Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Semaphore Guys

So…what’s with the men and the flags? When I went freelance, I wanted something distinctive for the first, all-my-own logo.

One of my eQ friends in Austin, Gayle Smith, had run across the illustrated fellas (see post below) for some ad concepts we were creating. The client didn’t buy that particular concept. But I remembered the “semaphore guys” – unusual, communicative…different. Thanks to all of you for many compliments over the past 15 months.

Once upon a time, there were no “semaphore guys.” The semaphore line was a French signalling system invented by Claude and Ignace Chappe. It is quite a bit different from the naval semaphore system that uses hand-held flags – that came later.

The Chappe mechanism was a tower with black movable wooden arms; the position of the arms indicated alphabetic letters. The wooden arms were controlled by just two handles. It was simple to operate, and pretty rugged. Trying to operate at night though, with lamps on the arms, didn’t work.

Each of the two arms showed seven positions, and the cross bar connecting the two arms had four different angles, for a total of 196 symbols: 7 x 7 x 4. A big innovation was using a group of trained, dedicated men to pass the signals. (Okay, there were semaphore guys, but they weren’t my “semaphore guys.”)

By the mid-1820s. the naval semaphore system had been invented, using hand-held flags. It is still accepted for daytime emergency communication.

In the photo above, US Navy signalmen are sending a message with semaphore flags, on the signal bridge of USS Colorado (BB45), 29 October 1943. Signalman 2nd Class Kenneth Mitchell is working the flags, as Signalman 3rd Class John Wilson mans the telescope.

The mechanical semaphore was eventually replaced by the electric telegraph. Maybe I’ll try a “telegraph guy” someday.

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