Matthew Fontaine Maury (b. 1806 d. 1873), naval officer and
oceanographer known as the "Pathfinder of the Seas," was
notable for his pioneering scientific work in the fields of
navigation, hydrography, and meteorology. He joined the United
States Navy at age 19 and in 1842 was named head of the Navy's
hydrographical office and of the United State Naval
Observatory. Beginning in the 1830's, he published a number of
significant works on the Gulf Stream, ocean currents, and
navigation, and was involved in research concerning deep-sea
sounding and transoceanic cables.
A native of Virginia, Maury resigned his commission as
Commander in the U. S. Navy at the outbreak of Civil War in
April 1861. He entered the Confederate Navy and undertook
research in the new technology of torpedo warfare; he was
subsequently ordered to England as a special agent with
instructions to purchase ships for the Confederate government.
At war's end he was enroute to the United States with a cargo
of torpedo equipment when, upon arriving in port at Havana, he
learned that the war had ended. Maury then went to Mexico,
where he served Emperor Maximilian, and later returned to
England where he worked until 1868.
The last five years of Maury's life were spent as a
Professor of Physics at the Virginia Military Institute in
Lexington, Virginia. At VMI, Maury did not have regular
classroom duties, but instead gave occasional lectures to the
cadets and was primarily involved in overseeing an extensive
physical survey of Virginia. He died in 1873.