Naval Oceanographic Office

______________________________________________________________________________________________Our History


In 1830, the U.S. Navy established the Depot of Charts and Instruments (from which the Naval Oceanographic Office evolved) to maintain a supply of navigational instruments and nautical charts for issue to naval vessels. In 1837, the first survey sponsored by the Depot and led by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes resulted in four engraved charts published for use by the U.S. Navy.

LT Wilkes continued his surveying and gained fame as leader of the U.S. Exploring Expedition. The expedition ranged over the eastern Atlantic to Antarctica, the coasts of both Americas, and far into the west and southwest Pacific. It began the U.S. collection of world magnetic data and contributed substantially to hydrographic, meteorological, botanical and geological knowledge of the explored regions.

During the succeeding five years, 87 similar charts were published and issued from the results of surveys by Wilkes and his officers. These individual surveys, however, were limited in scope; the Depot needed a way to gather information quickly on a worldwide basis. Naval officer Matthew Fontaine Maury, who became known as "The Pathfinder of the Seas", supplied the answer to this dilemma.

Commander Maury, who held the position of Hydrographer of the Navy from 1842-1861, is credited with founding the science of oceanography. His system for collecting and using oceanographic data revolutionized navigation of the seas. Maury assumed command of the Navy's Depot of Charts and Instruments in 1842. He suggested that, if all shipmasters would submit reports of their experiences to a central agency, the data could be digested, compiled and published for the benefit of all. This idea became the basic formula of hydrographic offices throughout the world, making Maury's contributions a milestone in naval oceanography.

Within five years, 26 million reports poured into the Depot, which originally had been intended only as a storehouse of charts and instruments. In 1854, the agency was given the official name of The U.S. Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Office. In 1866, an Act of Congress separated the two functions, establishing the Hydrographic Office as a distinct activity. By this time the Office's mission had expanded to include "the carrying out of surveys, the collection of information and the printing of every kind of nautical chart or publication." The Hydrographic Office was renamed the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO) in 1962, and in 1976 the Office was relocated to the John C. Stennis Space Center in south Mississippi.

As we look toward the future, NAVOCEANO prepares to respond to an ever-changing world. With the end of the Cold War and emphasis on the war on terrorism, the Navy's focus has shifted from deep-water to coastal regions. In response to this new focus, NAVOCEANO has tailored its products to meet these requirements and is accomplishing the mission of maximizing America's sea power by applying relevant oceanographic knowledge in support of United States national security.