Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Alexander Dallas Bache

BACHE, Alexander Dallas, a distinguished American physicist, who has gained a wide reputation as superintendent of the great American Coast Survey, was a great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin, and was born at Philadelphia, 19th July 1806. In 1821 he entered the military academy at West Point, and graduated there with the highest honours in 1825. For some time he acted as assistant professor in the academy, holding at the same time a commission as lieutenant of engineers, in which capacity he was engaged for a year or two in the erection of coast fortifications. He occupied the post of professor of mathematics in the university of Pennsylvania from 1827 to 1836, and was then made president of the newly-instituted Girard College. In this capacity he undertook a journey through some of the principal countries of Europe, in order to examine their systems of education, and on his return published a very valuable report. In 1843, on the death of Professor Hassler, he was appointed by Government to the office of superintendent of the coast survey. He succeeded in impressing Congress with a sense of the great value of this work, and by means of the liberal aid it granted, he carried out a singularly comprehensive plan with great ability and most satisfactory results. By a skilful division of labour, and by the erection of numerous observing stations, the mapping out of the whole coast proceeded simultaneously under the eye of the general director. Nor were the observations confined to mere description of the coast-line; the several stations were well supplied with instruments, and a vast mass of magnetic and meteorological observations was collected, such as must infallibly prove of infinite service in the future progress of physical science. The annual reports issued by the superintendent were admirable specimens of such summaries, and secured for him a high reputation among European savants. Professor Bache contributed numerous papers to scientific journals and transactions, and laboured earnestly to raise the position of physical science in America. For some months before his death, which took place at Newport, 17th February 1867, he was afflicted with softening of the brain, caused, perhaps, by intense and long-continued mental exertion.