Albert J. Myer

Albert J. Myer was the creator of the Signal Corps, the founder of the United States Weather Bureau, and the namesake of Fort Myer, Virginia. 

 

 

Albert J. Myer, 1829-1880. (Library of Congress)

 

 

In the years just preceding the Civil War, Albert Myer –– who had put himself through medical school as a telegrapher, and whose doctoral thesis was titled A New Sign Language for Deaf Mutes–– served as an army surgeon on the southwestern frontier, occupying his spare time inventing a signal code for flags or torches. After successful field tests of his invention in 1859, Myer was appointed as the army’s first Chief Signal Officer.

In 1861, in the first summer of the Civil War, on the heights now known as Glover Park, Myer laid the foundation for the Army Signal Corps (which was founded, by act of Congress, on March 3, 1863).

Col. Myer was obliged to relinquish this command after incurring the displeasure of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. In exile, Myer busied himself patenting a cipher disc, developing an interrogation protocol for deserters and refugees who came into Union lines, and marshaling political connections to argue his case. He was not restored to his post as chief signal officer until after the war. In 1866 Myer had the satisfaction of being reinstated by Stanton, and was even given control of military telegraphy, which had been the bone of contention between them.

 

Albert J. Myer’s cipher disk

 

Maj. Albert J. Myer (seated, with double row of buttons) and men detailed to the Signal Corps, Georgetown Heights, 1861.

 

 

Col. Myer, in the field. (Library of Congress)

 

 

Col. Myer (in civilian clothes, grasping the flag) at the closing of the Signal Camp of Instruction, August, 1865.

 

 

After the war the Signal Corps moved across the Potomac to Fort Whipple, where Myer created an agency, the Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce, to report weather and track storms. The weatherman’s familiar words –– “since they began keeping records in 1869” –– date from this event.

Myer’s chief electrician at the national weather service was George C. Maynard, who later became an agent for Alexander Graham Bell. Myer’s order for a telephone line between Fort Whipple and the Washington office of the Signal Corps was Maynard’s first big break, and led directly to the first telephone system in the District of Columbia, in 1877.  (Richard T. Loomis, Washington History, Fall-Winter, 2000-2001)

 

 

(Washington Star, July 24, 1884)

 

 

 

On the heights overlooking Washington, a plain stone memorial records the achievements of Albert J. Myer.  (civilwarsignals.org)

 

 

 

Sources

 

J. Willard Brown, The Signal Corps in the War of the Rebellion, 1896

Miller’s Photographic History of the Civil War, 1911

Paul Scheips, “Union Signal Communications: Innovation and Conflict”, Civil War History, Vol.IX, No.4 (December, 1963)

Paul Scheips, Albert James Myer, Founder of the Army Signal Corps: A Biographical Study, Phd. Dissertation, Ann Arbor, Michigan; American University, 1966

 

 

___________________________________________________________

 Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

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 Questions and corrections may be directed to

carlton@gloverparkhistory.com

 

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