Celebrating Army and Signal Corps birthdays

By Susan Thompson, CECOM Command HistorianMay 23, 2023

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ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — June marks the celebration of both the Army and Signal Corps birthdays. A recent CECOM Chief of Staff-led visit to the National Museum of the U.S. Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, provided the opportunity for the participants to see the interconnected role that the development of the Signal Corps and its technologies has had on the advancement of Army history that has challenged, empowered, and equipped our Soldiers to be all they can be.

The NMUSA has a collection that spans the entirely of the Army’s 248-year history. The U.S. Army was founded on 14 June 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized enlistment of expert riflemen to serve the United Colonies for one year.  In 1814, with the War of Independence still fresh in the minds of Americans and the War of 1812 still being waged, Congress enacted legislation directing the Secretary of War, the precursor of today’s Secretary of Defense, to gather symbols of combat from the young nation’s military struggles. The British invasion of Washington, and the subsequent burning of the White House and many other federal buildings would occur just four months later.

The main galleries at the NMUSA are located on the first floor of the museum, laid out in chronological order. The size of the gallery is proportional to the number of soldiers who served in that conflict. Smaller conflicts are highlighted in cases between main galleries. Beginning with the Founding the Nation gallery, covering the colonial period to the War of 1812 and extending through the Changing World Gallery, chronicling the period from the fall of the Soviet Union through our nation’s current conflicts, the museum tells the story of the Army through the stories and artifacts of the Soldier.

The Preserving the Nation Gallery highlights the Army’s part in the Civil War, and includes artifacts from the founding of the Signal Corps in the Getting the Message Through display. Albert James Myer, an Army doctor, first conceived the idea of a separate, trained professional military signal service. He proposed that the Army use his visual communications system called "wigwag" while serving as a medical officer in Texas in 1856. When the Army adopted his system June 21, 1860, the Signal Corps was born with Myer as the first and only Signal officer. Since that time, the Signal Corps has contributed enormously to the scientific and military advancement of our Country, and at CECOM, we are proud to recognize our Signal Corps roots, even as we adapt and advance in the face of ever-changing missions and priorities. A separate display highlighting BG Myer is located in the Army and Society Gallery.

The Nation Overseas Gallery covers the time period 1898-1918, and includes a Communications display. This display highlights many of the innovations that were developed and fielded from the radio and Signal Corps laboratories. Construction of the radio laboratory at what would become Fort Monmouth began in mid-December 1917, and was mostly finished by the end of January 1918.

Research initially centered on vacuum tubes, circuits, testing of manufacturer-submitted equipment, and application of new inventions. 90-95 flights a week were flown for testing. The laboratories provided all the technical facilities needed for the development of ground and air radio.

Both the Global War Gallery, highlighting the period between 1919-1945, and the Cold War Gallery, featuring artifacts from the period from 1947-1991, feature displays that emphasize the important and integrated role that Signal Corps technologies had on supporting and protecting the American Soldier. Fort Monmouth laboratory developments during the WWII period made communications more transportable, more secure, and more reliable.

Technical contributions of the Army Signal Corps during World War II included the development and introduction of carrier equipment, spiral-four cable, facsimile equipment, frequency-modulated radios, crystal-controlled radios, microwave radar sets, and other equipment and facilities.

Fort Monmouth’s introduction of Automatic Artillery and Mortar Locating Radars AN/TPQ-3 and AN/MPQ-10 proved to be a major success during the Korean War era, helping soldiers to detect the source of incoming enemy attacks and to potentially launch counter attacks. Other developments of the period included a lightweight field television cameras, pocket radiation detectors; and super-small experimental field radios. Advancements in communications and electronics systems came so far that in 1957 the Army discontinued the pigeon service, which had been a fixture on post since the end of WWI. One of CECOM’s predecessor commands, the Electronics Command (ECOM) supplied communications and electronics equipment  during the Vietnam era to include radios, radars, mortar locators, sensors, surveillance systems, aerial reconnaissance equipment, air traffic control systems, night vision devices, and even cameras. Many of these are the predecessors of items currently in the field.

Many of the signal corps innovations found their way into everyday life, but don’t doubt that they were on the cutting edge of technology for the time. The Army and Society Gallery highlights a large number of innovative Signal Corps thinkers and equipment. There are displays about Signal Corps founders, who are honored on our C5ISR Campus, as well as some of the many technologies developed and fielded by the Signal Corps, including radar, communications, night vision, and space technology. There are also displays highlight some other ways the Signal Corps served the Army, with the development of films, aimed at both the soldier and the civilian populations, including one that was given an Oscar Award.

As the Army celebrates it birthdays in June, it’s an opportunity to explore the ways that CECOM and its predecessor have contributed to the growth and development of the Army and the Signal Corps. If an in-person visit isn’t possible to the NMUSA, there are many valuable resources available on their website to explore. National Museum of the United States Army (thenmusa.org)