Nicholas H. Heck – Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy Captain, U. S. Coast & Geodetic Survey Assistant to the Director

Captain Nicholas H. Heck, retired Scientific Assistant to the Director, and former Chief of the Division of Terrestrial Magnetism and Seismology (now Division of Geophysics), passed away here December 21, 1953, at Mount Vernon Hospital. Services were held at Ft. Myer Chapel and interment in Arlington Cemetery on December 24. Honorary pall-bearers were Admirals Studds, Knox, Colbert, and Hawley; Captains Hoskinson, Roberts, Borden, Garner, Hemple, Luce, and Rude; and Mr. Raymond Swick.

Captain Heck was born in Heckton, Pennsylvania in 1882. He was graduated from Lehigh University with an A.B. Degree in 1903, and received a degree in civil engineering from the same university the following year and an honorary ScD. Degree in 1930. Fordham University also conferred an honorary ScD. Degree upon him in 1941.

Captain Heck entered the commissioned service of the Bureau in 1904, and served continuously for more than 41 years. During that period he commanded several of the Survey's largest ships and distinguished himself in several scientific and engineering fields. He made significant contributions to the development of wire drag and the initial development of radio-acoustic ranging, and became an international authority on seismology and terrestrial magnetism. He retired from active service in 1945.

Among the many publications to his credit is a popular book entitled Earthquakes. He was author of numerous Bureau publications on the subjects of wire drag, compensation of the magnetic compass, velocity of sound in sea water, radio-acoustic method of determining position in hydrography, and earthquake history of the United States. He also wrote many other articles relating to magnetism and seismology which were published in this country and abroad.

He was also a member of many professional societies. He served terms as president of the Seismological Society of America, the Philosophical Society of Washington, D.C., the Seismological Association of the International Union of
Geodesy and Geophysics, and the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Sigma Xi. He was also a member of the Washington Academy of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society of Civil Engineers, Society of American Military Engineers, Cosmos Club, and the Geological Society of America.

During World I he was assigned to the United States Navy and assisted in research projects in London, England and New London, Connecticut for developing means of detecting submarines by underwater sound waves. It was from these
studies that he was able to participate in the subsequent development of our present system of hydro surveys.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 09/01/1882
  • DATE OF DEATH: 12/21/1953

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