Guide to Federal Records

Records of the Hydrographic Office


(Record Group 37)
1754-1971 (bulk 1837-1971)

Overview of Records Locations

Table of Contents

  • 37.1 Administrative History
  • 37.2 Hydrographic Records of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography and the Bureau of Navigation Created Prior to the Establishment of the Hydrographic Office 1842-63
  • 37.3 General Records of the Hydrographic Office 1754-1950 (bulk 1866-1945)
  • 37.4 Records of Subordinate Units of the Hydrographic Office 1837-1971
    • 37.4.1 Records of the Division of Sailing Directions
    • 37.4.2 Records of the Division of Marine (Ocean) Meteorology and its successor, the Division of Maritime Security
    • 37.4.3 Records of the Division of Chart Construction
    • 37.4.4 Records of the Division of Pilot Charts and Branch Offices
    • 37.4.5 Records of the Purchase and Supplies Section
    • 37.4.6 Records of the Division of Air Navigation
  • 37.5 Cartographic Records (General)
  • 37.6 Still Pictures (General)

37.1 Administrative History

Established: In the Bureau of Navigation, Department of the Navy, by an act of June 21, 1866 (14 Stat. 69).

Predecessor Agencies:

  • Depot of Charts and Instruments, Board of Naval Commissioners (1830-42)
  • Depot of Charts and Instruments, Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography (BuO&H, 1842-54)
  • U.S. Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Office (USNOHO), BuO&H (1854-62)
  • USNOHO, Bureau of Navigation (1862-66)

Transfers: To Bureau of Equipment, by General Order 72, Department of the Navy, May 9, 1898, implementing an act of May 4, 1898 (30 Stat. 374); to Bureau of Navigation, effective July 1, 1910, pursuant to an act of June 24, 1910 (36 Stat. 613), dispersing the functions of the Bureau of Equipment; to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OCNO) by EO 9126, April 8, 1942, made permanent by Reorganization Plan No. III of 1946, effective July 16, 1946; with the Department of the Navy, to the National Military Establishment (NME) by the National Security Act of 1947 (61 Stat. 495), July 26, 1947; with the Department of the Navy, to the Department of Defense (formerly NME) by the National Security Act Amendments of 1949 (63 Stat. 578), August 10, 1949.

Functions: Prepared and published maps, charts, and nautical books required in navigation.

Abolished: By an act of July 10, 1962 (76 Stat. 154).

Successor Agencies: U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office, OCNO (1962- 72); Defense Mapping Agency (DMA) Hydrographic Center (1972- ).

Finding Aids: Maizie Johnson and William J. Heynen, comps., Inventory of the Records of the Hydrographic Office, Inventory 4 (1971).

Security-Classified Records: This record group may include material that is security-classified.

Related Records: Record copies of publications of the Hydrographic Office in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.
Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, RG 24.
Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, RG 45.
Records of the U.S. Naval Observatory, RG 78.
General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1798-1947, RG 80. Records of the Defense Mapping Agency, RG 456.

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37.2 Hydrographic Records of the Bureau of Ordnance and
Hydrography and the Bureau of Navigation Created Prior to the
Establishment of the Hydrographic Office
1842-63

Textual Records: Letters sent to the Secretary of the Navy, the Depot of Charts and Instruments, commandants of navy yards, officers, navy agents, and assistant inspectors of ordnance, 1842-63. Letters received from navy agents, 1842-62; the Bureau of Construction and Equipment, 1852; the Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac Office, 1856-62; and assistant inspectors of ordnance, 1861-62. Registers of letters received, 1842-62.

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37.3 General Records of the Hydrographic Office
1754-1950 (bulk 1866-1945)

History: Depot of Charts and Instruments established in the Department of the Navy under the Board of Navy Commissioners by order of the Secretary of the Navy, December 6, 1830. Initially responsible only for maintaining the navy's stock of nautical charts and navigational instruments, depot began chart production in 1835 and astronomical observations and other original hydrographic work by 1838. Upon the abolishment of the Board of Navy Commissioners and the establishment of the bureau system by an act of August 31, 1842 (5 Stat. 579), depot transferred to BuO&H. Known variously and informally, 1844-54, as the United States Naval Observatory, the Hydrographical Office, the Depot of Charts, the National Observatory, and the Washington Observatory. Formally designated U.S. Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Office by order of the Secretary of the Navy, December 12, 1854, and transferred, effective August 31, 1862, to Bureau of Navigation, established as successor (in part) to BuO&H by an act of July 5, 1862 (12 Stat. 510). Separate Hydrographic Office established in Bureau of Navigation, 1866. See 37.1.

Textual Records: Letters sent, 1866-85. General letters received, 1867-85. Letters received from the Bureau of Navigation, 1866-86; navy yards, 1866-83; Hydrographic Office branch offices in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and San Francisco, 1883-85; the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1879-85; home and foreign naval stations, 1870-85; and foreign countries, 1868-85. Letters sent and received, 1885-1901, with registers and indexes. General correspondence, 1902-45, with indexes. Circulars issued, 1888-92. Records relating to the International Marine Conference, 1889. Records of a committee investigating the cost of armor plate manufacture, 1896. Records of the chairman of the Navigation Committee, 1928. Ship file, U.S.S. Supply, 1915-17 (in San Francisco). Technical publications and gazetteers relating to surveying, cartography, and climatology, 1938-50.

Charts: Published charts of early surveying expeditions, 1832-85 (69 items). Maury wind and current charts, 1848-56 (151 items). Spanish charts of the Philippines, 1754-1901 (196 items). Published wreck chart of the North Atlantic coast of North America, 1893 (1 item). Manuscript oceanic sounding charts ("American Bathymetrical Chart of the World"), 1910 (56 items). See Also 37.5.

Aerial Photographs: Vertical and oblique views of the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office facilities, Suitland, MD; Florida gulf coast; San Clemente Island, CA; Aleutian Islands, AK; Guam, Kure, Wake, Gardner, Canton, Swains, Rose, Howland, Baker, Tutuila, and Enderbury Islands (Pacific Ocean); and Corondelet, Pearl, and Hermes Reefs (Pacific Ocean), 1923-50 (8,848 items). See Also 37.5.

Glass and Film Negatives: Survey of Lower California and Mexico, taken by Lt. Charles F. Pond, U.S.S. Ranger, 1889-90 (CSA, CBD, CSC; 131 images). Unidentified coastal areas, n.d. (M, 7 images). Navigational aids and instruments, n.d. (M, 13 images). Oval portrait of George Washington, n.d. (M, 1 image). Mount Vernon dinner invitation (1799) to the Ramsay family, n.d. (M, 1 image). A 1777 three-pound note, n.d. (M, 1 image). See Also 37.6.

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37.4 Records of Subordinate Units of the Hydrographic Office
1837-1971

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37.4.1 Records of the Division of Sailing Directions

Textual Records: Records of the Division Archives, consisting of correspondence and reports relating to hydrographic surveys and hazards to navigation, 1837-1908. Survey notes, 1837-1946. Logs and journals of the U.S. Exploring Expedition (Wilkes Expedition), 1838-42. Records of observations made by navigators on cruises ("Daily Remark Books"), 1866-75.

Microfilm Publications: M75.

Charts: Manuscript plotting sheets, published and annotated charts, tracings, blueprints, and other graphic records resulting from naval surveys or received from mariners ("Numbered Archives File"), 1838-1945 (9,000 items). See Also 37.5.

Photographic Prints (28 images): Japanese time-ball, 1902; U.S.S. Paducah and U.S.S. Mahana, 1920; delegates to the 1919 International Hydrographic Conference, 1919; cloud formations, n.d.; panorama of Duluth, MN, 1902; harbors and coastal areas of Uruguay, Cuba, Samoa, Oregon, and California, 1889-1922; and a drawing of docks in New York, NY, 1914 (M, 28 images). See Also 37.6.

Photomechanical Reproductions : Section of a map showing the Strait of Makassar, Indonesia; and views of Cape San Isidore, Smith Channel, Cape Possession, and Cape St. Vincent, n.d. (M, 7 images). See Also 37.6.

Drawing : Detail of a lamp for illuminating a compass, 1877 (M, 1 image). See Also 37.6.

Finding Aids: William J. Heynen, comp., United States Hydrographic Office Manuscript Charts in the National Archives, 1838-1908, SL 43 (1978).

Related Records: Logs and journals of navy vessels and exploring expeditions in RG 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, and RG 45, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library.

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37.4.2 Records of the Division of Marine (Ocean) Meteorology and
its successor, the Division of Maritime Security

Textual Records: Reports of meteors and comets, 1885-1903. Branch office time-ball reports, 1885-90. Reports of sea disturbances, 1887-1903, and waterspouts, 1888-89. Ice reports, 1888-99. Fog reports, 1888-94. Ocean current reports, 1890-1903. Gale and storm reports, 1890-1901. Nautical chart histories recording the creation of published charts, 1884-1971. Record set of Hydrographic Bulletins, 1889-1954.

Charts: Meteorological charts of the oceans, in atlases, 1884-1913 (340 items). British and German meteorological charts, in atlases, 1906-18 (120 items). Pilot charts of the oceans, in atlases, 1883-1944 (4,800 items). Upper air pilot charts, in atlases, 1927-45 (1,200 items). Sound ranging charts of the ocean used in submarine detection, in atlas, 1942-43 (20 items). World distance and route charts, 1943 (6 items). Sea and swell charts, in atlases, 1946-50 (50 items). Surface current charts, in atlases, 1946-50 (100 items). Sea surface temperature charts, in atlas, 1944 (46 items). Northern Hemisphere ice charts, in atlas, 1946 (71 items). See Also 37.5.

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37.4.3 Records of the Division of Chart Construction

Textual Records: Press copies of letters, memorandums, and reports sent, 1903-8.

Charts: Nautical charts, primarily of foreign coastal waters and harbors, both manuscript, 1867-1922 (1,000 items), and published, 1867-1971 (90,000 items); with indexes, 1884-1968 (250 items). Charts showing progress of hydrographic surveys, 1905-31 (35 items). British Admiralty index charts, 1900, 1913 (29 items). Indexes to charts used in naval portfolios, 1867-1915, and other index charts (13 items). Illustrations to M.F. Maury's Explanations and Sailing Directions to Accompany the Wind and Current Charts, 1859 (30 items). Maneuver charts of the U.S. Atlantic coast, 1913 (3 items). World War I mobilization charts, 1914-18 (7 items), and naval operations charts, 1918-19 (100 items). Locations of naval facilities and districts in the United States, 1917-18 (15 items). Current plotting charts, 1922 (3 items). Anchorage charts, primarily of ports and harbors in the United States and its possessions, 1912-65 (2,000 items). Operating area charts, 1933-69 (225 items). Emergency reproductions of foreign charts, principally from the British Admiralty, 1939-68 (5,000 items). View charts of the Aleutian Islands, 1942-43 (6 items). Field charts published aboard ships, including those made for use by World War II invasion forces in the southwest Pacific, 1943-59 (150 items). Geographic reference (GEOREF) charts used to assign designations to portions of the oceans, 1950-53 (9 items). Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) charts of the coasts of Yugoslavia, Albania, and Norway, 1958-70 (13 items). Bottom contour plotting charts, 1958-70 (500 items). Special purpose ("Miscellaneous") published charts and pictorial diagrams not included in the standard series of published charts, 1923-65 (2,500 items), including a reproduction of an 1851 whale chart of the world by M.F. Maury; naval facilities on Guam, 1932; U.S. naval facility locations, 1940; and World War II shipwreck locations along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts and the coasts of Venezuela, Japan, China, Korea, and Siberia, 1942-44. Charts illustrating techniques of rendering topographic relief and the use of plastic for cartographic purposes, 1851-1943 (82 items). Charts of Japanese waters printed in Japanese, n.d. (271 items). Japanese hydrographic charts of coasts of Japan, China, and Taiwan, 1895-1921 and n.d. (1,032 items). Worksheets for special ocean and Antarctic charts, with interfiled miscellaneous items, 1907-32 (50 items). See Also 37.5.

Architectural and Engineering Plans: Equipment used in chart construction, and buildings used by the Hydrographic Office, 1912-32 (75 items). Compass roses used on charts, and flag standards for naval ships, 1908-31 (62 items). See Also 37.5.

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37.4.4 Records of the Division of Pilot Charts and Branch Offices

Textual Records: Office file of Robert L. Lerch, Assistant in Charge, relating to the controversy between the Hydrographic Office and the Weather Bureau over which organization should publish pilot charts, 1904-10.

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37.4.5 Records of the Purchase and Supplies Section

Textual Records: Press copies of letters sent, 1908-9.

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37.4.6 Records of the Division of Air Navigation

Charts: Naval aeronautical charts, 1929-70 (4,000 items), with indexes, 1932-54 (8 items). U.S. maps showing naval air facilities, 1944-47 (4 items). See Also 37.5.

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37.5 Cartographic Records (General)
See Charts Under 37.3, 37.4.1, 37.4.2, 37.4.3, and 37.4.6.
See Architectural and Engineering Plans Under 37.4.3.
See Aerial Photographs Under 37.3.

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37.6 Still Pictures (General)
See Photographic Prints Under 37.4.1.
See Glass and Film Negatives Under 37.3.
See Photomechanical Reproductions Under 37.4.1.
See Drawing Under 37.4.1.


Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
3 volumes, 2428 pages.

Ordering information

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1995.


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