in the main, coextensive with the development of systematic surveying and of
surveying techniques, including instrumentation and equipment (1957, 292).º
The C&GS has always been relatively quick to adopt technological advances. As
one annual report explains,ª[w]e have found by long experience that our work can be
done better, quicker, and cheaper almost in proportion as we keep abreast of scientific
research in metallurgy, electricity, optics, etc., and appropriate to our use such advances
as will be of benefit (U.S. Department of Commerce et al. 1926, 5).º One example of this
is the rapid adoption of long-distance communication tools for improving the speed with
which the survey was able to make longitude determinations for new locations. The
survey first used the telegraph to determine longitude in 1846 when it began sending time
signals between telegraph stations (U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1847, 32). The Trans-
Atlantic telegraph cable was successfully used for determining longitude across the
ocean, with the result applied to the survey's charts in 1877 (U.S. Treasury Department et
al. 1880, 64). Very soon after wireless telegraphy was invented, it was also used by the
survey in tests for longitude determination (U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1903, 12).
All of these advances served to generate data with greater accuracy in less time than
Even inventions like the electric light and invar steel helped increase the speed
and accuracy of data acquisition. The 1887 annual report noted that a battery-powered
electric light was acquired for use by field surveyors. It was expected to improve night-
time readings of micrometers (U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1889a, 90). Use was
limited until dry cell batteries could be used instead of liquid batteries (U.S. Department
of Commerce and Labor et al. 1905, 100). Invar steel, which expands and contracts less
due to temperature changes than regular steel, was invented in 1896 (Collier 2002). It was
quickly adopted by the C&GS in topographic surveying for measuring tapes, which led to
more accurate distance measurements in less time (U.S. Department of Commerce and
Labor et al. 1906, 101).
Electricity provision improved during the course of the survey's first 100 years.
Its first use in the survey was in supplying current for electrotyping via wet cell batteries.
Electric light was later used in photography (replacing sunlight for photolithography) and
general illumination of the survey's offices. Florescent tubes were installed in the
engraving division's light tables in the mid-1930s. Electricity also came to power the
Remote measurement was also made possible by electricity. In 1901, the survey
first installed tide gauges that could send readings over a wire to a remote recording
device, instead of only recording on-site (U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1902, 223).
This reduced the cost of collecting such measurements and made the information
available more quickly.
Photography for data acquisition was also adopted by the survey relatively
quickly. A boundary survey for Alaska was sped to completion in the 1890s using
photography, for example. The C&GS began using aerial photography as a source of
information for chart revision in 1919 and for surveying wetlands in 1924 (U.S.
Department of Commerce et al. 1920a, 86; Collier 2002). The C&GS also designed and
was the first to use a nine-lens aerial camera, seeing good results from its first use in 1936
(Landen 1952). It served to reduce the need for ground control in areas that were difficult
to access, particularly wetlands in the southeast.
Technology also advanced hydrographic surveys, not just topographic surveys.
Mechanical soundings machines using piano wire, in use by 1875 (Theberge 1989),
increased the speed with which soundings could be made in deep water, and allowed
soundings to be taken in mid-ocean for the first time. Pressure-tube sounding devices
were a further improvement by 1890 (Theberge 1989). These advances increased the
amount of data available to the survey, but did not lead to changes in chart design.
The wire-drag, however, did lead to chart design changes. Following examples
from other agencies, the C&GS began experimenting with a ªchannel and harbor sweepº
in 1902, dragging a pipe below the water at a set depth to make sure there were no
obstructions (U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor et al. 1903, 1007). In a few years,
this had been modified into a wire up to 15,000 feet long, supported by buoys (U.S.
Department of Commerce et al. 1916b, 36). It created the necessity of adding, to some
charts, a way of showing what areas had been swept, and to what depth. Obstructions that
are found are shown as usual, but on some charts the cleared areas are overlain with
green (U.S. Department of Commerce et al. 1924, 36).
The advances mentioned are only a tiny handful among many such improvements
that allowed the survey to increase the rate and accuracy of data acquisition. Not all of
the new technologies led directly to changes on the survey's finished charts, but the
necessity of dealing with the subsequent increase in volume of raw data did eventually
force the C&GS to make changes to the charts.
The methods and techniques used in the Washington office to create nautical
charts from the survey data also were also impacted by technological changes. While the
Drawing Division only had to deal with the increase in the quantity and accuracy of
survey data (and learn to incorporate photographic input, particularly aerial photos), the
artisans who create the finished charts had to transition from engraving on copper, to
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extensive use of chemical etching, then to engraving on glass negatives, and then to
scribing on plastic.
Chart production began as two separate tasks. At first, the cartographers would
draw the chart on paper, with the engravers creating a finished version of the chart on
copperplate. The drawings were not considered finished products because they did not
have the fineness of artistry and detail that the engravers put into the work, and at times
the drawing staff did not completely fill in areas. Gradually, however, the work became
more closely intertwined as reproduction methods became more flexible and quality
prints could be created from drawings.
One technical advance mentioned in the 1845 annual report was the ability of
electrotyping to make a joined copy of multiple smaller copper plates, allowing the
engraving of a single chart to be distributed to multiple engravers (U.S. Treasury
Department et al. 1856a, 369). An advance reported in 1877 was that of creating inset
maps by transferring harbor charts onto smaller scale charts in the same way that multiple
plate pieces were joined to create a whole (U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1880, 2), as
seen on E1200 1881.
The office began to use photography to reduce the scale of drawings by 1854, but
it was not put into full production until 1859 (U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1855,
1860). Survey sheets came to the drawing office at a large scale, and were compiled into
completed drawings. These were typically at a larger scale than final charts. For example,
a chart drawn at 1:10,000 could be reduced to a publication scale of 1:40,000 before
being sent to the engraving room. Using photography to reduce the scale of drawings
saved the Drawing Office many hours of manual re-drawing and was also more accurate
(U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1861; Theberge 2001).
All of these new techniques, and others, served to decrease the length of time it
took to create a new chart, as well as its cost. In the earliest years a finished chart could
take up to four years to be engraved, at a cost of $3,000-$6,000 in nominal dollars (U.S.
Treasury Department et al. 1852). For charts completed in 1920, the average time in
production was 27 months at a cost of $1,771. In 1926 it was 8 ½ months and $1,395
(U.S. Department of Commerce et al. 1926, 4).
Figure 11 shows the relatively constant rate of growth in the number of nautical
chart titles available for sale by the C&GS, as noted in the annual reports (data was not
available in all reports). There is an inflection around 1860 where the rate of increase
grows slightly, but overall the chart shows remarkably constant growth throughout this
time period. The total number of charts available is the number of separate chart numbers
or titles listed for sale in the agency's chart catalog. It is affected by the addition of new
finished charts, and retirement of older charts.
1844 1849 1854 1859 1864 1869 1874 1879 1884 1889 1894 1899 1904 1909 1914 1919 1924 1929 1934 1939 1944
Figure 11. Number of chart titles available, 1844-1945. (Annual Reports)
In the early days of the survey, all lettering on the charts was engraved by hand
(in reverse). Rules were established in the office and standard lettering specimens created
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by 1854 (U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1855, 207). The author of a report on engraving
in the Coast Survey mentions that the French War Depot has established instructions for
lettering maps, providing the suggestion that the survey's rules are based on the French
rules (U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1855, 207).
In anticipation of the widespread adoption of photographic reduction, an 1860
report again emphasized the importance of consistent lettering. ªA uniform system of
lettering, in the size and character of letters used, will tend to a more ready understanding
of the maps. The size and style of figures for soundings is a question of mechanical
practicability which is already undergoing some tests¼ (U.S. Treasury Department et al.
1861, 222).º A sketch of the ªsystem and styles of lettering used on the Coast Survey's
chartsº is included in the annual report for 1871
(U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1874,
In the annual report for 1900, one of the draftsmen of the C&GS wrote a report on
the Proportions and Spacing of Roman Letters (U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1901,
485-94). It is a highly detailed survey of C&GS lettering practice, with recommendations
for future practice. It shows the importance placed on quality hand-lettering at the time.
Standard specimen sheets were available the following year and in 1902, a standard plate
of ªslanting Roman letters was completed (U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1903, 198).º
Additional plates of both upright and slanting letters were finished in 1903 (U.S.
Department of Commerce and Labor et al. 1903, 176). These plates were used to create
titles and notes on preliminary charts via photographic transfer, saving the time of
manually drawing them on the field sheets. They were also used in wax transfer to the
copper plates, saving the engraver the time of creating each letter from scratch every time
(U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1903, 200). In a sense, this was the precursor to rub-off
letters and paste-up type.
Separately producing the text for charts on a small hand printing press was
mentioned in 1928, which ªcompletes in minutes that which formerly required hours
Sketches in annual reports are not currently available from NOAA.
(U.S. Department of Commerce et al. 1928a, 6).º By 1936, all hand-engraving of
lettering on copper had ceased (U.S. Department of Commerce et al. 1937, 127).
One C&GS staffer noted in 1936 that ª[c]loser attention has been given in recent
years to the art of lettering maps by the use of special types for different features. The use
of variations in Roman and italic or light block letters as designed for the better presses,
has contributed both to the classification of unrelated groups of material, and to the
artistic effect of the map or chart (U.S. Department of Commerce et al. 1936a).º Lettering
was still done either by hand or through the photographic manipulation of standard
alphabets. Either way, the lettering was supposed to be standardized, with particular
styles used for particular kinds of information.
This history of lettering and typography on C&GS charts demonstrates another
venue where technological advances were adopted to speed chart production while
reducing unit cost. After a period where artistry was a primary goal, a decision point was
reached within the survey were artistry gave way to usability and standardization, and
standardization was abetted by mechanical and photomechanical aids. This helps
understand the details of typography noted throughout Chapter 4, with introductions of
new production methods having an impact on the lettering. There were more
opportunities for inconsistencies between engravers before rules were established, and
especially before standard lettering plates were developed to pre-form the letters for the
engravers. With the adoption of photographic methods and use of a press for creating
text, opportunities for inconsistency of letterforms decreased further, although decisions
about abbreviation and capitalization still had to be made.
Over the course of the first one hundred years of chart production by the C&GS,
their method of printing charts made a transition from intaglio printing of engraved
copper plates using a hand-powered flatbed printer, to powered rotary offset
photolithographic presses (see Table 5 on page 37), speeding production up from, at best,
a dozen impressions per hour to several thousand impressions per hour.
Lithography was initially dismissed as giving unsatisfactory printing resultsÐ
specifically, the detailed lines of copperplate engraving did not reproduce clearly. The
annual report of 1857 deplored the fact that the maps in the report had to be lithographed
due to lack of manpower in the engraving office, calling the technique the ªmost
undesirable mode (U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1858, 202).º Rather than adjust the
content to fit the capabilities of the printing method, the C&GS instead, for many years,
used lithography only for printing preliminary charts, reserving the slower but higher-
quality intaglio printing for finished charts (U.S. Treasury Department et al. 1900a, 5-6).
It is not clear if the finished/preliminary dichotomy applied to color lithographic printing
done on contract by commercial printers, or just to printing done with the C&GS's
single-color lithographic press, used prior to the acquisition of a two-color press in 1917.
Limitations in the production capacity of copperplate printing and lithography's
superior ease of printing in color (and the impact this had on area fill symbols) led the
agency to slowly adopt lithographic printing for finished charts. A major chart re-design
in the second decade of the twentieth century took advantage of lithography's strengths:
multiple colors and applying ink to areas, not just lines. By 1924, the Superintendent
reported that ª¼ the Coast and Geodetic Survey has completed a gradual transition from
copper plate to lithographic printing (Jones 1924, 26).º Some very low-demand charts
were still printed from copper as late as 1930, though (Adams 1936).
Figure 12 shows the survey's record of printing and distribution of nautical charts,
as reported in annual reports. Charts printed by copperplate press are distinguished from
those printed by lithography, where information is available. Charts distributed to outside
users (sales agents, other military branches, and free distribution to libraries, etc.) are
shown as an overlay. Aeronautical charts, printed by the C&GS after 1927, are not
One reason cited for switching to lithographic printing was the distortion imparted
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