Alexander Dallas Bache

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Alexander Dallas Bache
A 19th century illustration of Bache and his signature
6th Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey
In office
Preceded byFerdinand Rudolph Hassler
Succeeded byBenjamin Peirce
1st President of the National Academy of Sciences
In office
Succeeded byJoseph Henry
Personal details
Born(1806-07-19)July 19, 1806
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedFebruary 17, 1867(1867-02-17) (aged 60)
Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.
Resting placeCongressional Cemetery
SpouseNancy Clark Fowler
Alma materUS Military Academy
Known forcoastal mapping project
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Pennsylvania

Alexander Dallas Bache (July 19, 1806 – February 17, 1867) was an American physicist, scientist, and surveyor who erected coastal fortifications and conducted a detailed survey to map the mideastern United States coastline. Originally an army engineer, he later became Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey, and built it into the foremost scientific institution in the country before the American Civil War.

Early life and education[edit]

Bache was born in Philadelphia,[1] the son of Richard Bache, Jr., and Sophia Burrell Dallas Bache. He came from a family prominent in American politics. He was the nephew of Vice-President George M. Dallas and naval hero Alexander J. Dallas, the grandson of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Dallas, and the great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin.[2]


United States Army[edit]

After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1825, as first in his class, he was an assistant professor of engineering there for some time.[3] As a second lieutenant in the United States Army Corps of Engineers, he was engaged in the construction of Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island.[3] Bache resigned from the Army on June 1, 1829.

University of Pennsylvania[edit]

Bache was a professor of natural philosophy and chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania from 1828 to 1841 and again from 1842 to 1843.[3] He spent 1836–1838 in Europe on behalf of the trustees of what became Girard College; he was named president of the college after his return.[4] Abroad, he examined European education systems, and on his return he published a valuable report.[1] From 1839 to 1842, he served as the first president of Central High School of Philadelphia, one of the oldest public high schools in the United States.[3]

U.S. Coast Survey[edit]

In 1843, on the death of Professor Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, Bache was appointed superintendent of the United States Coast Survey.[1] He convinced the United States Congress of the value of this work and, by means of the liberal aid it granted, he completed the mapping of the whole coast by a skillful division of labor and the erection of numerous observing stations.[1] In addition, geomagnetic and meteorological data were collected.[1] Bache served as head of the Coast Survey for 24 years (until his death).

Awards and honors[edit]

After the Civil War, Bache was elected a 3rd Class Companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) in consideration of his contributions to the war effort.

Personal life[edit]

He married Nancy Clark Fowler on September 30, 1838, in Newport, Rhode Island. She was born in Newport and died on January 13, 1870, in Philadelphia. She assisted in the publication of much of his work. They adopted one son, Henry Wood Bache (1839–1878).[8]


Bache's gravesite at Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

He died at Newport, Rhode Island] on February 17, 1867, from cerebral softening.[1] He was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., under a monument designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson.


  • Bache-Martin School, a public elementary school in Philadelphia, has its 5th-8th grade building named after him.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f EB (1878).
  2. ^ Chambers 1961.
  3. ^ a b c d EB (1911).
  4. ^ "Bache, Alexander Dallas" . The Biographical Dictionary of America . Vol. 1. 1906. p. 172-173 – via Wikisource.
  5. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved April 7, 2021.
  6. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 28, 2011.
  7. ^ "Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002" (PDF). Royal Society of Edinburgh. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 28, 2008. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  8. ^ "Henry Wood Bache". Archived from the original on December 16, 2016. Retrieved February 12, 2021.
  9. ^ Agassiz, G.R. 1913. Letters and recollections of Alexander Agassiz, with a sketch of his life and work, ed. by G.R. Agassiz. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 454 pages
  10. ^ "Bache-Martin School – The School District of Philadelphia".



External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by Superintendent, United States Coast Survey
Succeeded by
Professional and academic associations
New office President of the National Academy of Sciences
1863 – 1867
Succeeded by