Carrier pigeons – once a central part of the Networked Society
Communication has always been a primary part of human life. The thing that we call the Networked Society today had another shape for hundred years ago. And one of the primary ways to communicate was with carrier pigeons. With training, pigeons can carry up to 75g (2.5 oz) on their backs, and they have been used for communication for a very long time, especially in China. In ancient Egypt, people used pigeons to send messages home from ships at sea. Carrier pigeons are also mentioned several times in ancient Greek and Roman literature.
From the Middle Ages to the 1800s, carrier pigeons were used for commerce, navigation and especially in the armed forces. During the siege of Paris in 1870-1871, beleaguered residents sent messages by pigeons and balloons. Pigeons were then also used to send messages back to Paris. 381 pigeons were sent from Paris during the siege, and 302 of these reached the French forces and were returned with messages. Of those 302, 59 managed to return to their sender in Paris. With microfilm, it ws possible to transfer up to 30,000 letters to very thin sheets that were tied to a bird’s tail feathers.
Here is a picture of British carrier pigeons transported by bus during the World War I:
Historically, pigeons carried messages only one way, to their home. They had to be transported manually before another flight. However, by placing their food at one location and their home at another location, pigeons have been trained to fly back and forth up to twice a day reliably, covering round-trip flights up to 160km.
The carrier pigeon business slowed sharply after the invention and spread of the telegraph. One of the very last carrier pigeons lines went to Auckland, New Zealand from nearby Great Barrier Island.
So, here is a taste of the Networked Society from a hundred years ago and more. People were connected, not online, but it was still possible to send messages to each other. Things just took a little bit longer, and I can only imagine the feeling of waiting three months for answers to all my e-mails, texts and so on. Maybe I can try to use pigeons to get my next blog post to all my readers! :)