Guide to Federal Records

Records of the U.S. Naval Observatory


(Record Group 78)
1840-1971

Overview of Records Locations

Table of Contents

  • 78.1 Administrative History
  • 78.2 Records of the Naval Observatory 1840-1943
  • 78.3 Records of Astronomical and Other Expeditions 1848-1926
    • 78.3.1 Records of the United States Naval Astronomical Expedition to the Southern Hemisphere
    • 78.3.2 Records of other expeditions
  • 78.4 Records of the Nautical Almanac Office 1849-1971
  • 78.5 Motion Pictures (General) ca. 1930
  • 78.6 Still Pictures (General) 1848-1905

78.1 Administrative History

Established: Under the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Department of the Navy, by authority of CNO Letter Series 09B33/4273, August 23, 1974, and reaffirmed by CNO in December 1987.

Predecessor Agencies:

Under the Board of Navy Commissioners:

  • Naval Depot of Charts and Instruments (1830-42)

In the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography:

  • Naval Depot of Charts and Instruments (1842-54)
  • U.S. Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Office (1854-62)

In the Bureau of Navigation:

  • U.S. Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Office (1862-66)
  • Naval Observatory (1866-89 and 1910-42)

In the Bureau of Equipment:

  • Naval Observatory (1889-1910)

Under the Chief of Naval Operations:

  • Naval Observatory (1942-74)

Functions: Keeps the national time, and makes continuous astronomical observations. Develops, inspects, and services astronomical, navigational, and aerological instruments. Prepares the Astronomical Almanac and other publications of value to navigators and scientists.

Finding Aids: Kenneth F. Bartlett and James R. Masterson, comps., "Preliminary Checklist of the Records of the Naval Observatory, 1840-1929," PC 42 (May 1946); Harry Schwartz, comp., "Supplement to Preliminary Checklist 42, Records of the Naval Observatory," NM 47 (1965).

Related Records:
Record copies of publications of the U.S. Naval Observatory in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.
Records of the Bureau of Ships, RG 19.
Records of the Weather Bureau, RG 27.
Records of the Hydrographic Office, RG 37.

Top of Page

78.2 Records of the Naval Observatory
1840-1943

History: Naval Depot of Charts and Instruments established under Board of Navy Commissioners by secretarial order, December 6, 1830. Transferred to newly created Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography by an act of August 31, 1842 (5 Stat. 579). Known variously and informally, 1844-54, as the United States Naval Observatory, the Hydrographical Office, the Depot of Charts, the National Observatory, and the Washington Observatory. Formally designated the United States Naval Observatory and Hydrographic Office by secretarial order, December 12, 1854. Transferred to Bureau of Navigation by act of July 5, 1862 (12 Stat. 510). Naval Observatory separated from Hydrographical Office, and retained in the Bureau of Navigation, by an act of June 21, 1866 (14 Stat. 69). Transferred to the Bureau of Equipment, effective July 1, 1889, by General Order 372, Navy Department, June 25, 1889; to the Bureau of Navigation, July 1, 1910, pursuant to an act of June 24, 1910 (36 Stat. 605), and Departmental Order 70, Navy Department, June 30, 1910; to the Office of the CNO, by EO 9126, April 8, 1942, and Reorganization Plan No. III of 1946, effective July 16, 1946. Renamed U.S. Naval Observatory, 1974. SEE 78.1.

Textual Records: Letters sent, 1842-84, 1887-91, 1893-1911, with indexes. Letters received, 1840-85, 1888-92, with indexes. Correspondence, 1885-88, 1892-1943, with indexes. Telegrams sent and received, 1886-1908. Departmental orders, Executive orders, and circulars, 1893-1903. Orders and appointments, 1889-1912. Department of Aeronautical Instruments journal of administrative events, 1918-24. Index to "abstract logs" (meteorological data collected by ships), 1853-61. Records of magnetic observations, including notebooks and "magnetograms," 1843-96. Records of astronomical observations made in and near Washington, DC, including observation notebooks, 1845-1907; chronograph tapes, 1851-70; chronograph sheets, 1860-91; and reduction sheets, 1845- 91. Card catalogs of stars, including the Washington Zone Catalogue, n.d.; and the Transit Circle Star Catalogue, 1872. Minutes of the Committee on Plan of Work, 1902-6; and of the Committee on Publication and Printing, 1901-6. Surveys and computations of the geographic position of the Naval Observatory, 1891, 1893, and 1894. Final reports on the Monadnock Project, 1873.

Related Records: Naval Historical Foundation collection of correspondence of the Naval Depot of Charts and Instruments, 1833-54, and of the Naval Observatory, 1866-95, is in the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Subject Access Terms: Maury, Matthew F.; time balls.

Top of Page

78.3 Records of Astronomical and Other Expeditions
1848-1926

Top of Page

78.3.1 Records of the United States Naval Astronomical Expedition
to the Southern Hemisphere

Textual Records: Letters sent, 1848-60. Letters received, 1848- 52. Notebooks of telescopic observations made near Santiago de Chile, including data sheets on reductions, differential measures, clock corrections, and determinations of latitude and longitude, 1849-52. Card catalog of stars in the Southern Hemisphere, n.d.

Microfilm Publications: T54.

Top of Page

78.3.2 Records of other expeditions

Textual Records: Reports, observations, computations, notebooks, and correspondence from astronomical expeditions relating to eclipses of the sun, 1869-1926; the transit of Venus, 1882; and the transit of Mercury, 1878, 1891, and 1894. Narrative of Polaris expedition, 1876.

Top of Page

78.4 Records of the Nautical Almanac Office
1849-1971

History: Established in the Department of the Navy by the Naval Appropriation Act (9 Stat. 375), March 3, 1849. To the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography, 1858. To the Bureau of Navigation by an act of July 5, 1862 (12 Stat. 510). To the Bureau of Equipment, effective July 1, 1889, by General Order 372, Navy Department, June 25, 1889. Attached logistically and administratively to the Naval Observatory, 1894.

Textual Records: Letters received, 1849-51, 1853-60, 1864-85, with indexes. Letters sent, 1852-60, 1864-69, 1873-77, 1879-1911, with indexes. Correspondence, 1885-1904, with indexes. Scientific papers of Naval Observatory astronomers, 1861-1971.

Related Records: Naval Historical Foundation collection of correspondence of the Nautical Almanac Office is in the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Top of Page

78.5 Motion Pictures (General)
ca. 1930

American officials visiting Samoa, ca. 1930 (1 reel).

Top of Page

78.6 Still Pictures (General)
1848-1905

Photographs: Greenland cruise of William Bradford in Panther, 1869 (50 images). Island of Spitzbergen, taken during the Benjamin Leigh Smith expedition in Samson and Diana, 1873 (9 images).

Photographs, Glass Transparencies, and Drawings: U.S. naval expeditions studying solar eclipses in 1878, 1889, 1897, and 1905; and panoramas of cities, ca. 1897-1905 (AE, 90 items).

Lithographs: Alpine scenes, 1848 (2 images).

Sketches and Woodcuts: Scenes of Charles F. Hall's Arctic expeditions in Polaris, 1864-69, 1871-73 (50 images).


Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
3 volumes, 2428 pages.

Ordering information

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1995.


Top of Page

Guide to Federal Records >

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272

.