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arrow Stories and Tales of the Weather Service
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Table of Contents
  Evolution to the Signal Service Years (1600 - 1891)
  Professor Cleveland Abbe
  Isaac M. Cline
  H. B. Boyer
  D. G. Benson
  Henry Calver
  Ford A. Carpenter
  Norman B. Conger
  Henry J. Cox
  John P. Finley
  H. C. Frankenfield 
  Glynn Gardner
  John S. Hazen
  C. F. von Herrmann
  J. W. Smith
  Richard H. Sullivan
  Wilford M. Wilson

signal service years

Personal View of Henry Calver

During 1870, a number of men were enlisted for the weather bureau and were placed in training at Fort Whipple (Fort Myer). These men were instructed in meteorology, telegraphy and also in the Manual of Signals of the U. S. Army. The first man thus enlisted as ObserverSergeant was George C. Schaeffer, of Washington, D.C.

Some forty odd observation stations were established in the principal cities of the country during the latter part of 1870, each station being in charge of an Observer-Sergeant, and the organization was sufficiently complete so that on the 1st of January, 1871, regular reports of weather observations taken synchronously at 7:35 a.m., 4:35 p.m. and 11:35 p.m. (Washington time) were telegraphically reported, in code, to the Washington office. These coded telegrams contained words indicating the readings of the barometer, indicating air pressure, the reading of wet and ry bulb thermometers, indicating temperature and humidity of the atmosphere, the condition of the weather, as fair, cloudy, rainy, etc., the direction and velocity of the wind, and the amount of rainfall during the preceding twenty-four hours. These code telegrams, received at the Signal Office, were translated and plotted on blank maps of the United States, and from the data thus furnished the weather reports and predictions were prepared.

I enlisted in the Signal Service on the 1st of December 1870, without taking the course of study at Fort Whipple, and immediately was assigned to duty in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, as an assistant to a Lieutenant who had then taken up the study of meteorology, and later I worked as assistant to Professors Abbe and Maury. After I had worked for some months on the weather maps, it occurred to me that, in addition to the daily reports to the press, weekly and monthly summaries of the weather would be of interest, and I submitted a proposition of this sort to General Myer. In reply to my suggestions to Gen. Myer I received a letter as follows:


Office of the Chief Signal Officer


Washington, D.C., Aug. 21st, 1872

Sergt. Henry Calver, Observer Signal Service, U.S.A. Office of the Chief Signal Officer, Washington, D.C.


I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of this date, and to convey to you the thanks of the Chief Signal Officer for this evidence of your zeal in the Service.

He approved the form of summary you suggest, and desires that you will prepare one for the current week for publication in the weekly papers, within easy reach of this City by mail, provided this labor will not interfere with your regular duties.

All papers must be submitted to the Chief Signal Officer for approval before leaving the Office.

Very Respectfully,

H.W. Howgate, 2d Lt. and Bvt. Capt. U.S.A. A.S.O. and Asst.

In compliance with the order thus given I immediately began to write, under the title of "The Weekly Weather Chronicle," weekly summaries of the weather, copies of which were forwarded to the Sergeants in charge of the principal observation stations to be distributed to the press, and I continued the preparation of these weekly summaries for several years, with some interruptions for tornado work.

Also about this time I assisted Professor Maury in preparing monthly summaries, and these monthly summaries are, I believe, still published by the Weather Bureau under the title of "The Monthly Weather Review," first used by Professor Maury.

In connection with the general weather reports, some attention was given to special reports on tornadoes. In 1873 a very destructive tornado passed through portions of Iowa and Sergeant James McIntosh was detailed to make a special investigation and report on the same, which he did, his report having been published in the Report of the Chief Signal Officer for that year.

On March 20, 1875, remarkable tornadoes, originating in the eastern border of Alabama, passed over the States of Georgia and South Carolina, and I was ordered to visit the scenes of these tornadoes and make an investigation and report, which I did; my illustrated report having been published in the Report of the Chief Signal Officer for 1875.

Also in June, 1877, a very destructive tornado wiped out a larger part of the town of Mount Carmel, Illinois, and I was directed to make a special investigation and report of this tornado, which I did; my report having been published in the Report of the Chief Signal Officer for the year 1877.

This Mount Carmel tornado report was the last work which I did in the Signal Office, as about the time I had completed my report I received an appointment in the Patent Office, and in view of which I obtained my discharge from the Signal Service. My meteorological work, above outlined, had been very interesting and I was reluctant to drop it, but the pay was insufficient and the prospect for the future rather unpromising, while the Patent Office appointment, together with a regular law course which I took while serving as Assistant Examiner, enabled me to fit myself for the profession of a patent lawyer when I resigned from the Patent Office, which I did in 1883, and in which profession I have been fairly successful. My interest in the weather reports has, however, always continued, and I read the daily weather maps with regularity when they are accessible.

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