Albert James Myer
(1828 ~ 1880)

Physician, Surgeon, Signal Corps Founder, Weather Service Founder.

by Mark C. Hageman

       Born, Albert James Myer on September 20th, 1828 (*) in Newburgh, New York located just north of New York City. He was the son of Henry Beekman Myer and Eleanor (McClanahan) Myer. Albert's father Henry, for many years, was a dealer in clocks, watches and jewelry, and had a shop on the corner of Water and Second Streets in Newburgh, a bustling area of the time. (See: Myer Genealogy)

       (*) (Curiously, his daughter, Gertrude Walden Myer, insisted that "1829" be inscribed upon the monument she erected to his memory at Fort Myer, Virginia, as well as the plaque erected at his resting place, Forest Lawn Cemetery, in Buffalo, NY. She also clearly requested that the 1829 date be used in John N. Greely's biological sketch of her father in the Dictionary of American Biography. According to her nephew, she preferenced for 1829, which she may have persuaded herself was the correct year, and was helped out of difference to her mother, whose birthday was also in 1828. Both of whom wished it believed that she was really younger than her birthday, September 10th 1828, would indicate.) (See: Certification of Age)
~ Paul Scheips

       Soon after, in 1834, the Myer family relocated to western New York. Albert's mother, fell into ill health and soon after the move passed away, leaving him motherless. His father consigned him to the care of Serena McClanahan, Eleanor's sister from Buffalo, New York, who devoted the remainder of her life to the faithful discharge of her trust. She was of Scottish parentage, and educated her youthful ward in the strictest tenets of the Scottish Kirk. Albert continued being a devout believer in the Christian religion to the end. In later years he attended the Episcopal Church, preferring that form of worship.

       Henry Beekman Myer, Albert's father, in 1837, remarried and thereafter had a new family. As a result of this 2nd marriage Albert did have a half brother Edward Myer, also of Buffalo, New York.

       Notwithstanding Albert's marked bias for artistic and scientific pursuits, he early manifested a predilection for a military life. In his personal bearing he was every inch a soldier, tall, erect, alert, having that air of command in every look and every movement, which presupposes perfect obedience. Although a strict disciplinarian, he was both just and impartial.

       While serving an apprenticeship with the Buffalo, New York Telegraph Company, he became both familiar and proficient with Alexander Bain's electrochemical telegraph system. He soon found himself determined to obtain a collegiate education, but continued to work part-time as a telegrapher with the Buffalo, New York Telegraph Company, throughout his collegiate years (Then located at 12 Exchange Street, Buffalo, N.Y.).

Albert J. Myer

(With Telescope & Colt Rifle)

       Albert passed through the required preparatory course and entered Geneva College in Geneva, New York. He received a B.A. degree from Geneva (now Hobart) College in 1847, and four years later, in 1851, an M.A. from Geneva. Having also taken the regular course of study at the Buffalo Medical College, he also received his degree of M.D., at the age of 24.

       In 1852, Geneva College was renamed to Hobart College in memory of its most forceful advocate and founder John Henry Hobart, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Hobart College of the 19th century was the first American institution of higher learning to establish a three-year "English Course" of study to educate young men destined for such practical occupations as "agriculture, merchandise, mechanism, and manufacturing," while at the same time maintaining a traditional four-year "classical course" for those intending to enter "the learned professions."

       As a student, it was said of Albert, "that he was specially noted for the manner in which he would take hold of an idea or principle, and, follow it to its length and breadth, develop all there was in it or of it." To this characteristic he no doubt owed his success in life. His graduating thesis, "A New Sign Language for Deaf Mutes," contained the gems of what he subsequently developed into the art of motion telegraphy.

       Interestingly, 78 Hobart alumni served in the Union Army as commissioned officers; half held the rank of Captain and above. At least five served in the Confederate forces. A total of nine are believed to have died in the war. Many Hobart men served in the 126th New York Volunteer Infantry.

       During this time, his attention was called to the subject of signals for military and naval use. Communication by means of lights and various symbols has been practiced from time to time, but the systems were difficult and the apparatus was generally complex in character and cumbersome in form.

       It soon became an ambition of Albert's to devise a system, which should be characterized by the simplicity of its principles, and in which the apparatus to be used should combine strength of materials with lightness of weight that it could be transported with ease and safety. During his hours of leisure he was continually revolving in his mind various schemes for furnishing sure and rapid communication, whenever the distance could be covered with the eye.

       After graduation, Dr. Myer went into private practice in Florida. After practicing there for a short time, he sought and obtained a commission as assistant surgeon in the regular army. He went with recruits to Fort Duncan, Texas, where orders soon transferred him to Fort Davis, Jeff Davis County. He served at Fort Davis from January 1855 until he was transferred back to Fort Duncan in late 1855. He remained there as the post doctor until July 1857, when he returned to the East. See: (An Army Doctor in Texas 1854~1857) and (Myer's Letters from Texas 1854~1856)

See: December 15, 1853 Recommendation from Millard Fillmore
See: September 25, 1854 Acceptance Acknowledgement

       So firmly did the idea of a signalling system take possession of the young surgeon that he again devoted much of his leisure time to its development, and finally devised a system of signals, which became the basis of the code, or codes, used throughout the Civil War.

Catherine Walden Myer
Catherine Walden Myer

       When he came back east, he explained his system to the authorities, and took out letters of patent on his invention. This forethought on his part prevented some parties high in position from subsequently appropriating the results of his thought and labors (See: Myer Patent Jan. 29, 1861).

       In 1857, Albert took a bride, Miss. Catherine Walden. They were married on August 24, 1857 in Lakeview, New York, and had six children together, Catherine in 1859, Helen in 1861, Albert II in 1862, Viola in 1864, Walden in 1866, and Gertrude in 1871.

Ebenezer Walden
Ebenezer Walden

       Catherine (Walden) Myer's father, Ebenezer Walden, was a prominent individual in Buffalo. An attorney, he invested heavily in real estate in western New York, owning what became known as Walden Farm at what is now Fillmore and Walden Avenue. "By his judicious purchases and investments in lands, he became one of the wealthiest citizens in Buffalo." He erected the first brick dwelling in Buffalo. This was to replace his home, at Main and Eagle Streets, which was destroyed in December 1813. For a time this home was used by General Winfield Scott as his headquarters.

       Ebenezer Walden met and married Suzanna Marvin, who was 17 years younger than he, in 1812. They had four children, James (who became good friends with Albert, and to whom he frequently corresponded with), Edward, Jane and Catherine "Kate", Albert's future bride.

       Walden became the first judge of Erie County Court in 1823. He held the position for five years. He was a "thorough lawyer and commanded the confidence and respect of the bar who practiced in his court." In 1832, when Buffalo was incorporated into a city, Walden became the first Alderman for the fifth ward. On March 13, 1838, the Common Council met and made Walden its choice for mayor. At two o'clock Walden sent his acceptance to the council. Immediately upon taking oath, he proceeded to appoint city officers. When he was chosen to serve as mayor of Buffalo in 1838, he was a member of the Whig party. In 1812 while he had been a member of the State Assembly, he was a Federalist.
Lakeview Hotel (1908)
Lakeview Hotel (1908)

       After his term as mayor, Walden retired to his farm in Lakeview, New York, where son, James, resided. James Walden was the first postmaster of Lakeview, he was well known and received by all in the surrounding community. Ebenezer Walden had named the area Lakeview. He built the Lake View Hotel to serve the many traveling salesmen who arrived on the daily trains on the New York Central Railroad to sell their wares in the surrounding countryside (The station was located across the street). The salesmen would rent a horse and buggy from the livery stable behind the six-room hotel to make their rounds. "Drummers, they were called," said Hollis Lombard, whose family bought the building in 1948 and transformed it into the popular smorgasbord restaurant it was for several years. The original structure stood at 1957 Lake View Rd. The structure has gone through fire, renovation, sale and resale over the years. Ebenezer Walden died in Lake View on November 10, 1857, three months after Albert and Catherine's wedding. His body is interred in the Walden-Myer mausoleum in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, New York.

       The New Myer family took up residence in Lakeview (part of the Town of Hamburg, NY). The original home was located on the lakefront at 5926 Old Lakeshore Road. This original structure burned in the early 1900's and at least two subsequent dwelling have been built since.
Myer's Home Lakeview, NY 10/2004
(See Area Map 1866)
(See 1880 Photo of Lakeview Home)

       In 1858, Albert got word of what he had hoped for; a board was appointed to examine "the principles and plans of the signalling, mode of use in the field, and course to be pursued in introducing to the army."

       After it received the qualified approval of an army board in 1859, he tested and refined it, principally in the New York harbor area, under the direction of the Secretary of War. In these trials he was aided by 1st Lieut. Walworth Jenkins, 1st Art., and 2nd Lieut. E. P. Alexander, Corps of Engineers. The experiments were deemed very satisfactory, and the system won favor of both the officers named.

       In June 1860 Albert became a major and the army's first signal officer. His system, first used operationally in the Navajo expedition, 1860-61, which employed a single flag for daytime signalling and a Turpentine torch for night signalling. Expeditions were frequently sent into Indian country, of which the Signal Corps formed a component part, and it materially enhanced the prospects of the organization by its effective service.

       In June of 1861, Maj. Albert Myer received orders to Washington, D.C., to organize and command a signal corps. Through the first two years of the Civil War, Myer carried out both administrative and operational responsibilities while also proselytizing in Washington for the establishment of the Signal Corps as a permanent entity in the Army. Brevetted a lieutenant colonel on May 27th, 1862, for his service on the staff of the Army of the Potomac, he received a full colonelcy as a result of the formal establishment of the Signal Corps on March 3rd, 1863.

Myer in the field
Albert Myer "In The Field"
(See: photo array)

       Throughout the peninsular campaign he served as chief signal officer to General George B. McClellan, participating in all of the battles from Bull Run to Antietam. He then returned to Washington, where he took charge of the United States signal office on March 3rd, 1863, with the rank of colonel (See: Oath of Office). At this time he introduced the study of military signals at the United States military academy and was a member of the central board of examination for admission to the United States signal corps.

       However, conflict between Myer and the assistant secretary of war under whose supervision the military telegraphy fell, resulted in his removal as chief signal officer in November of 1863 and his assignment to the Military Division of the West Mississippi in which he served the remainder of the Civil War.

       In December 1863, he was assigned to reconnaissance on Mississippi river, between Cairo, Illinois, and Memphis, Tennessee, it is here that he worked on the preparation of a "Manual of Signals for the United States Army and Navy". He became chief signal officer of the military division of West Mississippi under General Edward R. S. Canby, by whom he was commissioned to arrange the terms of surrender of Fort Gaines. He was relieved of his command at this time by the secretary of war on the ground that his appointment had not been confirmed, and his appointment of chief signal officer was revoked on July 21st, 1864.

       On November 14, 1865, Albert's second patent No. 50,946 was published. Similar to the CSA cipher disk, Myerís disk, which is controlled by means of letters, numerals, or other characters upon the disks that are put together in such a manner that the relative positions of each character can be changed. Being such that several disks joined together, having various figures upon them, and by pre-concert it may be understood that in certain messages some are to be used and not others, or there may be more than one row of figures or characters on any of the disks and the pre-concerted arraignment for using may be changed infinitely, so that the uninstructed cannot discover in what manner the disks are to be moved or used. See: Cipher Disks

       After his removal from the army he returned to his home in Lakeview, New York. He was then reappointed colonel and chief signal officer on July 28th, 1866. An act of congress, approved February 9th, 1870, authorized provision for taking meteorological observations at the military stations in the interior of the continent and at other points in the states and territories of the United States, and for giving notice on the northern lakes and seaboard by telegraph and signals of the approach and force of storms; and the execution of this duty was confided to General Myer, as he had been interested previously in the subject of storm telegraphy.

       Following the war, Myer received the brevet rank of brigadier general; but he did not really come into his own until July of 1866 when Congress reorganized the Signal Corps and, with the permanent rank of colonel, he again became chief signal officer. Myer headed the Signal Corps from August 21st, 1867 until his death at Buffalo, N.Y., in 1880.

       The association between the US Army Signal Corps and Meteorology was long and illustrious. In 1870, the Signal Corps established a congressionally mandated national weather service on November 1st. And on November 8th, the first "cautionary storm signal" was issued for Great Lakes shipping by Increase A. Lapham. By 1873, the Signal Corps issued seventy weather bulletins a day and almost as many weather maps. The Signal Corps staffed offices coast to coast with trained observers whose job was to keep headquarters in Washington supplied with the meteorological data on which the Army's weathermen based their forecasts. In the late 1870's, another pioneer, Army Signal Corps Lt. John Finley, began a systematic study of tornadoes that included a survey of the number of tornadoes in the Great Plains, and later resulted in experimental tornado predictions and subsequent verifications.

       A permanent Signal Corps enlisted personnel corps was provided for by the Act of March 3rd, 1875, authorizing 150 sergeants, 30 corporals, and 270 privates. The training of officers and men for meteorological work was made a function of the Signal Corps School at Fort Whipple, VA. Courses were established for observer-sergeants and for assistants in one of the grades of private. All recruits were required to pass a preliminary educational examination and were promoted and assigned only after instruction and examination at Fort Whipple. When Brigadier General Albert James Myer died, to honor him, Fort Whipple was renamed Fort Myer in Feb. 1881. A monument stands on Whipple Field at Fort Myer in his memory.
At Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, in 1949, a triangular area east of Russell Hall and west of Oceanport Avenue was designated as Myer Park under General Orders No. 22.
Myer Park Memorial

Palace Hotel, (Buffalo, NY)
Palace Hotel

       Albert James Myer passed away August 24, 1880 in Buffalo's Palace Hotel overlooking Lake Erie of Nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys).

See: General Order #63 August 24, 1880
See: The New York Times August 26, 1880
See: Gen. Myer's Bust- Fort Gordon
See: Albert J. Myer Compiled Military Service Record

       Pierce's Palace Hotel was located on what is now the D'Youville College campus facing Prospect Park. The Palace Hotel was intended for invalids, and tourists, as well. The building, erected April 30, 1878, was destroyed by fire in 1881, and immediately replaced by one of the best known sanitariums of its kind in the country: Invalids' Hotel and Surgical Institute. The Invalids' Hotel and Surgical Institute was run out of a grand brick building at 663 Main Street. Patients came from all over the United States and Canada during its heyday, including, supposedly, the Sundance Kid.

       Hobart College awarded Myer an honorary Ph.D. degree in 1872 and Union College conferred an honorary Ph.D. on him in 1875.

       Myer became a permanent Brigadier General on June 16th, 1880, a little over two months before his death.

       Albert J. Myer's remains are interred at Buffalo's Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Walden-Myer Mausoleum.

Walden-Myer Mausoleum
Forest Lawn Cemetery
Delaware Avenue
Buffalo, New York

Located in Section X, Lot 25, the Walden-Myer Mausoleum was commissioned by Catherine Walden Myer. The architect of this grand structure was Richard A. Waite, the same architect who designed the Palace Hotel. Built in 1857, it is made of Hallowell Granite, native to Maine (the quarry of which is but a short distance from Albert II residence, in Pemaquid, ME). It was designed in a Romanesque Revival style, with Acanthus leaves and a Paterae Arch, the most outstanding feature of the mausoleum being the Globe atop, which symbolizes Godís Sovereignty over both Heaven and Earth.

Mausoleum Interrnment Record

Muster in the Meadow 2010 Plaque Dedication

Part Two
(Albert Myer's Contributions to Meteorology)


Photo Source Credits:

General Albert James Myer Veteran Student Award (University of Buffalo)

For Archives Information: E-WIRE ARCHIVES
For site comments contact: WEBMASTER