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A NOAA Holiday Salute to Donald Duck's Distant Cousin

Disney’s iconic cartoon family includes a lesser known eagle.

Around the globe, the beloved characters of Walt Disney have become holiday icons as familiar as Santa and Rudolph. But you probably wouldn't know that NOAA has its own Disney icon, which, though not associated with a holiday, did much to lift the spirits of those who served in World War II.

C&GS Eagle

The Walt Disney Studio’s inspired insignias, such as the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey Eagle designed for one of NOAA’s predecessor agencies, raised the troops’ spirits. By the end of World War II, Disney had completed more than 1,200 unit insignias. The company never charged a fee to the military.

A Sharp-eyed Surveyor

This Disney “character” of lesser fame but equal significance -- at least as far as NOAA is concerned -- is the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS) Eagle. During World War II, The Walt Disney Studio actually designed an insignia for the C&GS – the predecessor of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, Office of Geodetic Survey, and Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.

In Disney’s design, a jaunty Eagle stands atop a globe, busily carrying out a most important C&GS task -- making paper nautical charts.

He wears a sailor’s hat to signify the maritime nature of charting work and the uniforms worn by ships’ officers and crew.  In one wing, he holds a pencil with which to enter information on the chart he holds in place with his titanic talons (which, incidentally, bear a strong family resemblance to the tootsies of Jiminy Cricket). With the other, he supports a sextant, through which he peers with famously sharp eyes to carefully measure the angles between objects on shore with known positions. These measurements determined the position of the survey vessel in the water.

C&GS’s Role in the War

Throughout WWII, C&GS officers and civilians served in North Africa, Europe, and the Pacific in a variety of technical positions that included artillery surveyors, hydrographers, amphibious engineers, and reconnaissance surveyors for the worldwide aeronautical charting effort. In Europe, C&GS artillery surveyors assured the success of the devastating tactic of "time-on-target," a method of coordinating various artillery batteries to concentrate their fire on a single point. In the Pacific, C&GS ships often operated in advance of fleet units.

C&GS Eagle crest

The eagle design created by Disney was most likely based on this old Coast Survey crest of an eagle sitting on a globe.

C&GS amphibious engineers were regimental navigators for Army engineer shore and boat regiments that moved men and supplies during General Douglas MacArthur's innovative “leap-frog” strategy from New Guinea on up into the Philippines in 1944. Throughout the war, C&GS officers also traveled the world as reconnaissance surveyors for the Army Air Forces, pioneering many of today’s civil air routes.

On the home front, C&GS chart makers provided close to 100 million charts and maps to the Allied Forces. These efforts included press runs of more than 1,800 target charts of such pivotal places as Ploesti and Hiroshima.

The Eagle Peers On

Disney’s C&GS Eagle remains a beloved NOAA icon. It was painted on the smoke stack of a survey ship and the nose of a survey aircraft, carved on the front door of a house, and emblazoned on t-shirts, caps, patches, and a U.S. Postal Service first day cover.

Sure, we here at NOAA proffer fond season’s greetings to Donald, Goofy, and the gang. But we save our salutes for the C&GS Eagle.