human progress within the present century there has been no greater marvel
than the operations of the Coast Survey. We are apt to lose sight of
the perils encountered by our early navigators, when, without charts to
guide them over the great highway of waters, and in vessels poorly
equipped, they "hove to" at night as a matter of safety.
Whenever a disaster occurred, no telegraphic agency communicated the
harrowing details to the remotest corners of the earth ere the next roll
of the sun. Many a gallant craft, drifted from her course by the
infinite maze of currents produced by the tides, the Gulf Stream, and the
winds combined (now threaded out and mapped), of which mariners then had
no conception, was cast helpless upon shores bristling with every form of
danger--never to be heard of more. The various steps through which
knowledge of the ocean has been acquired, and the hazards of ocean travel
diminished, are illuminated headlands in the history of the world.....
It finally became
apparent to the powers upon this new soil that, as an economical
necessity, a national duty must be performed. The United States,
with a foreign commerce of six hundred millions of dollars, more or less,
in which some twenty thousand vessels were engaged, employing upward of
two hundred thousand seamen, to say nothing of the coasting traffic which
involved three times as many more vessels and men, and of the passenger
ships with their precious burdens entering and leaving our ports from
every part of the habitable world, was roused into natural solicitude for
life and property.
It was in 1807 that
the first effort was made to establish a national Coast Survey.
Jefferson, in his message to Congress, recommended it; and Congress
cautiously appropriated fifty thousand dollars. Secretary Albert
Gallatin then addressed circulars to the principal scientific men of the
period, soliciting opinions as to the best methods of conducting the
proposed work. Numerous plans were submitted. That of
Ferdinand R. Hasslar, a native of Switzerland, was finally adopted.
He had accomplished a trigonometrical survey of his own country, and,
fresh from scientific researches, was esteemed well fitted to superintend
the execution of his plan. His purpose was to determine the
geographical position of certain prominent points along the coast by
astronomical and trigonometrical methods, and to connect these points with
lines so as to form a basis upon which the nautical survey of the
channels, shoals, and shore approaches could be made.
The magnitude of the
task compelled special preparations. In 1810 Hasslar was sent to
Europe to procure instruments, standards of measures, and other
necessaries. The war followed, and he was detained in England until
1815. Other delays, naturally attending new enterprises, prevented
operations until 1817, when a beginning was effected near the harbor of
New York. Before much had been accomplished, or the first annual
report drafted, Congress, in blank dismay at the pressure upon the public
finances through the effects of the war, abandoned the support of the
work. There was a lapse of ten years, during which knowledge of the
Atlantic coast increased only through detached surveys of a few of its
most important harbors by the navy and topographical engineers of the
army, and through the services of Edmund W. Blunt and his sons.
finally wakened from its long nap by Secretary Southard, and after much
discussion the Coast Survey was re-established, with Hasslar at its
head. He was authorized to employ astronomers and other scientists,
in addition to the officers in the military and naval service. The
real work commenced in 1832. But Hasslar was hampered and
embarrassed continually by limited appropriations. His operations
were not of that character easily seen; Congress wondered continually what
he was about. While he was systematizing methods and training
assistants, Congress was shrugging its shoulders and clamoring because
results were inadequate to the expenditure. Hasslar was an eccentric
man of irascible disposition and great independence of character. On
one occasion a committee from Congress waited upon him in his office to
inspect his work.
"You come to 'spect
my vork, eh? Vat you know 'bout my vork? Vat you going to 'spect?"
conscious of their ignorance, tried to smooth his ruffled temper by an
explanation, which only made matters worse.
notting at all 'bout my vork. How can you 'spect my vork, ven you
knows notting? Get out of here; you in my vay. Congress be von
big vool to send you to 'spect my vork. I 'ave no time to vaste vith
such as knows notting vat I am 'bout. Go back to Congress and tell
dem vat I say."
The committee did
"go back to Congress" and report, amid uproarious laughter, the
result of their inspecting interview.
When Hon. Levi
Woodbury was Secretary of the Treasury, under Jackson, he and Hasslar
could not agree as to the compensation to be allowed to the
superintendent, and Hasslar was referred to the President at whose
discretion the law placed the settlement of the dispute.
Hasslar, it appears the Secretary and you can not agree about this
matter," remarked Jackson, when Hasslar had stated his case in his
usual emphatic style.
"No Sir, ve
"Well, how much
do you really think you ought to have?"
Hasslar, that is as much as Mr. Woodbury, my Secretary of Treasury,
screamed Hasslar, rising from his chair and vibrating his long forefinger
toward his own heart. "Pl-e-e-n-ty Mr. Voodburys, pl-e-e-n-ty
Mr. Everybodys, for Secretary of de Treasury; v-o-ne, v-o-ne Mr. Hasslar
for de head of de Coast Survey!" and erecting himself in a haughty
attitude, he looked down upon Jackson in supreme scorn at his daring
sympathizing with a character having some traits in common with his own,
granted Hasslar's demand, and at the close of the next cabinet meeting
told the joke, to the great entertainment of the gentlemen present.
Through his entire
administration Hasslar was obliged to combat with an immense amount of
unenlightened interference; and yet prior to his death in 1843 he had
pushed surveys from New York eastward to Point Judith, and southward as
far as Cape Henlopen.