The Signal Service


The Signal Service


The Signal Service was an early form of the local weather report. The service was first a military branch in 1860 when flags were used to send messages. The meteorological agency was added to the service in 1870 and there were maritime related signal flags used in the coastal and Great Lakes areas. By 1881, state Signal Service offices were being established. The services used weather flags that were flown over local post offices, and at telegraph and telephone stations. The various colored flags announced the weather condition for the next day. The attached article explains the flag colors used in Stanford, KY in 1888. The Signal Service was part of the U.S. War Department and the Chief Signal Officer was located in Washington, D.C. The service had a number of duties, including weather warnings, rain and other weather reports, and weather bulletins, all that were thought to be most useful to farmers with stock and growing crops. In 1888, new state services were established in New York, Texas, and Kentucky. The Central Station for Kentucky was located in Louisville under the direction of the State Polytechnic Society with J. B. Marbury in charge of the office. There had been an attempt to establish a state Signal Service in Kentucky in 1881, but the request was not acted upon. Without the service, a frost had damaged the Kentucky tobacco crop just prior to 1888 and there was an, “I told you so” attitude from the Signal Service in D.C. The warning of the frost had been telegraphed to Kentucky, Virginia, and adjoining states, but without a state service, the word was not distributed in Kentucky. With time, the use of weather flags was slowly replaced by faster and more frequent mail delivery, daily newspapers with weather forecasting reports, and weather reports on radios. In July of 1927, the U.S. Weather Bureau (National Weather Service) announced that weather flags would be phased out.


Semi-weekly Interior Journal




1. "The Signal Service,” Semi-weekly Interior Journal, 1888-01-06, p.3
2. Annual Report of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army to the Secretary of War for the Year 1888. Appendix No.5: Report on the state weather services and other co-operating meteorological societies, October 1, 1888, pp.67-69.
3. A Brief History of Signal Flags (image). National Weather Service Heritage website.


Reinette Jones, University of Kentucky Librarian & African American Studies Academic Liaison


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