Message #194
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 

[ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] :

Dead Media Working Note 05.7
Dead Medium:  The Heliograph

Source: The Telegraph: A History of Morse's
Invention and its Predecessors in the United
States by Lewis Coe TK 5115 C54 1993, McFarland
and Company, Publishers ISBN 0-89950-736-0;page 8:

"One of the most successful and widely used visual
signalling systems, the heliograph, did not appear
until 1865, long after most visual systems were
considered obsolete. The factor that established
the heliograph was the existence of the Morse
alphabet of dots and dashes, widely used for land
telegraph and submarine cable operations. The
ancients understood the principles of reflected
sunlight, but no one ever got around to devising a
code for the letters of the alphabet. Signal codes
of some type had existed long before Morse, but
none of them ever reached a level of universal
acceptance, and they were mostly forgotten by the
time Morse published his code. "Early in the
nineteenth century, Gauss, a German mathematician,
had discovered the tremendous potential of the
sun's rays reflected from a plane mirror. Through
experiments he was able to demonstrate that even a
small mirror one inch square could send flashes
that could be seen over a distance of seven miles.
The silvered glass mirror, invented in 1840 by
Justin Liebeg, paved the way for the heliograph.
(...)"Like the American army, the British did not
have a separate Signal Corps organization until the
1860s. The first British signal school was
established at Chatham in 1865. Shortly after, a
young officer named Henry Christopher Mance
(1840-1926) became interested in signalling with
the sun. Mance, later to be knighted for his
achievements in engineering, knew of the use of
mirror instruments called heliotropes in the
triangulation of India. The Indian survey, one of
the great engineering projects of the nineteenth
century, required accurate location of high
mountain peaks to serve as control points for the
ground survey. Bright fire pots were used at night
and the heliotropes by day. It is not know whether
any Morse code signalling was done by heliotrope,
but it is certain that prearranged signals were
exchanged. (...) "The simple and effective
instrument that Mance invented was to be an
important part of military communications for the
next 40 years. Limited to use in sunlight, the
heliograph became the most efficient visual
signalling device ever known. In preradio days it
was often the only means of communication that
could span ranges of up to 100 miles with a
lightweight portable instrument. "The Mance
instrument employed tripod-mounted mirrors, with
one mirror linked to a key mechanism. The key
tilted the mirror enough to turn the flash on and
off at the distant station in accordance with the
dots and dashes of the Morse code. Range was
line-of-sight, with atmospheric conditions
establishing the upper limit. The British army
found the Mance heliograph ideally suited to field
operations in India and Afghanistan. It was used
to transmit daily reports and orders to and from
the remote mountain posts and for tactical
communications when troops were in the field. (One
hundred ten years later, TV pictures were to show
Afghan guerilla units using British pattern
heliographs in their conflict with the Russians.)
The present Afghans have found the helio useful for
the same reason as their British enemies of old;
namely, a simple uncomplicated mechanism that
requires no batteries or complex maintenance."

Dead Media:  The Heliograph, the Heliotrope
Source:  The Telegraph:  A History of Morse's
Invention and its Predecessors in the United
States by Lewis Coe TK 5115 C54 1993; McFarland and
Company, Publishers ISBN 0-89950-736-0

"In 1877, Chief Signal Officer Albert J. Meyer of
the U. S. Army obtained some heliograph instruments
from the British for experimental purposes. Meyer
sent the instruments to Gen. Nelson A. Miles, who
was assuming command of the Yellowstone Department
in Montana. Miles became an enthusiastic users of
the heliograph. When he was transferred to Arizona
in 1886 to take command of the Apache Indian
campaign, he saw it as the ideal place for
heliograph operations. There were few roads and
telegraph lines, and widely separated army commands
were often at a disadvantage through lack of
communications. Miles established a heliograph
communications network throughout a large part of
Arizona and New Mexico, taking advantage of
strategically located mountain peaks for relay
stations. "The annual report of the secretary of
war for the year 1895 contains the chief signal
officer's report on the Glassford expedition that
established the world's heliograph distance record.
It reads as follows: "'In developing the more
important electrical communication devices of the
Signal Corps, other methods of signalling that are
absolutely essential adjuncts have received due
attention. Heliography is perhaps the most
important of these methods to a rapidly moving
army, operating over a country where the use of
electrical instruments is inadvisable or
temporarily impracticable. 'The former world's
record for long range heliographing was surpassed
58 miles during the year though the zealous and
intelligent exertions of Capt. W.A. Glassford,
Signal Corps, and a detachment of signal sergeants
by the interoperation of stations on Mount Ellen,
Utah, and Mount Uncompahgre, Colorado, 183 miles
apart. This unprecedented feat of long distance
intercommunication by visual signals was made on
Sept 17, 1894, with Signal Corps heliographs
carrying mirrors only 8 inches square. It was
accomplished only after much discomfort and some
suffering, due to severe storms on the mountains
and to the rarefied air to which the parties were
subjected for ten days. The persistence, skill and
ingenuity of Captain Glassford and of the signal
sergeants engaged in this result are highly
commendable.' (...) "Remnants of some of the old
heliograph stations are still found on the
mountaintops today. At Fort Bowie, Arizona,
ceremonial demonstrations of the heliograph are
sometimes staged on Bowie Peak, an important relay
point during the Indian campaign. The American army
at first used the Mance pattern instruments from
England. Later the United States had its own
version that employed a leaf shutter to interrupt
the light beam for keying instead of the
mirror-tilting method used by Mance. The heliograph
was used in the Spanish-American war in 1898. By
the time of World War 1, wireless and field
telephones had pretty well taken over the army's
communications, but heliograph instruments were
kept on hand until the mid 1920s. Some were kept
at Corregidor in the Philippines for backup
communication with the mainland in case of radio
failure. "The last great use of the heliograph was
during the Boer War in South Africa, where both
sides used it. The terrain and climate, as well as
the nature of the campaign, made the heliograph the
logical choice. For night communications, the
British used some naval searchlights, brought
inland on railroad cars, and equipped with
leaf-type shutters for keying the beam of light
into dots and dashes. In the early stages of the
war, the British garrisons were besieged in
Kimberly, Ladysmith, and Mafeking. With land
telegraph lines cut off, the only contact with the
outside world was via light-beam communication,
helio by day, searchlight at night. "In an effort
to improve communications, five Marconi 'mobile
wireless units' were sent out from England.
Unfortunately, with wireless still in its infancy,
these units were of little value. In the siege of
Ladysmith, telegraph lines were cut off on
November 2, 1899, and from then until the
relieving army arrived on February 28, 1900, the
heliograph was the only connecting link with the
outside world. Cloudy days were tedious for the
inhabitants of Ladysmith because no news could be
received. One person recorded such a day in his
diary, writing, 'Heavy weather had settled upon us
and had blinded the little winking reflector on
Monte Cristo Hill.' "As the relieving army,
commanded by Sir Redvers Buller, approached the
city, his signal officer, Capt John Cayzer,
attempted to establish communication by helio.
There were problems with Boer operators who
intercepted the British flashes. When Cayzer
finally reached a station claiming to be British,
he devised a test. 'Find Captain Brooks of the
Gordons,' he signalled. 'Ask him the name of
Captain Cayzer's country place in Scotland.'
Captain Brooks, when found, did not immediately
grasp the purpose of the question and remarked,
'Well, I always thought Cayzer was an ass, but I
didn't think he'd forget the name of his own home!'
"Canada was the last major army to keep the
heliograph as an issue item. By the time the mirror
instruments were retired in 1941, they were not
much used for signalling. Still, the army hated to
see them go. One officer said, 'They made damn
fine shaving mirrors!'"

Subject:  Dead Media Working Note 02.7
Source: Plum, William Rattle, 1845-1927. The
military telegraph during the Civil War in the
United States with an exposition of ancient and
modern means of communication, and of the federal
and Confederate cipher systems; also a running
account of the war between the states. Microform.
PUBLISHER Chicago : Jansen, McClurg & Co.,1882.
PHYSDESC 2 v. :ill., port., maps, facsim. SERIES
1) Microbook library of American civilization;
LAC 22395. pages 29-30:

HELIO-TELEGRAPHY: "As of late (read: late-mid 1800s
in Europe/US) the rays of the sun are doing courier
service where the electric telegraph could not be
built or operated, and such has been the success
of sun telegraphing, that it constitutes a new and
rapidly developing wonder. This mode of signaling
is variously designated as mirror telegraphing,
heliographic, helioscopic, heliostatic and
heliotropic, all of which seem to be essentially
identical in the main principles. But the
instruments by which the rays are concentrated
and reflected differ somewhat, and hence some are
better calculated than others to work at great
distances. The heliostat was invented by
Gravesande, about a century and a half ago.(circa
1718?)...In 1861, officers of the United States
Coast Survey, at work in the Lake Superior regions,
demonstrated the usefulness of the mirror,
equatorially mounted, for telegraphic purposes,
and succeeded in conveying their signals with ease
and rapidity a distance of ninety miles. During
the same year, Moses G. Farmer, an American
electrician, a man of infinite invention succeeded
in thus telegraphing along the Massachusetts coast
from Hull to Nantasket. The next year some English
officers introduced the system into the British
navy, with modifications and improvement, using at
night an electric or calcium light. The signals
communicated are made by alternately exposing and
cutting off continuous rays of light reflected
from one station to another.

page 30:
MANCE HELIOGRAPH, "an instrument used by the
English, telegraphing is done by pressing a finger
key, whereby, flashes of light, of long or short
duration, are emitted. These flashes and intervals
or spaces are easily made to indicate what in the
Morse alphabet are shown by dots, spaces, and
dashes... In this way the Morse alphabet may be
telegraphed as easily as by an electrized wire.
Indeed, ungodly parties have before now, at
church, telegraphed across the room without
awakening suspicion, by a mere movement of the
eyelids. It is reported that during the
seige of Paris (1870-1), messages were telegraphed
therefrom twenty and thirty miles, by the
reflection of calcium lights....The Mance
Heliograph is easily operated by one man, and as it
weighs but about seven pounds, the operator can
readily carry it and the tripod on which it
rests... During the Jowaki Afridi expedition sent
out by the British-Indian government (1877-8), the
heliograph was first fairly tested in war.

page 30:
THE HELIOSTAT, "is said to be the first instrument
for mirror telegraphy used in war (which war is not
explicitly indicated, but likely the US Civil War).
The mirror receives and reflects the sun's rays,
and a clockwork attachment keeps the mirror
position to receive the direct sunbeams, which in
Nevada, U.S., are said to be so bright as to be
hurtful to the eye at a distance of forty miles.
Behind the mirror, in the very center, some of the
quicksilver is removed, leaving a very small,
round, clear space in the glass, through which the
operator looks and may watch the reflection from
the next station.

page 30:
THE HELIOTROPE reflects the rays by mirrors but has
no clockwork.

[ SASIG Ed. Note -- Those at August Pecos
Conference who may twitch uncontrollably as the
result of being unplugged for a few days are
hearby authorized to batt their eylids in un-godly
fashion from across the tented expanse. Perhaps
speakers can give two papers at once -- orally and
ocularly -- and in this fashion, we can really cut
jargon and get to the beer tasting competition all
the quicker. ]

[ SASIG Ed. Note -- On mountaintops, we can expect
to find shrines. How does one identify a heliograph
station? Does anyone have information on the
material culture of signaling stations?]

Date: Thu, 18 Jun 1998 10:20:50
From: Instituto Nacional DE Antropologia e Historia
While I don`t remember the details, Di Peso
registered more than 60 hilltop sites throughout
northern Chihuahua and sucessfully tested their
long range intervisibility with mirrors byday and
burning yucca leaves by night. I believe that
someone at UNM did an M.A. thesis on the subject
within the last couple of years.

Ben Brown 

Date: Fri, 19 Jun 98 00:52:21 -0000
From: Tom Baker

While at the Army's field artillery school at Ft.
Sill, Oklahoma, in 1972, we artillery students
would sometimes direct and observe artillery fire
from various hilltops on the military reservation.
I was doing this one day and noticed that we were
standing beside an odd fixture embedded in a
concrete slab, and I asked one of the instructors
what it was. He replied that it was the remains of
an old heliograph station. He said there were
others like it on the higher hills in the area, and
that they were used during the Indian wars to
signal the approach of hostile or friendly parties
to the fort. So, anyway, Ft. Sill still has some
heliograph sites, or at least it did in 1972.

Tom Baker
Aerial Archaeology