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Winged Couriers of WWI

The Army’s Signal Corps used pigeons for communications from WWI, and into the Korean War.  In October 1919, the Pigeon Service would make Fort Monmouth’s predecessor, Camp Alfred Vail, its home.  Activities related to Pigeons would continue at the Fort until the program was discontinued in 1957.  Of interest is a write-up on pigeons published in 1920, in Harper’s Pictorial Library of the World War (Volume VIII), titled “Our Winged Couriers”


While pigeons had been a part of nearly every European Army for forty years, it was not until 1917 that the American Army began their use.  Harper’s notes that within a year the Signal Corps had pigeons and lofts in-place in France.  Harper’s credits the pigeons with a 95 percent success rate for message delivery.

Pigeon release, from Harpers Photo History


The article provides an overview of the pigeon program.  The “standard” stationary loft was unique in that it had a trap arrangement – the pigeon could fly in, but not out, and it was equipped with an electric alarm to notify attendants that a pigeon had arrived.  However, these lofts were not “practicable” in France due to constant changing positions.  The mobile lofts initially used were top heavy; to remedy this, a manufacturer from the Midwestern U.S. developed a loft with heavier wheels.


The Signal Corps sought pigeons for civilian fanciers, whom they urged to breed the birds.  Aluminum bands were distributed to attach to the legs of squeakers, young hatchlings, intended for sale to the government; the uniform price was $2.00 per bird.  Over 10,000 birds were purchased for “stocking purposes.”

These little birds went everywhere! From Harpers Photo History


During the War there were tons of feed shipped to Europe, some of it became hard to get (millet, Argentine corn, pop corn, and hemp seed).  However, the Army was able to maintain the supply.  To prevent “mildewing”, grain was shipped in hermetically sealed containers.


Like the French and British Armies, the American Army used willow and reed baskets to hold the pigeons.  One type of basket was carried on the back of the soldier and “contained small corselets in which the pigeons were securely fastened. Corselets were suspended from the sides of the basket by elastic contrivances permitting considerable joggling without injury to the birds.”


The photographs included here are from the referenced work.

Note: This entry composed by Floyd, and edited/posted by Chrissie.

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