U.S. ARMY SIGNAL CORPS COLLAR DEVICES

The collar insignia worn by members of the Signal Corps pay homage to the system of aerial telegraphy developed by the first Chief Signal Officer of the United States Army, Albert J. Meyer. Commissioned as an Assistant Surgeon in 1854, Meyers was keenly interested in methods of communicating over long distances, and he also recognized the limitations of the recently invented telegraph, i.e., the need to string or lay wires to transmit signals.

In 1856, Meyers came up with a system of using a single flag or light source to spell out words and submitted his system to the U.S. Patent Office. Two years later, the War Department began investigating the potential for Meyer’s system to be used in the military, and in 1860 it formally adopted it and named Meyer the Army’s first Signal Officer.

Similar to the Morse Code system of dots and dashes, Meyer’s system—dubbed “wig wag” because to the untrained observer the movements appeared to be random—used three flag positions to indicate letters of the alphabet and basic punctuation. As far as actually sending letters of the alphabet was concerned, the system was binary; the flag held at 3 o’clock (to the observer) was the “1” position, while 9 o’clock was the “2” position. Letters were formed by various combinations of these two numbers: Placing the flag in the “2” position two times in a row sent the letter “A,” for instance, while placing it in the “1” position a single time was the letter “I.” A third position, which in the signaler swung the flag downward directly in front of his position, was incorporated to indicate the ends of words, sentences, or entire messages.

Although Meyer's system was used less as the Army began to rely more and more heavily on the increasing numbers of telegraph lines being erected across the United States for rapid communications and then wireless telegraphs, it was officially used until 1912, when it was replaced by semaphore flag system.
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