A blast from the past: Life at NOAA in 1970

It has been 50 years since the Nixon administration signed NOAA into existence on Saturday, October 3, 1970. Brand new employees reported to work the following Monday. Here’s a look at what life might have been like for someone at NOAA in the early days.

NOAA employees receive cash rewards for superior service on October 23, 1970.

NOAA employees receive cash rewards for superior service on October 23, 1970. (Image credit: NOAA)

Heading to Work: NOAA Headquarters offices

NOAA employees in the Washington, D.C., metro area reported to headquarters on October 5, 1970 at the former Environmental Science Services Administration (a NOAA predecessor) building in Rockville, Maryland, which had been dubbed the Washington Science Center.

The Washington Science Center building in Rockville, MD, circa 1964.
The Washington Science Center building in Rockville, MD, circa 1964. (NOAA)


At the time, NOAA had roughly 13,000 employees. Staff at headquarters and across the country worked for one of NOAA’s six major lines:

  • the National Marine Fisheries Service (with five regional offices);
  • the Environmental Research Laboratories (composed of 10 facilities across the country);
  • the National Weather Service (with six regional offices);
  • the Environmental Data Center (composed of the National Oceanographic Data Center, the National Climatic Center and the National Geophysical Data Center);
  • the National Ocean Survey (with Atlantic and Pacific Marine Centers, the Lake Survey Centers, and a number of centers supporting NOAA's geodetic work);
  • the National Environmental Satellite Service

Or, they would have been part of the NOAA Corps, the National Sea Grant College Program or staff support offices.

The commute
Driving into work on October 5, NOAA commuters heard Neil Diamond’s Cracklin’ Rosie on the radio, which hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 that day. Or, they may have heard Diana Ross’ version of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, which hit #1 the previous week. Stopping for gas cost about .36 cents per gallon.

The weather
NOAA employees in the D.C. area enjoyed a beautiful first day. This weather map from NOAA’s archives shows that high-pressure area centered just to the northwest of Washington dominated the area, providing sunny skies and temperatures warming from the rather cool mid-40s at sunrise to nearly 70 degrees by mid-afternoon.

A NOAA weather map from October 5, 1970.
A NOAA weather map from October 5, 1970. (NOAA)


The vibe
There was a general feeling of excitement and opportunity in the air because of the new national attention given to environmental issues with the formation of both NOAA and EPA, according to Dr. Richard Hallgren, NOAA’s original assistant administrator for Environmental Systems. However, much of the work started at NOAA’s predecessor agencies continued as usual. “It was a very exciting time, but a great continuity at the same time because so many of the people [now at NOAA] were already involved. It was a community,” Hallgren said. He also noted that Dr. Robert White, NOAA’s first administrator, “was the most fantastic leader I've ever run into."

The attire
Dark suits, white collared shirts, ties and black-rimmed glasses ruled the workplace at NOAA in the early 1970s. Women’s office wear included more patterns and colors -- and lots of dresses and skirts.

NOAA employees receive cash rewards for superior service on October 23, 1970.
NOAA employees receive cash rewards for superior service on October 23, 1970. (NOAA)


News around the office
Early on, NOAA employees read NOAA Week, an internal print newsletter. The first edition on October 7, 1970, featured a welcome note from Acting Administrator Dr. White, announcements about the agency’s designation and interim line office leaders, and news blurbs from around the country. Our staff didn’t waste any time getting to right to work — some of the headlines in the first editions included:

“NOS Publishes New Small-Craft Charts for California Boaters”
“National Marine Fisheries Service Studies Oyster Supply-Demand Imbalance”
“NOAA Men Attend Aviation Meeting”
“Atlantic Air Pollution Doubled In 50 Years, ERL Scientist Says”
“Commissioning of the NOAA Ship Researcher”

Making decisions
As is the case with any new agency, NOAA leaders needed to build a brand, and our emblem as we now know it had some competition. By January 1971, they narrowed in on emblem designs and announced the top 3  to NOAA employees through NOAA Week. Here are the choices Dr. White asked employees to vote on:

Candidates for Administration's Official Emblem.
Candidates for Administration's Official Emblem. (NOAA)


Back at home: The seafood dinner
In 1970, NOAA Magazine named flounder and salmon the “Fish of the Year,” noting that “the deep icy waters of the North Pacific yielded the biggest salmon catch in 30 years, and the available supply of flounder was double that of the previous years.”

NOAA publications were tastier in those times, often printing recipes highlighting fish. That year, the magazine offered up 70s-era recipes for sea fare, including: Apple-Salmon Mousse, Salmon Pearadise and Broiled Flounder with Wine Sauce.  YUM!

Recipe for Salmon Pearadise.
Recipe for Salmon Pearadise. (NOAA)