Guide to Federal Records

Records of the Coast and Geodetic Survey [CGS]

(Record Group 23)
1807-1965 (bulk 1817-1965)

Overview of Records Locations

Table of Contents

  • 23.2 GENERAL RECORDS 1807, 1832-1965
  • 23.2.1 Treasury Department records relating to the Coast Survey
  • 23.2.2 Records of the Office of the Superintendent (1816-1920) and the Office of the Director (1920-70)
  • 23.3.1 Records of the Office of the Assistant in Charge (1843- 98), Office of the Assistant Superintendent (1899-1919), and Office of the Assistant Director (1920-65)
  • 23.3.2 Records of the Division of Accounts (formerly Office of the Disbursing Agent)
  • 23.3.3 Records of the Inspector of Hydrography
  • 23.3.4 Records of the Division of Hydrography and Topography
  • 23.3.5 Records of the Computing Division (1844-1915) and the
  • Division of Geodesy (also known as Geodesy Division, 1899-1965)
  • 23.3.6 Records of the Charts Division
  • 23.3.7 Records of the Tidal Division
  • 23.3.8 Other records
  • 23.4.1 Administrative records
  • 23.4.2 Scientific records
  • 23.4.3 Cartographic records
  • 23.4.4 Other records
  • 23.5.1 General records
  • 23.5.2 Records of the San Francisco Sub-Office
  • 23.8 STILL PICTURES (GENERAL) 1859-1965


Established: In the Department of the Treasury by an act of June 20, 1878 (20 Stat. 215).

Predecessor Agencies:

  • Survey of the Coast, Department of the Treasury (1816-18)
  • Department of the Navy (coast surveys, 1818-32)
  • Survey of the Coast, Department of the Treasury (1832-34)
  • Survey of the Coast, Department of the Navy (1834-36)
  • Coast Survey, Department of the Treasury (1836-78)

Transfers: To Department of Commerce and Labor by the act creating the department (32 Stat. 825), February 14, 1903; to Department of Commerce by the act creating the department (37 Stat. 736), March 4, 1913; to newly established Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA), Department of Commerce, by Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1965, effective July 13, 1965.

Functions: Surveyed and charted the coasts of the United States and its possessions. Studied tides and currents. Compiled aeronautical charts. Conducted scientific research on terrestrial magnetism, gravity, and seismology.

Abolished: By Reorganization Plan No.4 of 1970, effective October 3, 1970, which transferred personnel and functions of ESSA to newly established National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce.

Successor Agencies: National Ocean Survey, NOAA, Department of Commerce (1970-82); National Ocean Service, NOAA, Department of Commerce (1983- ).

Finding Aids: Nathan Reingold, comp., Records of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, PI 105 (1958); supplement in National Archives microfiche edition of preliminary inventories.

Related Records: Record copies of publications of the Coast and Geodetic Survey in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.
Records of the U.S. Coast Guard, RG 26.
Records of the Weather Bureau, RG 27.
Records of the Hydrographic Office, RG 37.
Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, RG 45.
General Records of the Department of the Treasury, RG 56.
Records of the U.S. Geological Survey, RG 57.
Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations, RG 76.
Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, RG 77.
Records of the U.S. Naval Observatory, RG 78.
General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1798-1947, RG 80.
Records of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, RG 167.
Records of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, RG 370.

1807, 1832-1965

History: Provision for systematic coastal survey under Department of the Treasury made in act of February 10, 1807 (2 Stat. 413). Implementation delayed by lack of suitable instruments and by War of 1812 until 1816, when survey of New York Harbor began under direction of Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler as Superintendent of the Survey of the Coast. Survey work suspended, April 29, 1818, pursuant to act of April 14, 1818 (3 Stat. 425), which repealed such portions of the act of 1807 as permitted civilians to conduct surveys. Functions ("work and instruments") transferred to Department of the Navy, which engaged in disconnected surveys at points along the coast. The U.S. Army also conducted surveys as part of its military mapping and fortification activities. The Survey of the Coast was revived, under Treasury aegis, by an act of July 10, 1832 (4 Stat. 571). By direction of President Andrew Jackson, transferred to Navy Department, March 11, 1834; and returned to Treasury Department, March 27, 1836. Known thereafter as the Coast Survey until formally redesignated CGS, 1878. SEE 23.1.

 23.2.1 Treasury Department records relating to the Coast Survey

Textual Records: Narrative report of an 1806 survey of the North Carolina Coast from Cape Fear to Cape Hatteras by William Tatham, 1807. Letters sent, 1834-73, and received, 1832-59, 1861-64, by the Secretary of the Treasury relating to the Coast Survey. Letters, referrals, and reports from the Superintendent of the Survey to the Appointment Division, Treasury Department, relating to personnel matters, 1860-1901.

 23.2.2 Records of the Office of the Superintendent (1816-1920)
and the Office of the Director (1920-70)

Textual Records: Correspondence of Superintendent Alexander Bache, 1844-65. Letters, reports, sketches, manuscripts, maps, and other records received or produced by the Office of the Superintendent ("Superintendent's File"), 1866-1910. General correspondence, 1911-31. Land survey correspondence, 1848-54. Record copies of correspondence, 1848-62. Miscellaneous subject file, 1917-50. Correspondence register, 1860-67. Register of letters received, 1890-1902, with index, 1890-94. Instructions to Coast Survey and CGS personnel, 1855-57, 1868-92. Records relating to New York Harbor, 1855-59; Boston Harbor and Cape Cod Ship Canal, 1859-61; Mobile Harbor, 1860; and the defenses of Philadelphia, 1863-64. Confidential memoirs on the coast of the Confederate States of America, Delaware Bay to Mississippi Sound ("Notes on the Coast of the United States"), 1861. Records of surveys in insular possessions, 1900-6. Records relating to solar eclipses (May 26, 1854, July 18, 1860, and December 22, 1870), 1854, 1860, 1870-71. Manuscript copies of publications on magnetism by Superintendent Bache, 1859-64. Superintendent Bache's reference file ("Miscellaneous Scientific and Business Papers"), 1844-49. Statistical compilations, 1857-63. Annual office reports, 1911-57. Monthly reports and journals, 1868-75, 1881-1940. Monthly office reports, 1891-1971, including those of the Division of Charts, 1937-51. Compilation of laws, Civil Service rules, and departmental decisions affecting CGS, 1903. Records relating to the Taft Commission, 1909-11. Minutes and proceedings of the Board on the Reorganization of the Coast Survey, 1843. Records relating to the reorganization of Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1917-54 (bulk 1932-43). Policy and program planning files, 1924-45. Annual reports, 1852-1956. Publications relating to maps and charts, 1902-65.

Microfilm Publications: M642.

Maps and Charts (2,110 items): Separated from annual reports, 1851-1931 (2,100 items). Nautical charts and notes on the coast of Georgia by Superintendent Bache, 1861-62 (10 items). SEE ALSO 23.6.

Related Records: Card index to Bache correspondence, 1844-65, and "Superintendent's File," 1866-1910, UNDER 23.4.4.


 23.3.1 Records of the Office of the Assistant in Charge (1843-
98), Office of the Assistant Superintendent (1899-1919), and Office of the Assistant Director (1920-65)

Textual Records: Letters sent, 1850-1908. Letters received, 1845- 1908. General correspondence, 1909-14. Records relating to employees of the office, 1844-1902. Reports received from the Computing Division, 1869-86. Correspondence of Assistant Superintendent Robert L. Faris, 1915-32 (bulk 1915).

Related Records: Field notes, 1890-1905, of Robert L. Faris, chief of the Terrestrial Magnetism Division, UNDER 23.3.8.

 23.3.2 Records of the Division of Accounts (formerly Office of
the Disbursing Agent)

Textual Records: Letters sent, 1851-57, and received, 1847-65, by Disbursing Agent Samuel Hein. Letters sent, 1873-77, 1881-82. Letters received, 1879-81, 1885-97. Disbursing records, 1881-87. Records of employees, 1818-1911. Personnel and payroll records, 1844-1906. Appropriation ledger, 1893-1917. Allotment and expenditure ledgers, 1910-18.

 23.3.3 Records of the Inspector of Hydrography

Textual Records: Letters sent, 1854-61, 1867, 1885-86, 1888. Letters received, 1863-98, with gaps. Register of chart corrections, 1882-1910.

 23.3.4 Records of the Division of Hydrography and Topography

Textual Records: Letters sent, 1901-10. Letters received, 1899- 1909, with registers, 1895-1903. General correspondence, 1910-25. Registers of logbooks of CGS vessels, 1841-1917.

Related Records: Logbooks of CGS vessels, 1846-1963, UNDER 23.5.1.

 23.3.5 Records of the Computing Division (1844-1915) and the Division of Geodesy (also known as Geodesy Division, 1899-1965)

History: Computing Division (CD) and Division of Geodesy (DG) functioned separately, but under a single chief, 1899-1915. In a general reorganization of October 15, 1915, CD abolished, with functions assumed by DG.

Textual Records: Computing Division "Geodetic Reports," 1851- 1911. Letters received by the Inspector of Geodetic Work and Chief of the Division of Computing, 1909-14. Monthly and annual reports of the Computing Division, 1898-1912. Records of the investigation relating to the "Formulae of the Figure of the Earth," 1909, with appendixes, 1903-9. Logs of astronomical azimuths, latitudes, and longitudes, 1844-1913. Register of astronomical longitudes, 1847-1919. Register of gravity determinations, 1891-1914. Field party project instructions, 1922-48. Correspondence of Walter D. Lambert, chief of the Gravity and Astronomy Section, 1930-49.

 23.3.6 Records of the Charts Division

History: Separate units for drawing, engraving, and photography and electrotype functioned in Office of the Assistant in Charge, to 1866. Photography and electrotype unit consolidated with engraving unit to form Engraving Division; and drawing unit designated Drawing Division, 1866. Drawing and Engraving Divisions consolidated to form Drawing and Engraving Division (DED), 1895. DED redesignated Chart Construction Division (CCD), 1912, in Office of the Assistant Superintendent (formerly Office of the Assistant in Charge). In a general reorganization, October 15, 1915, CCD separated from Office of the Assistant Superintendent and redesignated Charts Division.

Textual Records: Letters sent by the Engraving Division, 1885-90. Ledgers and other records relating to the cost of preparing and altering plates from which charts were printed, 1844-1904. Records relating to corrections and additions to engraved plates, 1877-1904. Project reports of the Aeronautical Charts Branch, 1941-46.

Maps and Charts (61,540 items): Manuscript nautical charts from original surveys of U.S. coastal waters, with indexes, 1837-1940 (4,600 items). Published nautical charts, including revised editions, 1839-1965 (19,000 items). Nautical chart tracings, 1888-1911 (300 items). Manuscript topographic maps of U.S. coasts from original surveys, 1837-1940 (8,500 items). Lithographed topographic maps of U.S. coasts, 1927-63 (1,600 items). Published aeronautical charts of the United States, including revised editions, 1926-65 (27,500 items). Sample printing techniques, 1936 (40 items). SEE ALSO 23.6.

 23.3.7 Records of the Tidal Division

Textual Records: Letters sent, 1851-67, 1887-1912. Letters received, 1849-66. Copies of referred correspondence, 1856-89. Personnel records, 1898-1925. Miscellaneous tidal notes and observations, 1845-83.

 23.3.8 Other records

Textual Records: Letters received by the Assistant in Charge of State Surveys, 1886-90. Records of the Terrestrial Magnetism Division, consisting of field notes of division chief Robert L. Faris, 1890-1905; and "Notes on Magnetic Work," 1912. Noninstrumental earthquake reports, compiled by the Geophysics Division, 1912-35 (in Denver). Letters sent by the Planning Board, 1931-57.

Engineering Plans (3,100 items): Instruments and equipment, compiled by the Instruments Division, 1922-61. SEE ALSO 23.6.

Related Records: Correspondence of Assistant Superintendent Robert L. Faris, 1915-32 (bulk 1915), UNDER 23.3.1.


 23.4.1 Administrative records

Textual Records: Registers and other records documenting the branch's receipt of scientific records, 1832-1906. Accession register for 1816-67 period records, 1930. Registers of receipt of topographic sheets, 1834-1900, and hydrographic charts, 1836- 1901.

 23.4.2 Scientific records

Textual Records: Partial geographic and subject indexes, 1899- 1913. Azimuth observations ("AA" Series), 1844-1919. Latitude observations ("AL" Series), 1833-1933. Longitude observations ("ALO" Series), 1844-1939. Time observations ("AT" Series), 1831- 1912. Time computations ("ATZ" Series), 1845-1920. "Astronomical Miscellany" ("AX" Series), 1838-1920. Triangulation station descriptions ("GA" Series), 1834-1955. Reconnaissance notes ("GAR" Series), 1834-1912. Base measurements ("GB" Series), 1833- 1935. Base line computations ("GBZ" Series), 1857-1937. Observations of horizontal and vertical angles ("GH" Series), 1817-1948. Computations of plane coordinates ("GPZ " Series), 1934-37. Bench mark descriptions ("HA" Series), 1878-1938. Spirit level observations ("HG" Series), 1844-1939. Leveling rod books ("HGR" Series), 1877-98. Leveling miscellany ("HGX" Series), 1905. Leveling computations and abstracts ("HGZ" Series), 1934- 37, 1940-41. Leveling adjustments ("HGZ " Series), 1934-37. Observations of vertical angles ("HV" Series), 1833-1929. Field observations of terrestrial magnetism ("M" Series), 1832-1930. Observations at magnetic observatories ("MA" Series), 1854-1935 (in Denver). Seismograms, culled from "MA" Series, 1900-30 (in Denver). Data for the 1945 world magnetic charts ("MZ " Series), 1945. Gravity observations ("P" Series), 1873-1953. Gravity miscellany computations ("PX" Series), 1889-1943. Gravity miscellany office computations ("PX " Series), 1909-49. Gravity computations for the Brown apparatus and older pendulum methods ("PZ" Series), 1871-1953. Gravity reductions, interpolations, and corrections ("PZ " Series), 1900-56. Instrument plans for the Brown gravity apparatus, 1932-59. Hydrographic survey soundings ("SHS" Series), 1835-1929. Philippine sounding records ("SHS-P" Series), 1901-18. Tide-staff readings ("T" Series), 1835-1962. Descriptions of tidal bench marks ("TB" Series), 1854-1908. Observations of currents ("TC" Series), 1844-1914. "Leveling Record--Tide Station" ("TL" Series), 1846-1936. Meteorological observations and water temperature and density readings ("TW" Series), 1845-1911. Miscellaneous scientific records with alphabetical series designators, n.d.

 23.4.3 Cartographic records

Maps and Charts (2,600 items): Library and Archives Map Collection, consisting of maps and charts used as source material, 1844-1945 (2,300 items). Supplementary maps and charts, including blueprints, 1911-36 (300 items). SEE ALSO 23.6.

 23.4.4 Other records

Textual Records: Card index to bound correspondence, 1832-1903, chiefly that of Superintendent Alexander Bache, 1844-65, and the "Superintendent's File," 1866-1910. Pacific Coast Pilot, 4th ed., revised, 1889 (in San Francisco).

Related Records: Indexed correspondence UNDER 23.2.2.


 23.5.1 General records

Textual Records: Logbooks of CGS vessels, 1846-1963 (254 ft.). Letters sent by Assistants F.H. Gerdes, documenting his field survey work in the Florida Keys, the Gulf Coast, New England, and the Mississippi River Valley, 1844-69; Stehman Forney, concerning surveying operations in the Gulf of Mexico, 1888-91; and (in San Francisco) W.D. Alexander, regarding surveying operations in the Hawaiian Islands, 1901-7. Records of the assistant in charge of tidal operations on the Pacific Coast, 1856-77 (in San Francisco), consisting of letters sent, 1856-67, and received, 1859-77. Letters sent by Arthur J. Collyer, tidal observer at Tybee Island, GA, 1891-92 (in Atlanta).

Maps and Charts (110 items): Manuscript and annotated maps and nautical charts compiled or collected by Assistant Henry L. Whiting in support of his field activities, 1839-94.
SEE ALSO 23.7.

Related Records: Registers of logbooks of CGS vessels, 1841-1917, UNDER 23.3.4.

 23.5.2 Records of the San Francisco Sub-Office

Textual Records (in San Francisco): Letters sent, 1912-15, and miscellaneous letters received, 1910-13, by sub-office assistant Ferdinand Westdahl. Letters received by successive sub-office assistants, 1908-15.


Publications and manuscripts sent or received by the Editor of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1901-1949. Organization charts of the Survey, 1915-1960. Records concerning legislation affecting the Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1919-1964. Administrative manuals, 1950-1964. Administrative and technical issuances, 1940-1965. Records of the International Hydrographic Organization including circular letters and correspondence, 1922-69; correspondence with the Secretary of State, 1920-72; records concerning conferences, 1947-67, and publications, 1951-71.


Maps and Charts: Early maps and plans of Washington, DC, including reprints of the plans of L'Enfant and Ellicott and the maps of Dermott and King, 1872-1914 (91 items). Reprints of King plats of Washington, DC (1803), in atlas, 1884 (16 items, in Washington Area). Special Civil War maps compiled for military use, 1861-65 (88 items). Civil War Centennial Commission portfolio of Civil War map reproductions, 1961 (20 items). Special maps and charts of Alaska, 1867-1923 (29 items), and the Philippine Islands, 1899-1944 (197 items). Maps of Liberia, 1957 (12 items). World War II shipwreck charts of U.S. coastal waters, 1942-43 (8 items). Tidal current charts of Tampa Bay, FL, 1951 (12 items). Geodetic control maps, 1960-64 (100 items). Maps relating to magnetic declination and general subjects, 1890-1945 (12 items). Samples of plastic relief models, and casts and molds used in their construction, 1943-44 (14 items). Samples of copperplates used in the printing of nautical charts, 1854-1904 (4 items).

SEE Maps and Charts UNDER 23.2.2, 23.3.6, 23.4.3, and 23.5.1.
SEE Engineering Plans UNDER 23.3.8.


Photographs: CGS activities, including photos taken in the U.S., Alaska, the Philippine Islands, and the West Indies. Subjects include cartography, aerial photography, geodesy, hydrography, topography, hurricane damage, signals, Bureau personnel, radio location devices, seismology, tides, surveyors and engineers at work, boundary markers, railroads, campsites, ships and shipwrecks, underwater damage, and ocean floor scenes. 1860-1965 (G, 24,200 images). Terrestrial magnetism and electricity, 1901-54 (Q, 750 images).

Photographic Prints and Drawings (11 images): Henry L. Whiting collection of views of the Hudson River, and of dredging activities and machinery, 1859 (HW).

Color Slides (5,503 images): CGS activities, 1860-1965 (GS).

Finding Aids: Shelflist to series G and GS.

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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