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MYER, ALBERT JAMES

MYER, ALBERT JAMES (1828–1880). Albert James Myer, physician and founder of the United States Army Signal Corps, was born in Newburgh, New York, on September 20, 1828, the son of Henry Beekman and Eleanor (McClanahan) Myer. He received a B.A. degree from Geneva (now Hobart) College in 1847, an M.A. from Geneva in 1851, and an M.D. from the University of Buffalo in 1851. In 1854, after private practice in Florida, he became an assistant surgeon in the United States Army and went with recruits to Fort Duncan, Texas, where orders soon transferred him to Fort Davis, Jeff Davis County. He served at Fort Davis from January 1855 until he was transferred back to Fort Duncan in late 1855. He remained there as the post doctor until July 1857, when he returned to the East. From Fort Duncan, in October 1856, Myer proposed a military signaling system, which he invented and in which he had been interested since 1851. After it received the qualified approval of an army board in 1859, he tested and refined it, principally in the New York harbor area; in June 1860 he became a major and the army's first signal officer. His system, first used operationally in the Navajo expedition, 1860–61, employed a single flag for daytime and a kerosene torch for night signaling. This system is known as wigwag signaling.

The United States Army Signal Corps, which Myer founded and of which he was the first chief officer, took form during the Civil War. While introducing magnetoelectric telegraphy into the signal corps, he collided with the rival United States Military Telegraph and was relieved as the chief signal officer in 1863 and from active service in 1864. Myer won restoration to active service as a colonel and chief signal officer in 1867 and remained chief signal officer until his death. He did not attain the regular rank of brigadier general until 1880. Meanwhile, in 1870, he organized within the signal corps the nation's first truly national weather service. Myer was thus one of the principal founders of what became the United States Weather Bureau in 1891. On August 24, 1857, he married Catherine Walden; they had six children. Hobart College awarded Myer an honorary LL.D. degree in 1872 and Union College conferred an honorary Ph.D. on him in 1875. He died in Buffalo, New York, of nephritis on August 24, 1880, and was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo. Fort Myer, Virginia, bears his name.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

J. Willard Brown, The Signal Corps, U.S.A. in the War of the Rebellion (N.p.: U.S. Veteran Signal Corps Association; rpt., with intro. by Paul J. Scheips, New York: Arno Press, 1974). David A. Clary, ed., "I Am Already Quite a Texan: Albert James Myer's Letters from Texas, 1854–1856," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 82 (July 1978). Paul J. Scheips, "Albert James Myer: An Army Doctor in Texas, 1854–1857," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 82 (July 1978). Paul J. Scheips, Albert James Myer, Founder of the Army Signal Corps: A Biographical Study (Ph.D. dissertation, American University, 1966).

Paul J. Scheips

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Paul J. Scheips, "MYER, ALBERT JAMES," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmy01), accessed October 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.