1870, the United States was attempting to recover from
the most devastating war in the history of the country.
The Civil War remained fresh in the minds of the U.S.
citizens, especially in the ruins of the Confederacy,
where reconstruction was drawing to a close. Ulysses S.
Grant was President and most of the country's population
was concentrated in the northeast from Chicago to New
the 1870's, American Indians were still creating havoc
in parts of the country and cowboys wore guns in the wild
west. The country was beginning to expand to the west
and it was becoming more united in the east.
the Civil War, the Army began a process of systematic
reduction as the budget was slashed from about $80 million
in 1869 to $57 million in 1870 to $40 million in 1871.
During this time, the size of the Army was reduced to
discharging "indifferent soldiers," and raising the qualifying
standards for recruits.
was in this environment that a Joint Resolution was unceremoniously
passed on February 2, 1870, and signed by President Grant
on February 9th, authorizing "the Secretary
of War to take observations at military stations and to
warn of storms on the Great Lakes and on the Atlantic
and Gulf Coasts." With this modest beginning, an agency
was born under the Signal Service which would become one
of the more popular and well known federal agencies. Later
names of this agency would be "Weather Bureau" and "National
the National Weather Service is poised on a massive modernization
and associated restructuring which will forever alter
the way in which its employees perform their jobs. To
perceive the future requires that we understand our roots.
The success of the agency through the years has been the
result of the dedication and motivation of its people,
and this will be especially true in the modernized National
document will attempt to describe life in the Signal Service
from 1870 through 1890 as viewed by early employees. In
1922, a Weather Bureau employee named Henry E. Williams,
recognizing that early Signal Service employees were coming
to the end of their lives, asked selected weather pioneers
to document their impressions of the Signal Service years.
Approximately 30 people responded.
it appears that the personal perspectives of the Signal
Service employees were never published, and their stories
eventually became lost in the mountains of material at
the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Research into
the history of the National Weather Service (for the Celebration
of American Weather Services) uncovered this vast resource
of material and, although almost 70 years late, it seemed
fitting to finally publish the testimonies.
publication is comprised of two broad sections. The first
section contains basic information regarding the advancement
of meteorology from the settling of the U.S. to the formation
of the Signal Service in 1870. This historical information
is provided to give the reader an understanding of the
culmination of events which eventually led to the formation
of the weather service within the War Department. The
first section also broadly describes conditions in the
Signal Service from 1870 to 1890 to "set the stage" for
the weather pioneers' own stories which follow.
obtain a "feel" for government policies and conditions
during the late 1800s, considerable reliance was placed
on Annual Reports of the Secretary of War from
1870 through 1890. Personal stories of the pioneers also
provide considerable insight.
of the material was collected from the National Archives;
however, the testimonies by Cleveland Abbe and Isaac M.
Cline were taken from their books (see the Bibliography).
Text provided by the pioneers was not modified except
in those rare instances to improve clarity. Since writing
and punctuation during the late 1800s was different from
current versions, several readings may be required of
a few sections. The editorial philosophy was not to make
significant text changes which might alter meanings. Editorial
explanations are placed in brackets.
30 percent of available material is included in this document.
The question then arises as to what should be published.
The basic philosophy was to include that material which
would provide a historical and personal view of the beginning
of the National Weather Service, as well as provide an
understanding of operational meteorology of the time.
The story is told through the eyes of different individuals
which may result in contradictions and discrepancies.
Since in many instances the "absolute" truth may not be
known, discretion will be left to the reader.
is hoped this publication will provide an insight into
the personal side of the Signal Service over 120 years
ago. Life as a forecaster or observer during that time
was exciting and challenging. It also was dangerous as
witnessed by the experiences of Isaac Cline in Abilene,
Texas, during cowboy gunfights and the experiences of
C.F. von Herrmann in Arizona. As the National Weather
Service moves into operations of the modernized era, it
is appropriate to remember the Signal Service pioneers
which began the rich heritage of this great agency.