The Office of Coast Survey dates from 1807, when much of the commerce between the states was by coastal shipping. And all foreign trade, especially critical to our prosperity, had to come by ship. With so many ships coming into our ports and harbors, shipwrecks were common, and it was clear the young maritime nation needed accurate nautical charts.
NINTH CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES
At the Second Session,
Begun and held at the city of Washington, in the territory of Columbia,
on Monday the first of December, one thousand eight
hundred and six.
AN ACT to provide for surveying the coasts of the United States.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, that the president of the United States shall be, and he is hereby authorized and requested, to cause a survey to be taken of the coasts of the United States, in which shall be designated the islands and shoals, with the roads or places of anchorage, within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States; and also the respective courses and distances between the principal capes, or head lands, together with such other matters as he may deem proper for completing an accurate chart of every part of the coasts within the extent aforesaid.
Sec.2. And be it further enacted, that it shall be lawful for the president of the United States, to cause such examinations and observations to be made, with respect to St. George’s bank, and any other bank or shoal, and the soundings and currents beyond the distance aforesaid to the gulph stream, as in his opinion may be especially subservient to the commercial interests of the United States.
Sec. 3. And be it further enacted that the president of the United States shall be, and he is hereby authorized and requested, for any of the purposes aforesaid, to cause proper and intelligent persons to be employed, and also such of the public vessels in actual services, as he may judge expedient, and to give such instructions for regulating their conduct as to him may appear proper, according to the tenor of this act.
Sec. 4. And be further enacted, that for carrying this act into effect there shall be, and hereby is appropriated, a sum not exceeding fifty thousand dollars, to be paid out of any monies in the treasury not otherwise appropriated.
[signed] Nathan Macon, Speaker of the House of Representative
[signed] Geo. Clinton, Vice President of the United States, and President of the Senate
I certify that this act did originate in the House of Representatives.
[signed] John Beckley, Clerk
February 10, 1807
[signed] Thomas Jefferson
See the NOAA library for more resources on Coast Survey heritage