Alexander Dallas Bache

Alexander Dallas Bache bigraphy, stories - Physicists

Alexander Dallas Bache : biography

July 19, 1806 – February 17, 1867

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 mapping of the United States coastline.


Alexander Bache was born in Philadelphia, the son of Richard Bache, Jr., and Sophia Burrell Dallas, nephew of George M. Dallas, and great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin. After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1825, he acted as assistant professor there for some time. As a lieutenant in the United States Army Corps of Engineers, he was engaged for a short time in the erection of coastal fortifications, including Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island. Bache resigned from the Army on June 1, 1829.

Bache spent the years 1836 to 1838 in Europe on behalf of the trustees of what became Girard College in 1848. Abroad, he examined European systems of education and, on his return, published a valuable report. 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. He occupied the post of professor of natural philosophy and chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania from 1828 to 1841 and again from 1842 to 1843.

He married Nancy Clark Fowler on September 30, 1838 at Newport, Rhode Island. She was born in Newport, Rhode Island, and died on January 13, 1870 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was his associate in the preparation of much of his published material.

They were the parents of one son, Henry Wood Bache, born in 1839 and died on November 7, 1878 at Bristol, Long Island, New York.

In 1843, on the death of Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, Bache was appointed superintendent of the United States Coast Survey. 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 out of the whole coast by a skillful division of labor and the erection of numerous observing stations. In addition, magnetic and meteorological data was collected. Bache served has head of the Coast Survey for 24 years until his death in 1867.

He was elected an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1845. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 15 March 1858, and a Foreign Member of the Royal Society on 24 May 1860.

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.

He died at Newport, Rhode Island and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC, where a monument was built by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson.

Two survey ships were named for him, the A. D. Bache of 1871 and its successor in 1901.

The cydippid ctenophore Pleurobrachia bachei A. Agassiz, 1860 was named for him; it was discovered in 1859 by Alexander Agassiz who was working as an engineer on a ship surveying the United States/Canada boundary between Washington State and British Columbia.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.