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A Salute to NOAA's Iconic Disney Cousin

December 14, 2012
A Salute to NOAA's Iconic Disney Cousin

Nowadays, the buzz in animation is all about the CGI-enhanced antics of bugs, cars, and avatars. But back in the day, when cartoons (and maps) were carefully drawn by hand, none were more colorful than Mickey, Donald, and other beloved creations of the Walt Disney Studio. Interestingly, these famous characters had a hard-working NOAA cousin who did much to lift the spirits of those who served in World War II.

A Sharp-eyed Surveyor

This Disney "icon" 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 C&GS, the predecessor of NOAA's Office of Coast Survey, Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, National Geodetic Survey, and Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.

In Disney's design, a jaunty Eagle stands atop a globe, busily pursuing an essential C&GS task — making paper nautical charts.

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. In keeping with founder Walt Disney's strong patriotism, the company never charged a fee to the military.

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 for entering information on the chart he's keeping in place with his titanic talons (which, incidentally, bear a strong family resemblance to the tootsies of Jiminy Cricket). With the other, he supports the 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 a 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 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 to 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 chartmakers 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 smokestack 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.

We here at NOAA may wax nostalgic over Disney characters of yore, and marvel at the realism of their cutting-edge cartoon cousins. But our salutes? We save them for the C&GS Eagle.