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Scientific American Supplement, No. 508, September 26, 1885 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 112 pages of information about Scientific American Supplement, No. 508, September 26, 1885.


Optical communications by signals, during day and night, with experienced men, may, in the absence of telephones, telegraphs, and messengers, render important service when the distance involved is greater than two thousand feet.

This mode of correspondence is based upon the use of the Morse alphabet.  The signals are divided into night and day ones.  The day signals are made with small flags.  When these are wanting, sheets of white cardboard may be used.  The night signals are made with a lantern provided with a support, which may be fixed to a wall or upon a bayonet.

In day signaling, the dashes of the Morse alphabet are formed by means of two flags (Fig. 23) held simultaneously at arm’s length by the signaler.  The dots are formed with a single flag held in the right hand (Fig. 24).  In this way it is possible, by extremely simple combinations, to establish a correspondence, and produce any conventional signal.  By means of relay stations, the signals may be transmitted from one to another to a great distance.

In signaling with the lantern, long and short interruptions of the luminous source are produced by means of a screen.


Various interesting experiments have been made with a view to utilizing luminous captive balloons for optical communications.  As we have already seen, this maybe effected by using opaque balloons, and throwing upon them at unequal intervals a luminous fascicle by means of a projector.  As for using a luminous source placed in the car of a balloon, that cannot be thought of in the present state of aeronautic science; the continual rotation of the balloon around its axis would render the projection and reception of the signals in a given direction impossible.


For communicating optically from ship to ship during the day, the marine uses flags of different forms and colors, and flames.  Between ships and the land there are used what are called semaphore signals, which are made by means of a mast provided with three arms and a disk placed at the upper part.  The combinations of signs thus obtained, which are analogous in principle to those of the Chappe telegraph, permit of satisfactorily communicating to a distance.

On board ship, hand signals are used like those employed by the army for communicating between bodies of troops.  For night communications the marine employs lights corresponding to the day flags, as well as rockets, and luminous rays projected by means of reflectors and intercepted by screens.

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