Signal Corps Telegraph System in Alaska and Canadian Line [with report]

Early efforts to connect Alaska to the lower 48.

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“In May of 1900, Congress appropriated nearly half a million dollars for the purpose of establishing a communications system connecting the military posts in Alaska. This system, which came to be known as the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS), was constructed by the Army Signal Corps. Construction of the telegraph cable portion of the system began in the summer of 1900. In 1903, a 107 mile wireless system crossing Norton Sound on the west coast of Alaska was added. Also, in 1903, a submarine cable between Sitka, Alaska and Seattle, Washington was laid, allowing rapid communication between Alaska and the lower 48. By the time WAMCATS was completed in 1904, it included almost 1400 miles of overland telegraph cable, over 2000 miles of submarine cable, as well as the existing short wireless section.” – 59th Signal Battalion History.

This map, prepared by Williams Welch in 1903 under the direction of Brigadier General Adolphus Greeley, catalogs those tremendous efforts to link the remote wilderness of Alaska to the rest of the United States. Telegraph lines, stations, military cables, and post offices are identified throughout the image according to the legend in the lower right.

The map is accompanied by Greely’s 32-page report (bound amid other submissions by Army officers), which provides further details on the grueling work. Passages indicate that there were less than 20 miles of constructed wagon roads in the territory, over 60 feet of snow fell at Fort Linscum that winter, and some coils of wire had to be carried nearly 150 miles on foot. One notable excerpt on operations in the Yukon and Tanana valleys reads, “One Signal Corps man was drowned; of the line of the Army one was drowned, one frozen to death, and one crippled for life. In addition, the monotonous life at the desolate interior stations caused two suicides of SignalCorps operators.” – pg. 329


Map Details

Publication Date: 1903

Author: A.W. Greely

Sheet Width (in): 22

Sheet Height (in): 15.75

Condition: A

Condition Description: Map shows light creasing along originally issued fold lines and faint wear along the outer edges of the sheet, consistent with age. Disbound from an accompanying volume of the 1903 Annual Report of the War Department (included), bound in original full leather. Pages are toned and lightly brittle with age, but overall in very good to near fine condition.

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