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     •   Chart Inquiries (questions/comments)  

About the Historical Map and Chart Collection
Historical Chart Background

The first U.S. Government-produced nautical chart, a black and white print made in 1835 from a stone engraving, was of Bridgeport Harbor, Connecticut. Although lacking the detail of today's charts, it was compiled to an exceptional cartographic accuracy that has been a consistent characteristic of U.S. nautical charts throughout the years. Acquisition of a copperplate printing press in 1842 enabled the Coast Survey to publish a chart of New York Bay and Harbor in 1844 with finer definition than was possible from stone engravings. The addition of color, first added to the charts by hand in the 1800's and then by color lithographic processes in the early 1900's, enhanced the usefulness of the charts.


The Historical Map & Chart Collection Project began when it became necessary for preservation efforts to transfer a repository of historical charts and maps, housed in a warehouse environment, to the National Archives. Before transfer, Coast Survey decided to produce high resolution scans of each historical document and make them freely available to researchers, educators and the general public via the Internet.

In 1996, the first 1,700 images were made available to the public through the Internet site using GIF and TIFF images. The Collection's site allowed users to search though established catalogs by type, state or locale. Each catalog gave the user the date of the map, a brief description and the opportunity to preview the 100 dpi image in the browser or download the high resolution 300 dpi image for individual desktop applications. While this approach was suitable for black and white images, color images were a magnitude larger and made downloading impracticable.

In 1997, NOAA began offering an additional service for users. Through the NOAA Library System, at selected sites around the country, the public can access the collection at special work stations and produce full size facsimiles for each historical map or chart. The work stations are available at the NOAA Libraries in the following cities: Silver Spring, Maryland; Seattle, Washington; Miami, Florida; and Charleston, South Carolina.

Present Status

In 2002, a new server configuration was implemented replacing the GIF and TIFF image server. To accommodate the large color file sizes of the 1900s historical maps and charts, a Mr. Sid Image Server was added and all existing images were transferred to the LizardTech Mr. Sid Compression Format (at 50:1). This technology allows users to browse, pan and zoom into the images through standard internet browser software and the ability to download images in the Mr. Sid Compression Format to their desktop systems for later viewing via a free download of a Mr. Sid Viewer. A new, dynamic catalog replaced the old static catalogs and allows for user defined searches by map or chart number, year, type and description. Currently, over 14,000 images are available for free downloading at the site.

The Collection is available for free usage by the general public; federal, state or local agencies; and educational institutions. If the images are used in a publication, presentation or exhibit, Coast Survey requests an appropriate credit line be included such as "From the Image Archives of the Historical Map & Chart Collection/Office of Coast Survey/National Ocean Service/NOAA."

If you would like additional information concerning the Historical Map and Chart Collection, please Contact us.

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