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    Re: Chauvenet's practical navigation experience
    From: Henry Halboth
    Date: 2010 Mar 15, 12:16 -0700
    To all,
    Attached please find a balanced, unabridged, uneditorialized and unbiased version of the subject's accomplishments. BTW, I do not recall anyone claiming the subject to have been an experienced practical navigator - many of the Epitome writers were not.

    --- On Mon, 3/15/10, Frank Reed <FrankReed@HistoricalAtlas.com> wrote:

    From: Frank Reed <FrankReed@HistoricalAtlas.com>
    Subject: [NavList] Chauvenet's practical navigation experience
    To: NavList@fer3.com
    Date: Monday, March 15, 2010, 9:01 AM

    William Chauvenet was born at Milford, Pennsylvania on May 24, 1820. The family moved to Philadelphia a year later, and Chauvenet spent nearly all of his childhood in that city. Just for background on the French name, Chauvenet's father, also William, originally from Narbonne, had served under the Bonaparte regime in Italy and emigrated to the USA following the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire. Sometime in the late 1840s, incidentally, the older Chauvenet was appointed as Professor of French at the Naval Academy at Annapolis where his son was then commandant.
    William Chauvenet was a child prodigy and was encouraged to attend Yale University where he excelled in mathematics and classics. He was awarded the First Prize for Latin composition and graduated with high honors in 1840. He was the only student in his class who completed the advanced course in mathematics. For a little over a year after college, Chauvenet worked at the magnetic observatory at Girard College, Pennsylvania.
    On December 8, 1841, at the age of 21, William Chauvenet was appointed "professor of mathematics" in the United States Navy. He was assigned to the brand new steam frigate "Mississippi" which had been launched May 5, 1841 at Philadelphia. Mississippi was still fitting out at Philadelphia in December.
    Before we go any further, you should know that Chauvenet served aboard Mississippi for only "a few months". I haven't been able to get the exact date when he left the vessel, but "a few" would be no more than four months based on other factors (see below) and possibly as few as two months. Those few months would have him leaving the vessel at the beginning of April or even February. For reference, here's an entry from the "Biographical Memoirs" of the American Academy of Sciences:
    "In 1841 he was appointed a professor of mathematics in the navy, and for a few months served on board the U.S. steamer Mississippi. A brief trial so well convinced him of the uselessness, both to himself and to the midshipmen whom he was expected to instruct, of the plan of teaching on shipboard, subject to the many inconveniences and interruptions of alternate life at sea and in port, that he decided to resign his appointment.
    Midshipmen were then appointed, many of them as mere boys with but little schooling; sea-life first, intellectual development afterwards, was the naval maxim then, and with some officers is even now. Five or more years at sea, with or without instructors, as the case might be, and eight months' study at a school on shore, afforded all the required preparation for examination for promotion.
    The naval schools at the three principal navy yards had in 1839 been concentrated at the Naval Asylum in Philadelphia, under the charge of Professor David McClure. His death occurring in [April] 1842, Prof. Chauvenet was appointed to succeed him, and was thus retained in the navy for the valuable services he subsequently rendered in developing the present Naval Academy from this small beginning."
    Chauvenet's position in the Navy, professor of mathematics, was an experiment in US naval education. Previously, chaplains and then poorly-paid "schoolmasters" had been tasked with basic shipboard education. In the 1830s, in an effort to professionalize the process, instructors in mathematics (called "professors" but the term did not have its modern connotation) and also a few instructors in languages were posted aboard active duty ships, and it was expected that they would teach young officer candidates in spare moments aboard ship. This was widely regarded as ineffective for many reasons including the fact that the attendance at the lessons was entirely voluntary (this was also true at the land-based Naval Schools at that time), and the failure of these experiments led directly to the founding of the Naval Academy at Annapolis a few years later, thanks in large measure to Chuavenet's own enthusiasm for a land-based naval school. The sea-based system was also inefficient in labor terms. There were 23 "professors of mathematics" in the US Navy in 1842, including Chauvenet.
    Here's one account from "Hazard's", Dec 1841: "Situation of the Professors of Mathematics: In connexion with this subject, I would ask your attention to the situation of the professors of mathematics now employed in the service. This useful class of men have no permanent connexion with the Navy, but are called in only as their services are needed, and are not paid except when on actual duty. The consequence is, that they cannot rely on this employment for support, and are often reluctantly driven to other pursuits. It is to be presumed that men whose talents and attainments qualify them to be teachers in the Navy, ore equally qualified to be teachers on land ; and, as this latter is the less precarious position, the better qualified will be the most apt to seek it. Hence the Department cannot rely with any assurance on being able to command suitable professors at all times when their services may be required. It is, I think, of great importance that some provision should be made upon this subject. I also recommend that a certain rank or position be given to the professors, which will relieve them from the necessity of messing and sleeping with their pupils. This close and constant association is well calculated to weaken the respect and influence which their relation to the young officers ought to inspire, and which is absolutely necessary to give due effect to their instructions [see below]. I doubt whether their services upon the present system are worth the money which they cost, although they would be highly valuable under proper regulations."
    Lest you think there was no navigational science involved in this position of "professor of mathematics", I point you to the naval dress code for the officers in 1841: "Black cocked hats are to be worn, in full dress, by all officers excepting clerks, professors of mathematics, boatswains, gunners, carpenters"
    See? Cocked hats?? Ashame the "professors of mathematics" were exempted from wearing them. :-)
    Back to the steamer Mississippi. This was one of the very first steam vessels in the US Navy. There were only four steamers listed in the US Navy a year after her launch: Mississippi, her sistership Missouri, and two smaller vessels. Mississippi was a paddlewheel steamship over 200 feet long. Mississippi was intended for the newly created "Home Squadron". She was a state of the art vessel, and steam was the "rocket science" of the era. A motivation for assigning professors of mathematics to naval vessels was the belief that officers would have to become scientists in this new era of steam propulsion (reminds me of Rickover's conviction a century later that officers aboard nuclear submarines must necessarily become nuclear scientists). The job of Chauvenet and the other professors of mathematics was to teach mathematics generally. They were not primarily needed for navigational instruction since of course naval officers learned that on-the-job, though naturally they did also teach navigational mathematics as necessary.
    Mississippi remained at Philadelphia during most of December, 1841. Mississippi was commissioned on December 22, 1841 under the command of Captain W.D. Salter and made her first brief voyage, travelling 30 miles downriver on Christmas eve to the port at New Castle, Delaware. For the next two months, the steamship was engaged in trials along the Delaware River near New Castle. As marvels of modern technology, these trials were popular public spectacles. Finally ready for sea, Mississippi made her first voyage on Feb 19-20, 1842 from New Castle to Norfolk, Virginia averaging about ten knots in a 25 hour voyage. If he was still aboard Mississippi, this would have been William Chauvenet's first voyage on the Atlantic Ocean spending about twelve hours along the Delaware/Virginia during the night of the 19th. Naturally, he had no role whatsoever in the navigation of the vessel.
    One of her officers wrote of this first trial:
    "Gentlemen—It affords me no little satisfaction to be enabled to inform you that we left New Castle, Del. at about half past 7 o'clock, on Saturday morning, and arrived here at half past 8 this morning. We were delayed some time off Cape Henlopen to discharge the pilot, and were detained nearly an hour by the Norfolk pilot, e'er we could run up into the roads. I wrote you from the Capes. The ship performed magnificently, running from 10 to 12 miles, and sometimes faster, the whole trip, and never over 9 inches steam, and most of the time five and six inches. Down the Bay and for thirty-eight miles outside the Capes, whilst running to the southward and eastward to clear winter quarter shoal, we had to contend with a heavy south-east swell setting in. The ship rode handsomely and behaved well— what she will do when we receive all our stores on board, remains to be tested."
    Mississippi spent several weeks fitting out at Norfolk in March, 1842. At about this time, yet another letter appeared in the press noticing the futility of the position of professor of mathematics:
    "That the present mode of instruction, by professors of mathematics, does not serve a very useful purpose, we are assured, not only by those who are to be instructed, but by the officers of every other grade, and by some of the very professors themselves, who have tried the system.
    It may be well perhaps to state the reasons which have brought them to this conclusion.
    A ship of war has no place to spare for a school room, without encroaching upon the space occupied by her crew and armament. The sea duties proper, the artillery and divisional duty, the police of the ship, the constant interruption by the elements at sea, the refuting, boat and harbor duties in port, leave little leisure to any one in active service. Nor are the fatigues and exposure to the weather, and motion of the ship on the unsteady sea, favorable to literary pursuits. A small portion of time, under the most favorable circumstances, can be devoted to study—and that at intervals, from the above causes, fatal to the acquisition of mathematical learning, which demands a steady application."
    Sometime in March, 1842, Mississippi sailed for New York, a short journey lasting about a day and a half. On April 1, 1842, Mississippi left New York with her sistership Missouri bound again for Norfolk and then Washington. Three days later, in the estuary of the Potomac, the Missouri ran aground. With Mississippi observing, 16 men were lost while hauling a heavy anchor chain out to deep water in an effort to pull Missouri off the shoals. Whether Chauvenet witnessed any of this, I don't know. He left Mississippi sometime around this date. It's reported in biographies written later in the century that Chauvenet left the service for all of the reasons cited above. It was no way to teach. Chauvenet did not, however, abandon the idea of teaching naval officers. Instead he became a vocal and ardent advocate of land-bound naval education. When McClure died he took his post at the Naval School in Philadelphia. That was in April, 1842. Some sources report that McClure had fallen ill some months earlier so Chauvenet may already have been assigned to Philadelphia, his hometown, as early as February.

    As for Mississippi, the whole idea of a Home Squadron was proving to be expensive and unnecessary. To put the vessels of the Home Squadron to better use, their range was soon extended to the Amazon in the south and Newfoundland in the north. But this was a job still best suited to sailing vessels which could cruise for weeks, so the Secretary of the Navy ordered Mississippi and Missouri decommissioned. In late 1842 due to the expense and the frequent port calls required to fuel them, they were taken out of service. Mississippi was re-commissioned a few years later and saw service bombarding Veracruz during the Mexican War, visited China and Japan in the late 1850s, and was eventually destroyed (scuttled after grounding and being heavily damaged by shore bombardment) during the US Civil War in 1863. Missouri, by the way, was sent on a diplomatic mission to China in the summer of 1843, with the intention of showcasing American steam technology. She became the first US Navy steamship to cross the Atlantic, but she was destroyed by fire at Gibraltar.
    Meanwhile, sometime after Chauvenet left Mississippi, one small indignity was removed for those other professors of mathematics still aboard ships at sea. In September of 1842, we find a new law passed: "Be it enacted ... that professors of mathematics in the navy of the United States shall be entitled to live and mess with the lieutenants of seagoing and receiving vessels, and shall receive such rations as lieutenants of this same ship or station shall receive." No more eating with the students... No more of "Hey professor... how many mathematicians does it take to pass the potatoes... har-har".
    Chauvenet immediately set about teaching mathematics to his students at the Naval School in Philadelphia. This was not practical mathematics by any means. It was serious, introductory college-level mathematics, and his students could spar with the best math students of Yale, Harvard, Wesleyan, etc. To get a feel for the sort of thing Chauvenet was teaching, look no further than his very first book which was ready for publication in early 1843. It is entitled, "Binomial Theorem and Logarithms: for the Use of the Midshipmen at the Naval School, Philadelphia." It's 92 pages long, mostly devoted to theorems in algebra, exponentiation, and the binomial theorem. It grew out of his manuscript study guide. The section on common logarithms is brief, since, as Chauvenet notes, the use of common logs is explained in the tables. There is even a long section on natural logarithms. Naturally, there is very little of this that has any practical relevance to navigation (you can find the book online).
    With boundless enthusiasm, Chauvenet transformed the offerings at the Naval School in Philadelphia into a first-rate college program, albeit at first only an eight-month program. In 1845, the school was moved to Annapolis, and the US Naval Academy was born.
    Time to reiterate the significance of this for the issue of Chauvenet's practical knowledge of navigation. Chauvenet was at sea, not counting the estuaries of the Delaware and the Potomac, for about five full days of his life, possibly not even that many, and almost certainly never more than forty miles from shore, probably not more than twenty miles from shore. He was not navigator on the Mississippi. He was not an officer with a rank that would require him to navigate. His job was to to teach mathematics in circumstances that many people including Chauvenet apparently considered completely unsuited to proper education. This "mathematics" would have included the mathematics of navigation but the practice was learned from other sailors. Chauvenet left the sea at the first possible opportunity and never looked back. William Chauvenet was, of course, one of the great mathematicians of the US in the 19th century. He was at home in the world of positional astronomy and spherical trigonometry. His "Manual of Spherical and Practical Astronomy" stands up well even today. Chauvenet was a brilliant child prodigy, a brilliant and meticulous mathematician, and by all accounts a very good teacher. But he had almost no practical experience in marine navigation. Unfortunately, his naval service has been mis-understood by many people and construed to imply that he was a naval navigator, a man with extensive practical experience in navigation. That was never the case.
    Ok? Everybody get it now??
    PS: If by chance, there is anyone on NavList who made it all the way to the end of this message and who does not know about Chauvenet's famous two volume set "A Manual of Spherical and Practical Astronomy", rest assured, you will want to get a copy at some point. They are available for download from multiple sources. They are also available as reprints at reasonable prices. Try abebooks.com, e.g.

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    Chauvenet (print-only)

    William Chauvenet

    Born: 24 May 1820 in Milford, Pennsylvania, USA
    Died: 13 Dec 1870 in St Paul, Minnesota, USA

    William Chauvenet's parents were Mary Kerr and William Marc Chauvenet. William Chauvenet senior was a farmer but later became a businessman. The family were relatively well off and able to send their son to a private school in Philadelphia. The school was run by Dr Samuel Jones who was so impressed with the abilities of William, the subject of this biography, that he persuaded his father to give up the idea that his son would become a businessman and allow him to obtain a university education at Yale university.

    Although William was extremely good at mathematics and this was the natural subject for him to study at university, he had to also be knowledgeable in Latin and Greek in order to be accepted onto a degree course. He did not find this too much trouble and after one year of study he was proficient at Latin and Greek when he entered Yale University in 1836. One might imagine that getting up to scratch in Latin to meet the entrance requirement would have been difficult enough, but he achieved far more than just the minimum level for he studied classics at Yale as well as mathematics and was awarded first prize for Latin composition at the end of his first year of study. He graduated with distinction in 1940.

    After graduating Chauvenet was appointed as assistant to Alexander D Bache at Girard College in Philadelphia. Girard College had been founded by the American financier and philanthropist Stephen Girard in 1833 and Chauvenet worked there making observations of the terrestrial magnetic field. He also worked on astronomy at Philadelphia High School. In 1841 he was appointed as professor of mathematics in the U.S. Navy. This proved the most important post for Chauvenet for it led him to be involved in the founding of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. His initial work with the U.S. Navy consisted of teaching on the USS Mississippi. This did not reach the levels that Chauvenet thought were required so in 1842 he moved to the Naval Asylum school in Philadelphia where he set up an eight month course. It had been established to educate midshipmen and junior officers but was poorly equipped when Chauvenet arrived. He soon established a more rigorous course and obtained new instruments for the students. Also in 1842 he married Catherine Hemple; they had five children, one daughter and four sons. One son, Regis Chauvenet, who was born in Philadelphia on 7 October 1842, went on to became a professor of chemistry.

    Zund writes [3]:-

    Finding the eight-month study program inadequate, Chauvenet proposed a four-year course of study and began lobbying for the creation of a separate naval school devoted solely to academic studies.

    A Naval School was founded at Fort Severn, Annapolis, Maryland on 10 October 1845, by George Bancroft, historian, educator, and secretary of the Navy, with the aim of meeting the needs which Chauvenet had set out. Annapolis was chosen, rather than Philadelphia, so that the students were not subject to:-

    ... the temptations and distractions that are necessarily connected with a large and populous city.

    The course was a five year one, but only the first and fifth years were spent at the school, the other three years being spent on board ships which were on active service. Chauvenet, who is considered to be one of the founders, moved to Annapolis when the Naval School opened in 1845 being appointed as professor of mathematics and astronomy and also as head of department.

    Bancroft sent a letter which was read to the students on the morning the School opened:-

    The Government in affording you the opportunity of acquiring an education, so important to the accomplishment of a naval officer, has bestowed upon you all an incalculable benefit. The regulations of the Navy require you to pass through a severe ordeal before you can be promoted; you must undergo an examination on all the branches taught at the Naval School before you are eligible for a Lieutenancy; your morals and general character are strictly inquired into. It is therefore expected that you will improve every leisure moment in the acquirement of knowledge of your profession; and you will recollect that a good moral character is essential to your promotion and high standing in the Navy.

    Chauvenet continued to press for a four year academic course, and the Naval School was reorganized in 1850-1851 as the U.S. Naval Academy, with a course of study of four consecutive years. The three years that the students had spent training on board ship under the previous course now became an intensive summer training between each of the academic years.

    Chauvenet held his mathematics position at the Academy until 1853 when he became professor of astronomy, navigation and surveying there. Yale offered him a professorship in mathematics in 1855 but he declined, then again in 1859 they offered him the chair of astronomy and natural philosophy and again he declined. However, in the same year he accepted a post of professor of mathematics at Washington University, St Louis, which was founded in 1853 as Eliot Seminary but had changed its name to Washington University in 1857. The first chancellor of Washington University was Joseph Hoyt, but after his death in 1862 Chauvenet was appointed chancellor to succeed him. He held this post until 1869 when he retired because of ill health.

    What, we should ask, was Chauvenet's main contributions to mathematics. He made two important contributions, one as a fine writer of textbooks and the other as a leading figure in the development of mathematics in America. He will, however, be remembered by many for his important role in founding the U.S. Naval Academy, especially given the immense influence this has had on the American military success. As a textbook writer we mention Chauvenet's A treatise on plane and spherical trigonometry (1850), Spherical astronomy (1863), Theory and use of astronomical instruments : Method of least squares (1863), and A treatise of elementary geometry (1870). Zund writes [3]:-

    Chauvenet's books were noted for their clarity and simplicity both for use in the classroom and for self-study. While they contained little in the way of original discoveries, their improved methodology and fresh new presentations were real pedagogical contributions.

    As a leader of American mathematics during his lifetime we note that he was an original member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It was founded in 1847 in Boston, Massachusetts, and held its first meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1848. Its goals were to further the work of scientists, particularly by assisting them to cooperate, to improve the use of science for the benefit of mankind, and to increase public understanding of science. Chauvenet was the general secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1859 and became its president in 1870. He was also an energetic worker for the National Academy of Sciences (United States) which was established on 3 March 1863 to advise the U.S. government on scientific matters. He was involved with it from the time it was established, and in 1868 he was elected as vice-president. He continued to serve in this role until his death.

    Chauvenet is particularly remembered by mathematicians since the Mathematical Association of America created the Chauvenet Prize in 1925 to be awarded for mathematical exposition. Coolidge, then president of the MAA, presented funds to establish the prize.

    In 1969 Chauvenet Hall was dedicated at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. It contains the Department of Mathematics. The USNS Chauvenet built by Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1970 was the first ship specially designed for the U.S. Navy to conduct coastal hydrographic surveys.

    Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

    August 2005

    MacTutor History of Mathematics
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