Samuel Baker

Location of Interview
Collection Name

NOAA Heritage Oral History Project


NOAA Heritage Oral History Project aims to document the history and legacy of NOAA through compelling interviews with its leaders. These firsthand accounts provide an invaluable resource that preserves NOAA's significant contributions to environmental research and management, fostering a deeper understanding of NOAA's vital role in shaping our understanding of the Earth's oceans and atmosphere.

Date of Interview

Molly Graham

Principal Investigator

On August 26th, 1922, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Captain Sam Baker was born to a father who had immigrated from Lithuania in 1902 at the age of 15 and a mother who hailed from Louisville, Kentucky, born in 1900. After graduating from Clarksdale High School in June 1940, Baker pursued further studies, earning a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Mississippi State University in August 1943. In September 1943, he enlisted in the Marines and served in Hawaii, Guam, and Guadalcanal, where Baker joined the 6th Marine Division. He participated in the Okinawa landing in April 1945 and was stationed in Guam to prepare for the invasion of Japan, which ultimately concluded with the end of World War II. Following the war, Baker were deployed to Tsingtao, China, where he served as Executive Officer of the Battalion until April 1946, when he was discharged. Commissioned as an Ensign in the Coast & Geodetic Survey on September 1st, 1947, Baker was assigned to ship duty on Long Island Sound, NY, and later to the Washington Office, where he worked on mapping from aerial photos. Baker’s assignments also included involvement in a Top Secret project until January 1952, followed by field triangulation parties until February 1957. Baker served on various ship assisgnments, including the Pathfinder, where he served from January 1959 until December 1959, participating in the construction of the new Ship Surveyor in San Diego, CA. Baker spent a season in Alaska before being assigned to Cape Canaveral, FL, where they oversaw precise surveying for missile tracking devices. Subsequent assignments included stints on the Explorer in Norfolk, VA, and the Pioneer in Oakland, CA, where he put the ship out of commission in 1966. In December of that year, Baker transitioned to NOAA headquarters in Rockville, MD, initially serving in the Public Relations Department. His role evolved, culminating in his appointment as Chief of the Geodesy Division for the National Ocean Survey in 1967 and subsequently as the inaugural Director of the National Geodetic Survey in 1969. Additionally Baker served as the president of the American Congress of Surveying and Mapping in 1976, a position held by the last NOAA officer, Admiral Karo, approximately two decades earlier. Baker retired from NOAA in 1978 and went on to work as the first GPS salesmen, and is currently writing children’s books at age 101.

Scope and Content Note
October 24, 2023: Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Baker shares the migration stories of his parents from Europe to the United States, highlighting their early life and struggles in adapting to a new country. His father, originally from Lithuania, and his mother, whose parents came from Switzerland, settled in different parts of the United States before making their home in Mississippi. Baker recounts his father's journey to America to escape conscription into the Russian army and his eventual settlement in Clarksdale, where he met Baker's mother, a skilled seamstress. In school, baker dealt with the challenges of dyslexia and colorblindness, but became an Eagle Scout and went on to pursue a degree at Mississippi State University.  Baker discusses his military service during World War II and eventual transition to the Coast Survey where he played a pivotal role in coastal surveys. He details his post-military career, geodesy work, and involvement in various professional organizations.  Baker shares personal stories of marriage, fatherhood, and his passion for writing children's books aimed at promoting literacy. The interview also touches on Baker's encounters with notable figures, his experiences with medical challenges, and his participation in a top-secret project based in the North Pole.

October 29, 2023: This interview with Captain Sam Baker provides insights into his parents' lives before he was born, including his mother's early experiences in Louisville, Kentucky, and his father's immigration experience. Captain Baker shares anecdotes about his family history, his father's reluctance to teach his children Yiddish, and his mother's background as a baker. Additionally, the interview touches on Captain Baker's career with the Coast Survey, including his assignments and experiences with fellow officers. The interview also provides glimpses into the close-knit relationships among Coast Survey officers and the decorum observed in the wardrooms.

November 8, 2023: This interview with Captain Sam Baker provides a comprehensive account of his experiences and contributions during his tenure with the Coast Survey. The interview covers a wide range of topics, including Baker's initial assignment with the Coast Survey, the production of aeronautical charts for airport safety, and the modernization efforts within the Coast and Geodetic Survey. Baker discusses the intricacies of producing aeronautical charts, detailing the process of placing instruments at the end of runways, identifying flight paths, and capturing photographs for chart production. He also reflects on his interactions with colleagues and the development of junior officers, emphasizing the importance of multitasking and the value of a supportive and nurturing work environment. Additionally, Baker shares insights into the transition from the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and his life after retiring from the Coast Survey, including his work as a children's book author and a consultant for Teledyne. The interview concludes with Baker's reflections on life's challenges and the gratitude he expresses for the opportunity to share his experiences. Throughout the interview, Baker's recollections provide a rich and detailed perspective on his career, the evolution of the Coast Survey, and the personal and professional growth he experienced during his tenure.

Please Note: The oral histories in this collection are protected by copyright and have been created for educational, research and personal use as described by the Fair Use Doctrine in the U.S. Copyright law. Please reach out to let us know how these interviews are being used in your research, project, exhibit, etc.  The Voices staff can help provide other useful resources related to your inquiry. 

The NOAA mission is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. The Voices Oral History Archives offers public access to a wide range of accounts, including historical materials that are products of their particular times, and may contain offensive language or negative stereotypes.

Voices Oral History Archives does not verify the accuracy of materials submitted to us. The opinions expressed in the interviews are those of the interviewee only. The interviews here have been made available to the public only after the interviewer has confirmed that they have obtained consent.