History Behind Semaphore Flags

Optical “telegraphs” or signaling devices have been traced back to ancient times (using torches) and were the fastest systems to convey messages over long distances. These “telegraphs” could have since been in the form of torches, smoke signals and eventually semaphore towers.

Semaphore towers used large blades/paddles to convey messages. These messages were decoded based on the fixed positions of these arms and could transmit signals up to 150 miles in two minutes using multiple towers.

The semaphore tower/semaphore line design was first thought up by Robert Hooke in 1684 and submitted to the Royal Society. The system was not implemented though due to military concerns. However, this did lead to Claude Chappe developing the first visual telegraph in 1792 – eventually covering much of France via 556 stations. In France, this was the primary source of communication for military and national applications, until it became more widely used in the 1850’s. Designs varied between using shudders open and closed to holes being open and closed, but Chappe’s design became the most widely used semaphore design.

Chappe’s design used large towers that had a single crossbar with large pivoting “arms” at the ends and were spaced as far as part as the eye could see. The crossbar could be used in 4 different positions while the arms could be in 7 different positions each, for a combination of 196 (4x7x7) characters. These 196 characters could be combined to create a multitude of messages and phrases. Some have estimated that there were as many as 9,999 different “codes” created.

Many other takes of semaphores became created, including the naval signaling code flags which are still used today. These flags could be used in combination to become different words and messages and thus not have to spell out each word since messages were usually needed to be displayed quickly. This system however proved to be slow during battle since these flags were hoisted to the top of the ship for display.

Even Napoleon used one design to communicate to his army strategies and locations of his enemies. These semaphore stations were so successful that the French government rejected Samual Morse‘s first proposals of the electrical telegraph, citing that its design was flawed by wires being able to be cut easily.

These visual messaging systems eventually led to semaphore flags. These flags were used in the same way that the arms were used on the semaphore towers – different fixed positions mean different messages. Semaphore flags were primarily used for naval applications to communicate message between boats. It proved to be a very useful tactic during battles, most famously the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars.

Today these flags have become smaller and are usually mounted to small dowels or poles to allow them to be seen easier. Maritime use flags are red and yellow (or the OSCAR) flag and while in land use, the flags are blue and white (or the PAPA) flag. Even though they are not in use much anymore, they still serve for some boats and ships.

So why did we get rid of them?

Well, there were two critical downfalls of all the systems:

  1. They had no secrecy. Everyone within visual distances could see the message and therefore react to it. This proved to be one of the design’s most fatal wartime attributes.
  2. They were practically invisible at night time and during heavy fog and rain.

Both of these reasons lead to the electrical telegraph and Morse Code, both “invented” by Samuel F.B. Morse.

So, the next thing you know, we went to electrical telegraphs, pony express, telephone, radio, television, computers, fax machines, satellite televisions, cellular phones and the internet. What is next to come in communication? I for one can not even begin to imagine all of the amazing devices we will see in the future. The one thing I do know is that ultimately semaphore flags and towers inspired all designs since. To see how basic letters are signaled with semaphore flags, please check out this video:

St. Patrick’s Day Pot-O-Information

I will admit it, I have no idea about most of the traditions that are regarded with St. Patrick’s Day. However, since it is fast approaching, I have decided to do a little investigation!

First, lets get some of the basics out of the way…Who is St. Patrick and why is he famous?

-St. Patrick is generally regarded as the most well known patron saint of Ireland. What is a patron saint? I’m glad you asked! A patron saint is any saint that generally guards or defends a certain people, object, illness, nation, or idea. Okay, that makes more sense.

-St. Patrick was born in Scotland in the year 387 AD and (allegedly) died MARCH 17, 493…thus marking March 17th as St. Patrick’s Day. This would make him 105-106 years old!

-His father, Calpornius, was a deacon. His grandfather, Potitus, was a priest.

-Only two writing of St. Patrick have survived until today, “The Declaration”, which gives an account of Patrick’s life and mission, and “Letters to the Soldiers of Coroticus”.

-At the age of 16, Patrick was captured in Britain by Irish “marauders”, or treasure hunters. He was taken to Ireland for 6 years where he was forced into slavehood and became a herdsman…looking over the master’s sheep. It was in slavehood that he began praying daily and according to his writings, was the leading cause for the life he would lead as an apostle. Following a dream he had with a voice telling him he would soon escape, he left and traveled nearly 200 miles to catch a ship where he returned home, then in his early 20’s.

-He eventually returned to Ireland in his mid 40s and became an apostle, teaching the ways of Christianity and converting many of the chiefs to Christianity.

-He continued to preach until his death in 493 and has been allegedly buried in Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, Down County.

St. Patrick’s Day Themese and their Reasons:

Shamrock: The shamrock became part of St. Patrick’s day because St. Patrick used the 3 leaf clover design to help explain the trinity of Christianity. His followers quickly adopted the practice of wearing these to show their dedication. Most of us think of 4 leaf clovers represent good luck and can outnumber 3 leaf clovers 10,000 to 1! A little fun fact: the guiness book of world records sets the record for most number leaves on a clover at 21.

Leprechauns: From the information I could find, leprechauns don’t have anything to do with St. Patrick, the man, at all. However, the Irish have many stories of the leprechauns, which are believed to be Irish fairies. They are usually short (around 2′), are usually quite grumpy, and are shoemakers. Each leprechaun allegedly has a pot of gold that is hidden, but if you are to find a leprechaun, you can force them to tell you but DON’T take your eyes off of them at any point because they are sure to vanish.

-Wearing green: St. Patrick’s favorite color was blue, not in fact green. Actually, the Irish weren’t fond of green until the 19th century. Many Irish considered green to be the color of leprechauns and wearing green showed association with leprechauns. Green wasn’t associated with the holiday until the 19th century, and has become St. Patrick’s color because Ireland as a nation is lavished with green…grass, trees, leprechauns :), etc. Pinching people without green was created but young Irish children and the tradition continues today!

St. Patrick Day Events In America!

Chicago, IL holds one of the coolest St. Patrick Day Celebrations in the US by dying the Chicago River green immediately before their St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The “dyers” of the river pour in a seemingly orange dye into the river which immediately turns green thanks to the help of leprechauns. Using 40-50 lbs. of food coloring, the river stays green for just a few hours. Two parades take place in Chicago which combined draw in about 600,000+ people.

New York City, NY, has the largest parade in the US, which is expected to have 2 million+ attendees this year! In New York, this parade has been taking place every year since 1762! It is much different than most parades in the fact that there are no floats, cars, or corporate sponsors; just marching, bagpipes, and the largest St. Patrick Day celebration in the country!

Boston, MA-With a population that is nearly 16% of Irish background – no wonder it is the oldest celebrated St. Patrick’s Day Parade in America…which it started in 1737. Boston brings in more than 500,000 parade goers and has more Irish pubs than any other city in America.

White House-Starting in 2009, Michelle Obama made the decision to dye the north and south lawn fountains green. It marked the first time that it had ever been done before, but it should not be a surprise. Michelle and Barack are from…Chicago!

St. Patrick’s Day is quickly approaching so grab your St. Paddy’s Day decorations, your green shirts, and celebrate the one day of the year that we are all part Irish. We here at FlagExpressions.com asks everyone to have a safe, exciting, and pinch-free day…even if it is a Wednesday! If you are in need of last-minute banner, you have hit the jackpot!