The U.S. Army Signal Corps Museum at Fort Gordon, Georgia serves as a permanent historical
educational institution, providing training and education to the soldiers, military
dependents and to the general public on all aspects of the history of the Signal Corps. The
accuracy of the training and educational program is dependent upon the proper collection,
recording, conservation, and research of artifacts, pictures, and other historical documentary
The museum is responsible for recommendations concerning the preservation, protection, development, and enhancement of historical buildings, monuments, works, and sites throughout the Fort Gordon. The museum serves as a medium of stimulating esprit de corps and of advancing knowledge of the Signal Corps.
The Museum is full of outstanding exhibits tracing the development of the Signal Corps from its beginning in 1860, when General Albert J. Myer proposed the initial concept of the signal corps through the present day.
The museum also has a number of traveling exhibits and information packets are available upon request. The museum highlights the advancement in technology and wars in which signal men and women were prominent.
When I was in the Air Force, I worked in the communications field for some time. I got to see close up how the Army Signal Corps worked in the field. We would pull joint training missions with them. So, when I visited this museum, it brought back a lot of fond memories.
History of the United States Army Signal Corps
The United States Army Signal Corps develops, tests, provides, and manages communications and information systems support for the command and control of combined arms forces. It was established in 1860, the brainchild of United States Army Major Albert J. Myer, and has had an important role from the American Civil War through the current day. Over its history, it had the initial responsibility for a number of functions and new technologies that are currently managed by other organizations, including military intelligence, weather forecasting, and aviation.
Albert James Myer, an Army doctor, was the first to conceive of the idea of a separate, trained professional military signal service. He proposed that the Army use his visual communications system called "wig-wag", or "aerial telegraphy", while serving as a medical officer in Texas in 1856. When the Army adopted his system on 21 June 1860, the Signal Corps was born with Myer as the first and only Signal Officer.
Major Myer first used his visual signaling system on active service in New Mexico during the 1860-1861 Navajo expedition. Using flags for daytime signaling and a torch at night, wigwag was tested in Civil War combat in June 1861 to direct the fire of a harbor battery at Fort Wool against the Confederate positions opposite Fort Monroe. Until 3 March 1863, when Congress authorized a regular Signal Corps for the duration of the war, Myer was forced to rely on detailed personnel. Some 2,900 officers and enlisted men served, although not at any single time, in the Civil War Signal Corps.
Myer's Civil War innovations included an unsuccessful balloon experiment at First Bull Run and, in response to McClellan's desire for a Signal Corps field telegraph train, an electric telegraph in the form of the Beardslee magnetoelectric telegraph machine. Even in the Civil War the wig-wag system, dependent upon line-of-sight, was waning in the face of the electric telegraph.
The electric telegraph, in addition to visual signaling, became a Signal Corps responsibility in 1867. Within 12 years, the Corps had constructed, and was maintaining and operating, some 4,000 miles of telegraph lines along the country's western frontier.
In 1870, the Signal Corps established a congressionally mandated national weather service. With the assistance of Lieutenant Adolphus Greely, Chief Signal Officer Brigadier General Myer developed a weather service of international acclaim by 1880. The weather bureau became part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1891, while the Corps retained responsibility for military meteorology. (Fort Greely, situated south of Fairbanks, Alaska, was named in honor of Lieutenant Greely. I remember riding through the fort many years ago.)
The Signal Corps' role in the Spanish American War of 1898 and the subsequent Philippine Insurrection was on a grander scale than it had been in the Civil War. In addition to visual signaling, including heliograph, the Corps supplied telephone and telegraph wire lines and cable communications, fostered the use of telephones in combat, employed combat photography, and renewed the use of balloons. Shortly after the war, the Signal Corps constructed the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System also known as the Alaska Communications System, introducing the first wireless telegraph in the Western Hemisphere. (As a side note, I saw the results of the Alaska Communications System while I was stationed in Anchorage, Alaska many years ago. In those days, before satellite communications, it was the only way for long distance communications.)
On 1 August 1907, an Aeronautical Division was established within the office of the Chief Signal Officer. In 1908, the Wright brothers made test flights of the Army's first airplane built to Signal Corps' specifications. Reflecting the need for an official pilot rating, War Department Bulletin No. 2, released on 24 February 1911, established a "Military Aviator" rating. Army aviation remained within the Signal Corps until 1918, when it became the Army Air Service.
The Signal Corps lost no time in meeting the challenges of World War I. Chief Signal Officer George Owen Squier worked closely with private industry to perfect radio tubes while creating a major signal laboratory at Camp Alfred Vail (Fort Monmouth, New Jersey). Early radiotelephones developed by the Signal Corps were introduced into the European theater in 1918. While the new American voice radios were superior to the radiotelegraph sets, telephone and telegraph remained the major technology of World War I.
A pioneer in radar, Colonel William Blair, director of the Signal Corps laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey patented the first Army radar demonstrated in May 1937. Even before the United States entered World War II, mass production of two radar sets, the SCR-268 and the SCR-270, had begun. Along with the Signal Corps' tactical FM radio, also developed in the 1930s, radar was the most important communications development of World War II.
During World War I women switchboard operators, AKA "Hello Girls", were sworn into the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Despite the fact that they wore U.S. Army Uniforms and were subject to Army Regulations, they were not given honorable discharges but were considered "civilians" employed by the military. Not until 1978-the 60th anniversary of the end of World War I-did Congress approve Veteran Status/Honorable discharges for the remaining "Hello Girls".
Under the major reorganization of the War Department, effective 9 March 1942, the Signal Corps was one of the technical services in the Services of Supply (later Army Service Forces). Its organized components served both the Army Ground Forces and the Army Air Forces.
The term "RADAR" was first coined by the Navy in 1940 and agreed to by the Army in 1941. The definition given in the first Signal Corps Field Manual on Aircraft Warning Service stated, "RADAR is a term used to designate radio sets SCR (Signal Corps Radio)-268 and SCR-270 and similar equipment".
The SCR-268 and 270 were not radios at all, but for top security reasons were designated as such. Although important offensive applications have since been developed, radar emerged historically from the defensive need to counter the possibility of massive aerial bombardment.
In December 1942, the laboratories at Fort Monmouth had a personnel strength of 14,518 military and civilian personnel. The Signal Corps Ground Service was directed by the War Department, however, to cut the total military and civilian personnel to 8,879 by August 1943.
In 1942 General George C. Marshall ordered the creation of the Army Pictorial Service to produce motion pictures for the training, indoctrination, and entertainment of the American forces and their Allies. They took over Kaufman Astoria Studios in 1942 and produced over 2,500 films during the war with over 1,000 redubbed in other languages. They won an Oscar for their work.
The Signal Corps' Project Diana, in 1946, successfully bounced radar signals off the moon, paving the way for space communications.
In 1948 researchers at Fort Monmouth grew the first synthetically produced large quartz crystals. The crystals were able to be used in the manufacture of electronic components, and made the United States largely independent of foreign imports for this critical mineral. In 1949 the first auto-assembly of printed circuits was invented. A technique for assembling electronic parts on a printed circuit board, developed by Fort Monmouth engineers, pioneered the development and fabrication of miniature circuits for both military and civilian use. Although they did not invent the transistor, Fort Monmouth scientists were among the first to recognize its importance, particularly in military applications, and did pioneer significant improvements in its composition and production.
In June 1950, with the onset of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman quickly received the necessary authorization to call the National Guard and Organized Reserves to 21 months of active duty. He also signed a bill extending the Selective Service Act until 9 July 1951. The Officer Candidate School was reestablished.
The fighting in Korea brought to light the need for new techniques in the conduct of modern warfare. The use of mortars by the enemy, and the resultant need to quickly locate and destroy the mortar sites resulted in development of the Mortar-Radar Locator AN/MPQ-3 and AN/MPQ-10. Korea's terrain and road networks, along with the distance and speed with which communications were forced to travel limited the use of wire. The Signal Corps' VHF radio became the "backbone" of tactical communications throughout the war.
The development of new equipment, however, placed requirements on the Signal Corps to provide increased numbers of trained electronics personnel to work in the fire control and guided missiles firing battery systems. To meet this need, Signal Corps Training Units-the 9614th and 9615th-were established at Aberdeen, Maryland and Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. These units provided instruction on electronics equipment used in the anti-aircraft artillery and guided missile firing systems.
In the 1950s the Army Pictorial Service produced a series of television programs called The Big Picture that were often aired on American television. The last episode was produced in 1971, as the Army was closing its picture production. As a kid, I enjoyed watching the Big Picture on television on Saturday mornings (I believe it was Saturday.) Watching these shows definitely influenced my interest in history.
On 18 December 1958, with Air Force assistance, the Signal Corps launched its first communications satellite, Project SCORE, demonstrating the feasibility of worldwide communications in delayed and real-time mode by means of relatively simple active satellite relays.
Sending radio signals across the vast Pacific Ocean had always been sketchy and unreliable. In August 1964, radio communications across the sea were given a huge boost in quality: The first satellite terminal ever installed in a combat zone was installed in Ba Queo, near Saigon, led by Warrant Officer Jack Inman. This enabled trustworthy communications to Hawaii, and thereby to Washington, D.C.
From north to south, communicating across the varied landscapes of Vietnam presented a variety of challenges, from mountains to jungle. The answer came by utilizing the technology of "troposcatter". A radio signal beamed up into the atmosphere is "bounced" back down to Earth with astonishingly good results, bypassing debilitating terrain. The Army had little experience with this technology, so they contracted the development of the systems to Page Engineering. In January 1962, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara approved the system of troposcatter units under the operational name of BACKPORCH.
The escalation of the number of troops in the Vietnam War caused an increasing need for more communications infrastructure. In the spring of 1966 the assorted Signal units were reassigned to the newly-formed 1st Signal Brigade. By the close of 1968 this brigade consisted of six Signal groups, and 22 Signal battalions-roughly 23,000 soldiers.
One of the very first Vietnam War Casualties was SP4 James Thomas Davis, a radio operator.
A major program in 1988 was the initial production and deployment phase of the mobile-subscriber equipment system (MSE). The MSE system called for setting up the equivalent of a mobile telephone network on a battlefield, allowing a commander or Tactical Operations Center to connect mobile telephones and fax machines in vehicles with each other, sending and receiving secure information. Talking through signal nodes, MSE established a seamless connection from the battlefield even back to commercial telephone lines. Significant to the Signal soldiers, MSE was fielded on the backs of Humvee, rather than on the larger, less-mobile M35 2-1/2 ton cargo trucks-the "deuce and a half".
By the 1990s, most Army units had replaced their older VRC-12 series FM radios for the new "Single-Channel Ground-Air Radio Systems" family of equipment. Rather than sending a signal along one signal frequency, these radios send its signals across many frequencies, "hopping" from one frequency to another at lightning speed. This allowed many channels of talk to share an already-crowded frequency spectrum. Later generations of these radios combined the communications security encryption devices with their receiver/transmitter, making a single easier-to-program unit. Most significant, these radios could send and receive digital traffic with great fidelity. By the advent of Operation Desert Shield, all Army units were deployed using the most secure FM communications in the world.
Hours of operation:
Tuesday - Friday 8am - 4pm
Closed Saturday, Sunday, Monday and federal holidays.
U.S. Army Signal Corps Museum
Conrad Hall (next to Signal Towers)
Chamberlain Avenue, Bldg. 29807
Fort Gordon, Georgia