Captain Albert E. Theberge, NOAA Corps (ret.)
NOAA Central Library
November 1, 2007, 7:00 p.m.
Mathematical Association of America Carriage House
1781 Church Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Jointly sponsored with the Embassy
Vin d'honneur to follow
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This year, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is celebrating the 200th anniversary of its oldest ancestor agency, the United States Survey of the Coast. This organization was first headed by the Swiss immigrant Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, a man of immense talent, vision, and energy. Although Hassler experienced many personal setbacks and vicissitudes in establishing the Coast Survey, ultimately his vision and philosophy prevailed as he established the first U.S. federal civilian science agency and developed the model and philosophy for virtually the whole U.S. physical science infrastructure. By the time of his death in 1843, he had built the foundation of a thriving science establishment and imbued U.S. science with his love of accuracy, precision, and scientific integrity.
In the years following Hassler's death, Alexander Dallas Bache built on Hassler’s foundation to make the Coast Survey into the foremost U.S. scientific agency of the mid-nineteenth century. Under Bache, other Swiss immigrants continued to make major contributions to science, including tidal studies and early deep sea oceanography by Louis Francois de Pourtales and first studies of the Florida reefs by Louis Agassiz, which was followed in later years by the great contributions to ocean science of his son, Alexander.
Ferdinand Hassler's oftentimes overlooked and sometimes misunderstood contributions to U.S. science will be reviewed, as will be the contributions of other Swiss immigrants to the scientific work of the Coast Survey and ultimately the place of the Coast Survey in U.S. science.
Albert E. (Skip) Theberge has worked for NOAA and its predecessor agency since 1969, starting out as an ensign in what came to be the NOAA Corps. He served on several NOAA ships and as chief of geodetic field parties working throughout the United States. He retired from the Corps, as a captain, in 1995. Following his retirement, he became involved with the NOAA Central Library, one of the great science libraries in the world. He has written a history of the U.S. Coast Survey, 1807-1867.