PI #155, compiled by Mabel E. Deutrich (Washington: 1963).


On June 21, 1860, Congress, at the recommendation of the Secretary of War, passed an act appropriating money to procure equipment and apparatus for a system of signal communication based on a plan devised by Dr. Albert J. Myer, an assistant Army surgeon. The act authorized the appointment of a Signal Officer on the staff of the Army to have charge, under the Secretary of War, of all signal duty and all books, papers, and apparatus connected therewith. Accordingly the post of Signal Officer, with the rank of major, was given to Myer, effective June 27, 1860. Two weeks later the Signal Officer was ordered to the Department of New Mexico to participate in the campaign against hostile Navahos.

In May 1861 the Signal Officer was recalled from the West to establish a signal system for the Union Army. Although assigned to General McClellan's staff in August 1861 and eventually becoming the Chief Signal Officer of the Army of the Potomac, Major Myer retained his position as Signal Officer of the Army. Assistants were trained at several camps of instruction; the central camp during the Civil War was the one established at Georgetown, D.C., on August 30, 1861. On March 3, 1863, an act was passed providing for a separate Signal Corps.

A conflict over the control of telegraphic communications developed between the Signal Officer and the Superintendent of the United States Military Telegraph, a civil bureau of the War Department made responsible for military telegraph service before the Signal Officer had returned from the West. Although failing to obtain control of the electric telegraphs, the Signal Officer succeeded temporarily in obtaining signal telegraph trains for a portable telegraphic system. A later attempt by the Signal Officer, in the fall of 1863, to gain some control over the electric telegraphs resulted in the removal of the portable system from the jurisdiction of the Signal Corps, the transfer of the telegraph trains to the United States Military Telegraph, and the relief of Colonel Myer as Chief Signal Officer of the Army. (The act of March 3, 1863, changed the rank of the Chief Signal Officer from major to colonel. Later an act of February 24, 1880, increased the rank to brigadier general.)

At the close of the Civil War the Signal Corps and the United States Military Telegraph were terminated, but an act of July 28, 1866, fixing the military peace establishment, provided for a Chief Signal Officer and a limited Corps. Among the responsibilities assigned to the new Corps was that of equipping and managing the field electric telegraph. In fact, during the next two decades the most important military activity of the Corps was the extension and operation of military telegraph lines along the frontier where commercial lines were not yet available.

The principal activity of the Signal Corps between 1870 and 1890, however, was that of meteorological observation and forecasting. Under a joint resolution of Congress, approved February 9, 1870, the Secretary of War was authorized and required to take "meteorological observations at the military stations in the interior of the continent, and at other points in the States and Territories, "and to give "notice on the northern lakes and on the sea-coast, by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms." The Signal Corps emphasized meteorological activities until, by an act of October 1, 1890, the Weather Bureau was created in the Department of Agriculture to carry out these functions. Signal Corps activities were then confined to strictly military matters.

During and after the war with Spain the Signal Corps rendered an important service in the construction, rehabilitation, and operation of telephone and telegraph lines, including the laying of several cables. It was during this period that the Signal Corps turned increasingly to the radio as a means of communication, but advances were also made in telephony and telegraphy.

An act of May 26, 1900, provided for an extensive system of military telegraph and cable lines in Alaska. Although radio stations were installed as early as 1903, it was not until early 1930's that the submarine cable system and all telegraph stations, with the exception of the line along the Alaska Railroad, were replaced by radio equipment. Experiments in air observation through the use of balloons had been conducted as early as the Civil War. Office Memorandum No. 6, dated August 1, 1907, created an Aeronautical Division within the Office of the Chief Signal Officer. Seven years later, an act of July 18, 1914, authorized the establishment of an Aviation Section within the Signal Corps. Army aeronautics continued to be a function of the Signal Corps until May 20, 1918, when all air service activities were transferred to the Bureau of Military Aeronautics and the Bureau of Aircraft Production.

When the War Department library was under the Chief Signal Officer between 1894 and 1904, the Signal Corps had acquired photographs and negatives of historical value, including the Brady Civil War Collection. In 1917 responsibility for ground photography was also done by the Signal Corps. When aviation activities were divorced from the Signal Corps in 1918, all aerial and ground photography pertaining to aviation activities was transferred to the Air Corps. The Signal Corps continued to have responsibility for maintaining the historical files of still and motion pictures, the production of training film, and other ground photographic work not specifically assigned to other services. In 1925 the Signal Corps became responsible for the pictorial publicity work of the Army.

During World War I the Signal Corps provided special meteorological service for the Army, and because of continued special needs of the Air Corps and other branches of the Army, this service was continue until 1937, when the operation of meteorological service was transferred to the using arms. Responsibility for the development, procurement, supply and maintenance of meteorological equipment was retained by the Signal Corps until the Army Air Forces took over the research and development programs for meteorological and other air-related equipment in the fall of 1944.

On March 1, 1923, the War Department Message Center was organized and established in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer. The special wire and radio service it provided for the War Department and other Government agencies to important contributions of the Signal Corps during World War II.

The scope of Signal Corps activities was greatly expanded during World War II. As headquarters office for one of the major technical services (placed organizationally under the Army Service Forces from March 1942 to June 1946), the Office of the Chief Signal Officer was responsible for supervising the research and development, maintenance, and supply programs of all signal, electronic, meteorological, photographic, cryptographic, and related equipment and supplies, except communications and weather equipment used exclusively by the Army Air Forces; the installation, operation, and maintenance of the Army's major wire and radio communication systems and networks; and the production, collection, and preservation of still and motion pictures, except for photographic materials peculiar to air operations. The Office also exercised certain technical supervision over the training of Signal Corps troops.

This record group contains 932 cubic ft. of textual records, 724 cubic ft. of photographs, 3,726 cubic ft. of motion pictures, and less than 1 cubic ft. of maps. The textual records are divided for convenience sake into three roughly chronological periods that reflect the varying fortunes of the Corps: the period between the appointment of a Signal Officer in 1860 and the initiation of the Corps' meteorological activities in 1870; the period between 1870 and 1890, the documentation for which is fragmentary because of the transfer of most of the records for that period to the Weather Bureau (see RG-27); and the period from 1890 to 1940. The actual dates of the records vary slightly at times from these dates.

The records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer for the period from 1870 to 1890 that remained after the transfer of most of its records to the Weather Bureau consist mainly of personnel and training records.

Signal Corps records of the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-19, are in Record Group 120. Some of the records of the Aeronautical Division (1907-14) and of the Aviation Section (1914-18) of the Signal Corps have been removed from the general correspondence of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer (entry 44) and placed with the central correspondence of the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps in Record Group 18. Some records relating to Signal activities are in Record Group 98, Records of United States Army Commands. Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer and the divisions of that office for the period 1940-59, as well as earlier security-classified documents, are in the care of the Federal Records Center, Alexandria, Va.

Records of the U.S. Military Telegraph Lines, Telegraph Division, consist of letter books, registers of letters received, letters and telegrams received, logs of messages received and sent, logs of line repairs, and cashbook for line receipts of the Northern, New Mexico, Northwestern, and Texas Divisions, and of the signal operators within them.

Cartographic records, 1879-1945 (31 items), include maps indicating locations of signal stations, communications lines, administrative boundaries, and meteorological reporting stations. Audiovisual records include still pictures, 1860-1945 (295,432 items), including photographs of Signals Corps officers, activities in Alaska and equipment; and motion pictures described below.

11. ANNUAL REPORTS OF THE CHIEF SIGNAL OFFICER. 1870; 1879-90. 11 vols. 2 ft. Arranged chronologically.
34. GENERAL ORDERS AND CIRCULARS. 1884; 1888. 2 vols. 2 in. Issuances of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer. Arranged numerically. Name, place, and subject indexes are in each volume.
35. SPECIAL ORDERS. 1882-83; 1885-89. 7 vols. 10 in.
Issuances of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer. Arranged chronologically, and thereunder numerically. Each volume includes name, place, and subject indexes.
36. PAPERS RELATING TO THE SELECTION OF SERGEANTS FOR COMMISSIONS. 1878-86. 8 in. Papers relating to recommendations for and the selection of sergeants to compete in examinations for appointments as second lieutenants. They include proceedings of selection boards, examination questions, reports of examination results, and reports on the qualification of sergeants. Arranged numerically (Nos. 45-69).
37. REPORTS RELATING TO INSTRUCTION IN SIGNALING. July 1889-June 1891. 1 vol. 1 in. A record of dates on which instruction reports were received, the number of officers and men receiving signal instruction, and the type of instruction. Arrangement varies as follows: By posts; by departments and thereunder by names of officers; and by regiments.
38. RECORD OF ENLISTED MEN INSTRUCTED IN MILITARY SIGNALING. Sept. 1869-July 1871. 1 vol. 1 in. Tabulations showing the military department, name of instructor, names of enlisted men who received signal instruction, number of hours in various types of instruction, progress made, and other related information. Arranged in rough chronological order by month in which instruction was given.
39. SYNOPSES OF COURTS-MARTIAL CASES. Mar. 1876-July 1890. 1 vol. 1 in. Show for each case the name of the accused, his rank, the number and date of the order stating the charges, the specifications, the findings, the sentence, and remarks. Cases are arranged and numbered (Nos. 478-650) in chronological order. A name index is at the front of the volume.
40. "TELEGRAPH CIPHER." July 1875. 1 vol. 1/4 in. A revised edition of the "Telegraph Cipher" issued by the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, containing the code, instructions, and examples for enciphering meteorological reports made after July 1875.
44. GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE. 1889-1917. 540 ft. Letters received, reports, telegrams, and related papers. Record cards, containing digests of the correspondence and showing action taken, are interfiled in the correspondence with the exception of the cards for the period September 1912-March 1913 (Nos. 31235-32429), which are filed separately. Arranged numerically within the following chronological breakdowns: 1889- 90 (which includes correspondence back to 1885 on the J. A. Swift case), 1890-91.

Audio-visual records

List of World War I Signal Corps Films. Compiled by K. Jack Bauer. Washington: 1957.

Before World War I, the Signal Corps had given relatively little attention to photography, and few officers or enlisted men had much training in that specialized field. On July 21, 1917, the Signal Corps was designated the bureau responsible for obtaining photographic coverage of American participation in World War I. The photographic coverage was ordered for propaganda, scientific, identification, and military reconnaissance purposes but primarily for the production of a pictorial history of the war. When these films were transferred to the National Archives the Signal Corps' excellent scene index was also transferred. This permits the location of scenes by person, content, place, or date. Hence, the National Archives is in a position to locate specific footage taken by the Signal Corps during World War I. The films described in this special list may be viewed at the National Archives. Copies of them may be purchased subject to certain restrictions.

Part I. Military Operations; The AEF in Combat; Aviation Activities


Loading and releasing carrier pigeons, installing a 52-cm. aerial camera, training use of double Lewis gun mounting, personnel of 90th Aero Squadron at Bethelainville, two Sopwith Camels taking off, a meteorological station, and a baseball game.


NM-20 compiled by Patricia Andrews and revised by Garry Ryan (1964).


During the Revolution there had been an army medical organization under a director-general, but it was mustered out with the Continental Army. Except for the periods of the war scares of 1798 and the War of 1812, no really organized medical department existed from 1783-1818. An act of April 14, 1818 (3 Stat. 426), regulating the staff of the Army, provided for a Surgeon General an Assistant Surgeon General, and an increase in the number of post surgeons. From 1818 to 1963, the Surgeon General and the Surgeon General's Office have remained the administrative head and headquarters, respectively, of the Army Medical Service. The mission of this service, known as the Medical Department until 1950, is to maintain the health of the Army and conserve its fighting strength. The records amount to about 4,240 cubic feet. Related records are in RG-94, 98, 120, and 160.

Surgeons General who were active in the collection of meteorological records:

Joseph Lovell, Apr. 18, 1818-Oct. 17, 1836
Col. Thomas Lawson, Nov. 30, 1836-May 15, 1861
Col. Clement A. Finley, May 15, 1861-Apr. 14, 1862
Brig. Gen. William A. Hammond, Apr. 25, 1862-Aug. 18, 1864
Brig. Gen. Joseph K. Barnes, Aug. 22, 1864-June 30, 1882

Central Office

Correspondence, 1818-90.

1. NAME AND SUBJECT INDEXES TO PART (1871-89) OF SERIES 2. 20 vols. 3 ft. Yearly indexes.
2. LETTERS AND ENDORSEMENTS SENT. APR. 1818-OCT. 1889. 90 VOLS. Arranged chronologically. The volumes for the period 1818-73 have name and subject indexes. For name and subject indexes for the period 1871-89 see series 1.
4. LETTERS AND ENDORSEMENTS SENT TO THE SECRETARY OF WAR. Mar. 1837-May 1866. 6 vols. 1 ft. Arranged chronologically. Name and subject indexes available.
6. LETTERS AND ENDORSEMENTS SENT TO THE WAR DEPARTMENT. Sept. 1862-Oct. 1889. 25 vols. 5 ft. Arranged chronologically. Name and subject indexes available.
9. NAME AND SUBJECT INDEXES TO PART (1862-89) OF SERIES 12. 39 vols. 6 ft. Yearly indexes.
10. REGISTERS OF LETTERS RECEIVED. 1822-89. 62 vols. 15 ft. Arranged by period, thereunder alphabetically by initial letter of correspondent's surname, and thereunder generally by date of receipt. The entries are numbered consecutively.
12. LETTERS RECEIVED. 1818-89. 530 ft. Arranged alphabetically by initial letter of correspondent's surname and thereunder chronologically to 1870. From 1871 to 1889 arranged by year and thereunder arranged and numbered in chronologically order. For registers to these letters see series 10. For name and subject indexes see series 9.

Records of Individual Medical Department Officers, 1820-1936.

226. LETTERS SENT BY SURGEON THOMAS LAWSON. Apr. 1820-July 1822; Oct. 1825. 1 vol. 1 in. Arranged chronologically.
227. LETTER BOOK OF SURGEON THOMAS F. AZPELL. 1862-76. 1 vol. 1 in. Arranged chronologically.

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