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A Wireless Revolution

The Spanish American War was a major turning point for the Signal Corps. It highlighted the importance of this branch of service, and gave way to tremendous growth in its ranks. An article in Electrical World and Engineer 11 May 1901 estimates twenty-fold increase, from 60 officers and “men” to over 1,300.

Army Photo of James Allen

The subject of this article was wireless telegraphy in the Army. It categorizes Signal Corps responsibilities under four headings, to include:

“Signal Corps instruction, military telegraph lines, supply depots and electrical installations for the control of artillery fire.”

The article notes that the officers of the Corps were particularly distinguished in one area – military telegraph lines. It is this area that CECOM and C4ISR Team members from a heritage standpoint should be most interested.

The article continues defining military telegraph lines to include the transmission of intelligence that included the design of signaling apparatus, comprising the various forms of telegraphic and telephone outfits, and portable searchlights. It is activities such as these that the C4ISR team components can trace their beginnings to.

An important point is made that many persons “well known to the electrical fraternity” of the time, were responsible for the development of numerous electrical devices in use both by the Army and the Navy. The article specifically names CAP A.B. Dyer, MAJ Greene, LTC James Allen, CAP George O Squier, and CAP Samuel Raber, all working under the general supervision of the Chief Signal Officer, GEN A.W. Greely.

Photo of A. B. Dyer

This edition of Electrical World and Engineer was featuring a specific experiment – wireless telegraphy. The Signal Corps developed its own wireless telegraphy system, and that its system was the first to successfully operate in the U.S, before Marconi’s work with the same.

On 30 September 1899, the Signal Corps’ Allen and Squier (later passing the work on to Raber and Mr. Karl Kinsey – who made numerous improvements) had operated a wireless telegraph system between Fire Island and Fire Island lightship (~10 miles). About six months later, the Corps opened two stations in New York Harbor, and passed messages daily (Governor’s Island and Fort Hamilton). Successful stations followed in San Francisco Harbor where the use of underwater cables had been impossible. Also, six systems were shipped to the Philippines for use between military posts and vessels along the coast.

The article included an illustration of the exterior of the Governor’s Island station, illustrating its 150-foot tower built up from staggered wooden planks that were bolted together; with the pole guyed at three places.

Governors Island Tower, 1901

From activities like this and other efforts by Signal Corps engineers and scientists, equipment and system research, design, and testing would grow. Initially these activities would find homes in the Washington D.C. area, but eventually would locate at Fort Monmouth, or as it was called at the time Camp Alfred Vail.

Note: This entry written by Floyd Hertweck, and edited/posted by Chrissie Reilly.  After a few weeks off from Squier’s Stories to bring you Civil War content, we’re resuming the mini-series on GEN George Owen Squier.

Posted in Squier's Stories.

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  1. Hedwig Groom says

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