Why There Are Giant Concrete Arrows Across The Country
LifeAspire Staff 6/16/2017
Buying things online and expecting them to be delivered right to our doorstep as early as the next day, is no longer thought of as an unreasonable demand. In fact most of us have come to rely on this speedy delivery system for smooth functioning of our businesses and personal life alike!
Back in the day, when telecommunications technology was perhaps a little less robust, expecting such conveniences was pretty much like wishing that pigs could fly. Take for instance the United States Postal System which was the primary mode of delivery before the advent of other quicker services like Fed-Ex and UPS.
In the early 1920s, a navigational system called the Transcontinental Airway System was introduced by the US Congress to aid the USPS in reducing the time it took to deliver mail from coast to coast by enabling night time flights.
After record construction pace, the route which stretched from San Francisco to New York made possible the first night-time airmail flight on July 1, 1924. And this is where the giant concrete arrows came into play.
Concrete arrows were built in various remote locations along the route that literally pointed the pilot to the next airway beacon, which were 53-foot towers containing rotating bright light to guide the pilots at night. Since the distance between the towers was sometimes greater than 20 miles, the arrows helped keep the pilots going in the right direction.
By 1933, the Transcontinental Airway System totaled 1,500 of these beacons stretching over 18,000 miles from coast to coast. It is said that this system eventually reduced delivery time by two business days since mail no longer needed to be transferred from planes to rail-carts for the night journey.
The beacon and arrow system was pretty sophisticated for its time. The concrete arrows were painted a bright yellow to increase visibility. The beacon towers were powered by acetylene-gas powered rotating lights which received their fuel from sheds built at the base. The rotating light was 5,000 candlepowers and flashed every ten seconds.
When telecommunications technology finally caught up giving rise to radio navigation and eventually the global positioning system we have come to rely on today, the transcontinental airmail system pretty much became obsolete, which once had plans to expand across the Pacific, Atlantic, and even all the way to China.
For the time that it did serve for the purpose of airmail delivery, the system was first of its kind in the world and it substantially reduced the time it took to communicate and deliver goods across the continental US.
Here is a video showing how the beacon light worked in the towers.
The last beacon served its purpose for pilots in 1973 before being shut down for good. Although about 19 beacon towers are still up and running in the west mountainous area of Montana for purposes other than airmail delivery of course.
As far as the giant concrete arrows are concerned, over the years, many of these have broken down under environmental elements or have actually been taken out due to land development. Still, the few that do exist are a great reminder of days gone by and how the world functioned without the facilities that we take for granted today!