Retro Science – Part 1
Mostly about Matthew Fontaine Maury, the first superintendent of the US Naval Observatory.
Maury embarked in crowdsourcing data in 1842 when, as a lieutenant, he was placed in charge of the Depot of Charts and Instruments of the Navy Department. Sailors followed a strict routine and were systematic in recording very specific observations around the clock. Ships were mobile weather stations, accumulating a standardized set of weather variables with the strictest regularity at 15 minute intervals. As much as sailors emphasized these routines, once a voyage was completed, the logs were practically viewed as rubbish.
But when Maury saw the Navy’s stockpile of old ships logs, he quickly realized the collective information could improve navigation. Maury developed a method to systematically extract key information from each log book.