Signal Corps celebrating 150 years of service

When Albert Myer was named first chief officer of the Army's newly created Signal Corps in 1860, widespread use of electricity was still years away and the only thing remotely close to a telephone was the electronic telegraph.

Mass communication was in its infancy and Myer would be the man to bring radical changes to the U.S. Army.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of President James Buchanan's signing a bill to establish the U.S. Army Signal Corps, which has its headquarters at Fort Gordon. More than 1,000 men and woman are expected at Barton Field this morning to take part in a run that opens a week-long celebration commemorating the history of the corps.

By noon today, paratroopers will be jumping from an airplane in a demonstration on post.

Robert Anzuoni, the director of the Signal Corps Museum in Conrad Hall, said it's all to honor soldiers who pushed the boundaries of technology.

"Really, they were a technology field back in the days when there wasn't a lot of technology," said Anzuoni, who will be leading tours over the next few weeks in a new exhibit designed to honor Myer.

Myer is heralded as the father of the corps because of his nomination and his invention of the colored flag-based signaling system called "wigwag" -- named after the back-and-forth motion of the flags used to create the messages. Depending on the position of the flags, soldiers could convey numeric messages to other units in battlefield situations where telegraph use was unfeasible, according to a Fort Gordon history of the Signal Corps. Torches were used in place of flags at night.

Myer based his system on a two-element "tap code" that he created for deaf people.

"Basically he created a visualized Morse code," Anzuoni said.

Myer and the Signal Corps were instrumental in the development of the types of mass and handheld communications that are used today, Anzuoni said.

In 1946, Signal Corps scientists used a modified radar antenna to bounce radar signals off the moon. It was a one-of-a-kind experiment that led to the development of satellite communication.

The corps was also the first American military aviation unit, with its hot-air balloons and dirigibles in the late 19th century, Anzuoni said. Their work in the science of weather forecasting was a precursor to the National Weather Service.

All of these highlights are showcased in the museum, which is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.