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SWISS GEODESY AND THE U. S. COAST SURVEY 117 



SWISS GEODESY AND THE UNITED STATES 
COAST SURVEY 1 

By Professor FLORIAN CAJORI 

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA 

THE influence of the intellect transcends mountains and leaps across 
oceans. At the time when George Washington warned his fellow 
countrymen against entangling political alliances with European coun- 
tries, there was started a movement of far reaching scientific im- 
portance in a small country in the heart of the Alps which (as we shall 
see) exerted a silent, yet potent scientific influence upon the young 
republic on the eastern shores of North America. Our government 
executives can restrict the movements of troops and can abstain from 
making hazardous treaties, but these policies can not permanently 
check the subtler movements of intellectual thought which often, like 
aerial waves, encircle the world. 

In 1785 a gifted and enthusiastic young German named Johann 
Georg Tralles became professor of mathematics and physics at Berne 
in Switzerland. Interested in applied as well as pure mathematics, 
Tralles was active as a metrologist and geodesist. Maps of that part 
of Switzerland had been altogether unreliable. He entered upon re- 
fined surveys of the triangulation type. In this work he was assisted 
by one of his pupils, Ferdinand Rudolf Hassler of Aarau, a young 
man who belonged to a well-to-do family. His father had mapped 
out for him a bureaucratic career which would have brought a good 
competence. But the mathematics and the surveying instruments of 
Tralles exerted an attraction impossible for him to resist. In 1791 
Tralles and Hassler measured a base-line together, using a steel-chain 
manufactured by the English mechanic Ramsden. The base line was 
40,000 feet long; its ends were marked on blocks of stone four feet 
high, with steel points held in position by cast lead. Not satisfied with 
the accuracy reached, a few years later they remeasured this base with 
improved apparatus. Carefully standardized rods now took the place 
of chains. A net of triangles was adopted, the principal points of 
which were the several summits of the Jura mountain range. For the 
great distances between stations the instruments were found to be 
inadequate. Tralles wrote to a friend about his angular measure- 

1 Sigma Xi address delivered at Northwestern University on December 
13, 1920. 



118 THE SCIENTIFIC MONTHLY 

merits: "I have tortured them out with a theodolite — measurement I 
can not call this, when the telescope is so weak that one can not see 
the signals, but only guess their position. You can readily see that 
they are not small, for the telescope of the theodolite reveals them 
at a distance of 100,000 feet." The government of the Canton of Berne 
was appealed to for financial aid in the purchase of a more powerful 
instrument. Six hundred dollars were voted immediately. Mr. Rams- 
den in London, then the most celebrated instrument-maker living, for a 
sum somewhat exceeding this amount, promised to supply in 1794 a 
complete azimuth circle, at least three feet in diameter. Due to various 
delays the great instrument did not reach Berne until 1797. Mean- 
while some smaller instruments had been secured from England; 
Tralles and Hassler had been active in perfecting their technique. 
Young Hassler received the commission to determine the boundary 
line between the Cantons Berne and Solothurn. Ramsden's three-foot 
theodolite was a wonderful instrument; only two other instruments of 
that size and precision are said to have been manufactured by Ramsden. 
What a privilege for young Hassler to become practically acquainted 
with the use of an instrument of the high type that very few surveyors 
then living had ever seen! 

Hassler repeatedly took trips to Paris and one trip to Germany; 
he attended lectures and became personally acquainted with leading 
scientists — among them Lalande, Borda, Delambre and Lavoisier in 
Paris; Von Zach and Bohnenberger in Germany. With funds liberally 
supplied by his father, Hassler purchased many instruments and 
scientific books. He astonished Von Zach late one afternoon by meas- 
uring with a five-inch English reflecting sextant and mercury horizon 
the latitude of Zach's observatory and differing only five seconds from 
previously known determinations. We see Hassler occupied with 
serious studies and becoming familiar with the practical operation of 
the most refined mathematical instruments in existance at the time. 

Geodetic work in Switzerland was stopped by revolutionary events. 
In 1798 French soldiers marched into Berne. Friction arose between 
Franch and Swiss goedesists. A few years passed without bringing 
relief. Hassler who meanwhile had married and had held various 
official positions of responsibility in his canton of Aargau became weary 
of European turmoil, and decided to seek his fortune in the New World. 
Strange to say we find him engaged in the organization of a stock com- 
pany for the purchase of large tracts of land in South Carolina. In 
1805 he departed with wife, children, servants and 96 trunks, boxes 
and bales, and travelled down the Rhine, having previously chartered 
in Amsterdam the ship "Liberty" (350 tons) for Philadelphia. He 
was accompanied on his trip by over 100 laborers to form a Swiss 
colony in the South. Unfortunately Hassler's agent speculated with 



SWISS GEODESY AND THE U. S. COAST SURVEY 119 

the funds entrusted to him and Hassler sustained heavy financial loss. 
He arrived in Philadelphia without means to support his family. While 
waiting for remittances from his father, he sold some of his books 
and instruments. He received financial assistance also from' John 
Vaughan, a prosperous and public spirited Philadelphian. 

Hassler soon got in touch with scientific men in Philadelphia. He 
attended meetings of the American Philosophical Society. On Decem- 
ber 6th, 1805, he donated to this Society a model of Mont Blanc, 
two chamois horns, and a specimen of feldspar. Hassler was elected 
a member of the Society on April 17th, 1807. The year previous he 
had sold to the Philosophical Society "the volumes necessary to com- 
plete the transactions of the French Academy of Science of which the 
Society possessed eighty-nine volumes, the bequest of Dr. Franklin." 
Hassler sold also some volumes of the transactions of the Berlin Acad- 
emy. I mention these items to indicate the kind of books Hassler 
brought to America. 

He brought also a number of instruments and standard weights 
and measures, such as had never before been carried to the American 
shores. Among these were a standard meter, made at Paris in 1799 by 
the Committee of Weights and Measures, a standard kilogram, an iron 
toise, made by Cavinet in Paris, two toises of Lalande. All of these 
were acquired by the American Philosophical Society and were loaned 
to Hassler twenty-six years later when he was acting in Washington 
as superintendent of weights and measures. 

In 1806, Professor Robert Patterson and John Vaughan in Philadel- 
phia, John Garnett of New Brunswick and others were deeply im- 
pressed by the ability and enthusiasm for science displayed by Hassler. 
Patterson was then director of the United States Mint. Feeling no 
doubt that the services of this talented young man of 36, whose long 
course of special training secured in Switzerland, France and Germany, 
made him one of the very foremost living practical geodesists, should 
be enlisted by the American Government, Professor Patterson gave 
President Jefferson an account of Hassler's life. "He would willingly 
engage," said Patterson, "in an exploring expedition, such as those you 
have already set on foot." 

As neither Patterson's letter to President Jefferson, nor Hassler's 
brief autobiography enclosed with it, has ever appeared in print, it 
may be interesting to present these documents, at least in part. 2 Pro- 
fessor Patterson wrote: 

2 For copies of these documents, and of the letters written by President 
Jefferson and President Madison which we quote later, we are indebted to 
the kindness of Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee of Washington, D. C. The 
originals are in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. Dr. 
McGee is a great granddaughter of Hassler. 



120 THE SCIENTIFIC MONTHLY 

(From Robert Patterson, Director of the Mint, to Jefferson.) 

Philad. March 3d 1806. 
"Sir 

"I beg leave to introduce to your notice Mr. Hassler, a gentleman 
lately from Switzerland. He is a man of science & education; and, as 
will appear from the enclosed paper, written by himself at my request, 
was a character of considerable importance in his own country. It is 
his wish to obtain some employment from the United States, which 
would require the practice of surveying or astronomy. He would will- 
ingly engage in an exploring expedition, such as those you have already 
set on foot; for which, I have no doubt, he would be found well 
qualified. 

"In his education he paid perticular attention to the study of 
astronomy, and statistical surveying; & from the enclosed paper you 
will see, that he is well versed in the practice. He is a man of a sound, 
hardy constitution, about 35 years of age, & of the most amiable con- 
ciliating manners. Besides his knowledge of the Latin language, he 
speaks the German, French, Italian & English. To his acquaintance 
with mathematics in general, which, as far as I am capable of judging 
from a short though not slight acquaintance, is very extensive, he adds 
a good knowledge of chemistry, mineralogy, and all the other branches 
of natural philosophy. In short, Sir, I believe his services may be 
rendered useful to this his adopted country. He possesses a very val- 
uable library, and a set of surveying & astronomical instruments, 
scarce inferior to any I ever saw. 

"I shall only add, that the cause for which he struggled in his 
native country, and the reasons for his seeking an asilum here, will not, 
Sir, I am sure, detract from his merit in your estimation. 
"I have the honour to be, 

"with sentiments of the 
"greatest esteem, — 

"Your most obedient servt. 

R. Patterson. 

"P. S. I forgot to mention, that Mr Hassler is at present settled 
with his family (a wife & three children with a few domestics) on a 
small farm near the banks of the Schuylkill, and that he proposes very 
shortly to pay a visit to the seat of government." 

Hassler's sketch of his life which was enclosed in the letter that 
Patterson sent to President Jefferson, is reproduced here with all its 
orthographic peculiarities: 

"Feb. 27, 1806. 
"After my first education in public and private schools at Arau, 
my native town, I went in my 16th Year 1787 as a Voluntary in an 



SWISS GEODESY AND THE U. S. COAST SURVEY 121 

office of the government of Berne, appointed for all kind of surveyings 
and the care of the archives of the state, in which businesses I worked; 
following at the same time the lessons of the College, then newly es- 
tablished under the name of political institute, and the private instruc- 
tions of Mr. Tralles Professor of Mathematics, (now member of the 
Academy of Berlin) ap lying chiefly to practical geometry & astronomy. 
As a practical exercise of these instructions Mr Tralles & I undertoock 
in 1791. (on my expenses) the trigonometrical mesurements for a map 
of the country, and mesured a base of 7% Miles length and some 
triangles, with proper means and instruments, till the season inter- 
rupted the further prosecution. 

"The Government of Berne, seeing the various advantages of this 
Work, undertook to follow it, and appointed proper funds for the in- 
struments; which were comitted to Mr Ramsden in London. 

"In 1792 I went to the university of Gottinguen, (staying a short 
time in my passage at the Observatory of Mr de Zach at Seeberg) where 
I continued my studies in mathematics and v natural Philosophy, under 
Kastner and Lichtenberg; (with whom I was particularly acquainted) : 
Obliged nevertheless by the wishes of my father, to give some time to 
the study of Diplomatics under Gatterer. 

In 1796, I went to Paris applying half a Year chiefly to Mineralogy & 
Chymistry under Haiiy, Vauquelin, Fourcroy &c. (being already ac- 
quainted by a former Voyage there with LaLande & Borda.) 
In 1797. a large Theodalite of Ramsden beeing arrived at Berne Mr 
Tralles & I endeavoured to prosecute now for the Government the Geo- 
graphical Operations begun in 1791. but ware soon stoped again by 
the Revolution of Switzerland early in 1798. which event changed 
at the same time my position by annulating a post of my father the 
succession of which was secured to me since my 16th Year. 
Though the ministry of Finances of the Helvetic Republic, desireous 
of an accurate mape of the country gived me on a new the commission 
to follow the Work and I worked at it a short time in 2 Seasons the 
perpetual changes & finally extinction of the unitary Government 
put an end to this Work for which I could neither get my advances 
repayed nor my Labour. On my leaving the Country I left the un- 
finished Work to one of my friends to be sold for a trifle to the new 
Government. 

Though I took no trouble to get any public office I was early in 1798. 
elected to the Court of appeal of the Canton of Argovia for the direc- 
tion of criminal affairs, (accusateur public) from which place I was 
called in 1799. by the Central Government to the same functions at 
the Supreme Court of the Helvetic Republic, after the extinction of 
which in 1803, 1 went at home were I was elected by the representatives 
of the Canton a member supleant of the Court of Appeals, and by my 



122 THE SCIENTIFIC MONTHLY 

fellow-Citizens a member of the Counsel of the town, in which I was 
trusted with the chief Direction of public buildings and Archives. 
But foreseeing the constant oscillations in the state of the Country in- 
volving always my position according to past experiences (intrigues 
and ambition, which are wanted in such circumstances, beeing out 
of my Caracter) I took with seme of my friends the resolution to 
come over to America in search of more solidity in a peaceable 
Country. 

Though I shall be one of the Directors of a Society of my countrymens 
intending to come over in this Country my presence beeing not always 
nor absolutely wanted, I could and wished to be employed in some 
business where practical Geometry & Astronomy would be the requisites, 
by preference. 
Philadelphia 27th Febr: 1806: F:R:Hassler." 

In addition to Professor Patterson's letter and enclosure, President 
Jefferson received a letter from Dr. C. Wistar of Philadelphia, recom- 
mending Hassler. President Jefferson's reply to Dr. Wistar, which 
has never been printed, is as follows: 

"Yours of the 19th, [February 19th 1807] has been received, as 
was a former one proposing Mr. Hassler to be employed in the survey 
of the coast. I have heard so much good of him as to feel a real wish 
that he may find the employment of the nature to which his physical 
constitution & habits may be equal. I doubt if. in yielding this as to Mr. 
Hassler, I transgress a principle I have considered as important in mak- 
ing appointments. The foreigners who come to reside in this country, 
bring with them an almost universal expectation of office. I recieve 
more applications from them than would fill all the offices of the U. S. 
* * * It is true there are some employments * * * into which 
meritorious foreigners & of peculiar qualifications may sometimes be 
introduced, such is the present case." 

It appears that the starting of the survey of the coast of the United 
States was taken under consideration by members of the American 
Philosophical Society at Philadelphia for the reason that there had 
come into their midst a man preeminently qualified to undertake such 
a survey. In other words, had Hassler not come to the United States, 
probably no effort would have been made at that time to organize such 
a survey. Upon President Jefferson's recommendation, Congress 
passed a law, authorizing a survey on February 10th, 1807, and made 
an appropriation of $50,000. Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treat), 
ury, addressed a circular letter to scientific men, asking for plans for 
carrying the survey into effect. Among the replies were letters from 
Robert Patterson of the U. S. Mint, James Madison, then President of 
William and Mary College, Andrew Ellicott who had long been active 
as a surveyor in the United States, John Garnett of New Brunswick who 



SWISS GEODESY AND THE U. S. COAST SURVEY 123 

was interested in astronomic and geodetic affairs. Hassler's reply was 
written in the French language; it carefully outlined a trigonometric 
survey and the use of chronometers in localities where trigonometric 
surveys would be very difficult. At President Jefferson's direction, a 
commission passed upon these plans. That Hassler's plans would be 
chosen seemed to be a foregone conclusion in the minds of most scien- 
tists interested. The commission was formed of the very men who had 
submitted plans, with the omission of Hassler, who was then at West 
Point. In rejection of their own plans, they recommended Hassler's. 
On account of political disturbances in Europe and America the sur- 
vey was not begun in 1807. Meanwhile Hassler had been appointed 
acting professor of mathematics at West Point, where he served two 
years. Later he was for one year professor at Union College at Sche- 
nectady. 

During his residence at West Point and Schenectady he had occa- 
sional correspondence with Patterson regarding details for the coast 
survey, especially the necessary instruments. On September 2, 1807, 
Patterson asked him by letter whether he would be willing to go to 
London to direct the construction of the instruments there. Hassler 
expressed his willingness to undertake the mission, but not until 
August, 1811, was the government able to send him. Hassler embarked 
with his large family for England. 

After the death of Ramsden, Edward Troughton came into ascend- 
ency as a skilled mechanic. It was his ambition in life to surpass 
Ramsden as an instrument maker. Hassler set Troughton and others 
to work, manufacturing under his direction instruments for the United 
States Coast Survey. Some of the principal instruments were of Hass- 
ler's own design. He secured instruments and books also from Paris. 
Politically the time was unfavorable; the war of 1812 broke out. 
Hassler was in the country of the enemy. Once he was refused a 
passport in London until after a personal application was made to 
the foreign secretary, who granted the passport with the generous re- 
mark "that the British Government made no wars on science." 

The total amount expended for instruments during four years in 
England and France was $37,500; including books, Hassler's salary 
and travelling expenses, the outlay exceeded $55,000. Troughton, the 
celebrated London instrument maker, remarked that there was not so 
complete and useful a collection of instruments in the possession of 
any government in Europe. 

On October 16, 1815, Hassler informed Mr. Dallas, then Secretary 
of the Treasury, of his safe arrival with the instruments, in Delaware 
Bay; they were deposited at the University of Pennsylvania. Some of 
the instruments were intended for use in two astronomical observa- 
tories that were to be established according to Hassler's plans which 



124 THE SCIENTIFIC MONTHLY 

had been matured some time in the interval 1807-1811. He brought 
back all the instruments then deemed essential for the astronomical 
observatories except a mural circle and zenith sector, which he "did 
not venture to order, as their absolute necessity, in connection with 
the survey of the coast, was not so obvious as that of the instruments 
procured." 

"To procure the greatest advantage to the survey," continued Hass- 
ler, "their positions [positions of the observatories] should be as far 
North East and South West as the very favorable position of the 
United States admits"— one in the district of Maine, the other in Lower 
Louisiana. "Nearly every celestial phenomenon observable from the 
tropic to the arctic circle and within about two hundred degrees of 
difference of longitude, could be observed at one or the other of them." 
Little did Hassler realize at that time that over a quarter of a century 
would elapse before Congress would authorize a national astronomical 
observatory. 

Not until May 2, 1816, did Congress pass appropriations for the 
survey of the coast. In August of the same year Hassler was appointed 
Superintendent of the Survey of the Coast. In his eagerness to begin 
work Hassler had gone to Long Island and reconnoitered the neighbor- 
hood during the month before his regular appointment. At first he 
had only three inexperienced cadets from West Point to help him; in 
September, Major Abert, one of his West Point acquaintances, was 
detailed to assist him. Great difficulty was experienced in finding a 
satisfactory locality for the measurement of a base line. Bad weather 
caused further delays. Once his work was interrupted by a law-suit 
brought by a man who charged that Hassler had cut off some branches 
of a cedar bush, to make the remaining part of the bush answer as a 
temporary signal. There were no railroads in those days; public high- 
ways were few. Hassler's work took him to localities not easily reached. 
For conveying of himself, his men and his delicate instruments, he had 
constructed early in 1817 a spring carriage, of special design, to be 
pulled by two or four horses. This carriage became famous because 
of its odd appearance and because political opponents of Hassler 
charged that he indulged in luxurious travel, such as was enjoyed by 
no other government official. 

Delays occurred also because of tardiness on the part of the Gov- 
ernment in sending the necessary funds. At times Hassler advanced 
money of his own, to prevent interruption of the work. The difficulties 
experienced from wooded marshes and the absence of sharp points near 
the coast made it necessary for him to plan for a full chain of triangles 
back from the shore. The proper locality for a base was not found 
until April, 1817. In February the Secretary of the Treasury asked 
Hassler to state the probable time required for the execution of the 



SWISS GEODESY AND THE U. S. COAST SURVEY 125 

survey. This was a disquieting question; as yet, the survey had hardly 
begun ! In the Canton of Berne, Switzerland, four years had been con- 
sidered none too long a period for a much smaller project. With 
Major Abert as his only trained assistant, Hassler worked during 1817 
from the opening of the season in April until the end of December, 
when none but Hassler "thought it possible to stand it any longer" on 
account of the cold. He worked early and late, whenever weather per- 
mitted, and displayed an enthusiasm seldom equalled. At that time 
Hassler knew little about American politics. He proceeded on the 
supposition that if he maintained high scientific standards, if he worked 
hard and faithfully, his services would be appreciated. He learned by 
sad experience that this is not necessarily the case, that the head of a 
government scientific bureau must take pains to keep in touch with 
political leaders and through personal contact and courtesies extended 
must endeavor to secure the interest and good will of these leaders; 
in other words, that political leaders must be educated to the apprecia- 
tion of science. Hassler did not work in Washington at that time. In 
winter, when work in the field was impossible, he resided in Newark, 
New Jersey. Even if he had tried, it would have been difficult to have 
kept in touch with Congressmen. 

In 1817 eight triangles were formed, determining the distances of 
about forty points with great accuracy; two bases were measured; lati- 
tudes and azimuths were ascertained. After December, the winter was 
passed in performing the necessary computations. On April 6, 1818, 
the Secretary of the Treasury apprised Hassler of the fact that the little 
progress made in the survey had caused general dissatisfaction in Con- 
gress. This was a bolt from an almost clear sky. Hassler replied by 
telling what had been accomplished — more than double what had been 
achieved in the English survey in the same time. After sending this 
reply, Hassler, who was in Newark, concluded that he had better go to 
Washington with all his documents, so that he could offer any explana- 
tion desired. His explanations to the Secretary of the Treasury were 
of no avail; on April 14, 1818, the law authorizing the survey was so 
modified by Congress as to exclude Hassler, a civilian, and leave 
the survey in charge of military and naval officers. 

The fundamental difference between Hassler and Congress was that 
Hassler aimed to make a triangulation survey that would be a credit 
to America in the eyes of scientific men of the world; such a survey 
requires time. Congress, on the other hand, had no intention of aiding 
science; they wanted a map of the coast and that without delay. 

Terrific as this blow must have been to Hassler, he took it calmly. 
Defeats never subdued him; they spurred him on to renewed efforts. 
Krusenstern wrote him from St. Petersburg, "In Russia your talents 
would have been better appreciated." 



126 THE SCIENTIFIC MONTHLY 

For fourteen years nothing creditable was done on the coast sur- 
vey. No one connected with it had the training, experience and vision 
to carry it on successfully. These years constitute the dark ages of 
the United States Coast Survey. 

For Hassler these fourteen years from the age of 48 to 62 should 
have been scientifically the most productive years of his life; but 
eleven of the fourteen were the most barren. We pass in silence his 
years of struggle to support his large family, years during which the 
operation of a farm in northern New York proved financially disas- 
trous, years during part of which his energy was dissipated by school 
teaching in small private academies and in the compilation of elemen- 
tary text-books; years of mental anguish over the breaking of family 
ties. I may add parenthetically that Hassler had nine children, several 
of whom died in childhood. Hassler's eldest son has many descendants 
in this country. Hassler's son, Charles Augustus, was a surgeon in the 
U. S. Navy and was the father of Mary Caroline, wife of the late Simon 
Newcomb, the astronomer. Mrs. Newcomb is now living in Wash- 
ington. 

In 1830 Hassler was placed at the head of the work of weights and 
measures — a scientific department of the Federal Government organ- 
ized by him. His ten years of preparation in Switzerland and his trips 
to France and Germany fitted him admirably for such work. Finally 
in 1832, when Hassler was 62 years old, Congress experienced a lucid 
interval and re-enacted the law of 1807 on the Coast Survey. Hassler 
was reinstated as superintendent. For eleven years he labored assidu- 
ously, until death claimed him. During that time the Coast Survey ad- 
vanced with rapid strides, notwithstanding continual interference by 
government officials and members of Congress. 

Hassler remained mentally alert to the very last. He kept in touch 
with geodesists and astronomers of Europe. He was in correspondence 
with Gauss of Gottingen. He was in touch with Bessel who wrote a 
critical yet very appreciative review of Hassler's description of his plans 
and instruments for the U. S. Coast Survey, printed in 1825. Bessel 
saw in thos© plans original features which placed them higher than any 
plans then in operation in other countries. Hassler was in regular 
correspondence with Schumacher, the editor of Astronomische Nach- 
richten; with Admiral Krusenstern and the elder Struve in Russia; 
Hassler communicated with the astronomer Tiarks and with Edward 
Troughton in England; occasionally he contributed papers to European 
journals. He was an associate of the London Royal Astronomical So- 
ciety. In our country he kept in correspondence with Thomas Jefferson 
and James Madison. Thus, instead of living a submissive, passive life, 
instead of vegetating, he kept his mind alert, young and creative. 

The reader may be interested in an unpublished letter which ex- 



SWISS GEODESY AND THE U. S. COAST SURVEY 127 

President Madison wrote Hassler on February 22, 1832, when Madison 

was in his eighty-first year: 

Montpelier, february 22, 1832. 
Dear Sir: 

I have received your favor with the accompanying copies of your report 
on weights and measures. I have forwarded the two, one for Professor 
Patterson and one for the University of Virginia, and shall dispose of the 
others as you desire. For the copy allotted to myself, I return you my thanks. 
The decrepit state of my health, added to my great age and other causes, 
have prevented me from looking much into the work. My confidence in your 
aptitude for it, takes the place of a positive proof of its merits. 

I am glad to learn that you are to resume the important labor of sur- 
veying the coast. I hope you will be able to complete it; and to your own 
satisfaction, in which case I doubt not it will be to the satisfaction of those 
who invite you to the undertaking. 

I tender you sir my esteemed friendly salutations. 

(Signed) James Madison. 

The creative side of Hassler is seen mainly in the design of new 
instruments. He put forth an improved repeating theodolite. For 
signals at geodetic stations, Hassler, in 1806, recommended spherical 
reflectors, such as he had used in Switzerland, but later introduced 
truncated cones of tin which could be manufactured easily and cheaply 
and under ordinary and easy conditions, possessed advantages over 
the heliotrope invented later by Gauss. Hassler appears to be the 
earliest geodesist who thought of using the bright reflection of solar 
light from a gilt ball or cone. After 1836 Hassler used Gauss' helio- 
trope for great distances to be pierced under bad atmospheric condi- 
tions. Most original was Hassler's base line apparatus which involved 
an idea worked out by him in Switzerland and perfected in this coun- 
try. Instead of bringing different bars in actual contact during the 
progress of base-measurements, he used only one bar and optical con- 
tact. Each end of the bar was marked by a spider web; a compound 
microscope standing upon a separate support was placed at the forward 
end, right over the spider-web. As the place of this end of the bar 
was determined by the microscope the bar could be moved forward and 
its back end placed under the microscope. This was truly an ingenious 
procedure. 

It is interesting that Hassler's plans for an observatory in the United 
States which were presented to the Government in 1816 and published 
in 1825 should resemble those actually carried out later by Schumacher 
in the Altona Observatory in 1826. From obvious principles both 
scientists deduced independently of one another, plans closely resem- 
bling each other. 

In the making of maps, Hassler used what is now called the Ameri- 
can polyconic projection. This projection was well adapted for the 
eastern coast of the United States which is a narrow strip extending ap- 



128 THE SCIENTIFIC MONTHLY 

proximately north and south. Mr. C. H. Deetz of the Coast and Geodetic 
Survey, says that "Hassler's polyconic projection possesses great popu- 
larity on account of mechanical ease of construction and the fact that 
a general table for its use has been calculated for the whole spheroid." 
"It has," adds Mr. O. S. Adams, "been extensively used by the United 
States Coast and Geodetic Survey." 

When Hassler resumed work on the Coast Survey in 1832 his health 
was somewhat broken, but his mind was clear and his spirit unbroken 
and defiant of his opponents, to the very last. "Difficulties have never 
subdued me in my life," "I have worked in sick days and in well days" 
are statements the more impressive, when we recall his struggles 
against poverty, the large family dependent upon him, the illness of 
his children, his serious family vicissitudes, the advantages taken of 
him by supposedly personal friends, the limitations placed upon him 
by government red tape, and the political attacks hurled against him. 
In these' respects his career resembles that of the immortal Kepler. 

In his struggles with government officials, Hassler insisted that for 
the greatest success of the Coast Survey, the Superintendent must be 
given liberty to hire men whenever the work required it, to arrange 
for transportation of instruments by land or water, the purchase of 
instruments and books within the limits set by the appropriations made 
by Congress. This liberty, said Hassler, the Superintendent of the Coast 
Survey should have, just as a sea-captain is allowed "to set the sails 
of his vessel according to the wind and sea." Hassler's signing the 
list of accounts with the statement "these expenses were incurred in 
consequence of my direction for the survey of the coast" were objected 
to by auditors of the treasury department as insufficient. Hassler en- 
tered a vigorous protest and in this struggle won out on many points. 

A bone of contention was Hassler's salary. An anecdote became 
current about 1836 that Secretary Woodburry and Hassler could not 
agree on this point, and that Hassler was referred to President Jackson. 
"So Mr. Hassler, it appears the Secretary and you cannot agree about 
this matter," remarked President Jackson, when Hassler had stated 
his case in his usual emphatic style. "No sir, we can't". "Well, how 
much do you really think you ought to have?" "Six thousand dollars, 
Sir." "Why, Mr. Hassler, that is as much as Mr. Woodbury himself 
receives." "Mr. Voodburry!" declared Hassler, rising from his chair, 
"there are plenty of Voodburrys, plenty of Everybodys who can be 
made Secretary of the Treasury. But," said he, pointing his forefinger 
toward himself, "there is only one, one Hassler for the head of the 
Coast Survey." President Jackson, sympathizing with a character 
having some traits in common with his own, granted Hassler's demand. 

One objection raised to Hassler in Congress was that his survey 
was too slow and expensive; a modified, less scientific, more expedi- 



SWISS GEODESY AND THE U. S. COAST SURVEY 129 

tious plan was advocated. As we look back now after the passage of 
four score years, Hassler stands out greatest in perceiving and singling 
out what was best in the practical goedesy of his time, in making im- 
provements upon what he found, and then clinging to his plan, which 
was a triangulation scheme, as being the best that the science of his day 
brought forth — clinging as a mother does to her child in danger. What 
looms highest is his moral quality and strength to resist compromises, 
to resist hazardous alterations suggested by engineers and statesmen, 
to maintain this opposition against the adoption of "cheaper" yet "just 
as good" plans, and to persist in this opposition year after year, 
decade after decade, from young manhood to old age. The services of 
Hassler to the Nation loom larger and larger with the lapse of time. 
Hassler scorned pretensions and shams. Says a recent writer: "Due 
to his far sightedness the best foundation was thus laid for geodetic 
operations." 

Switzerland, at the close of the eighteenth century, embodied in its 
triangulation surveys the best that European science could offer. 
Tralles and Hassler introduced some novelties of their own. The 
Swiss science and art of geodesy were carried by Hassler to the 
United States. Keeping in constant touch with European progress, 
Hassler exercised his genius in adopting European practice to Ameri- 
can conditions and adding improvements of his own. Thus, Switzer- 
land became the mother of American Geodesy. 



VOL. XIII.— 9.