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Pigeons in War: Topics in Chronicling America

From the late 19th to early 20th century, Pigeons were used in war as communication tools. This guide provides access to material related to "Pigeons in War" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.

Introduction

"Army 'Pigeoneers' relax with their charges in a Signals Corps mobile loft." April 18, 1943. Evening Star (Washington, DC), Image 29. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

Thanks to their unique homing ability, carrier pigeons have long played an invaluable role in war as military messengers and, as technology progressed, photographers. During both the First and Second World Wars, carrier pigeons were used to transport messages back to their home coop behind the lines. These pigeons often carried important messages that saved lives and won battles. For example, one pigeon named Cher Ami delivered a message that saved a large group of surrounded American infantrymen. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

September 1870 During the siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian war, an estimated 800 homing pigeons were used to send upwards of 40,000 messages
March 26, 1896 French shipping company, "Compagnie Transatlantique" makes the first attempt at sending Pigeons across the ocean. Using the Steamship La Champagne, they set 80 pigeons free, in batches of three. Older pigeons survive the pelting rain, while younger ones fall to the sea.
1912 Pigeons used as photographers instead of messengers, with the invention of a small camera that can attach to the bird with a harness.
February- March 1917 Germans retire to the Hindenburg line using carrier pigeons to communicate with the front lines.
October 4, 1918 Cher Ami, a Homing pigeon saved the lives of 194 soldiers in the "Lost Battalion" by delivering a message. She later receives the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for heroic service.