Telegraph, 1861, U.S. Military Telegraph Corps, about 1 ft. by 4 in. by 8 in., wood, metal, magnetic needles, U.S.A.

The telegraph works by transmitting electrical signals over a wire. It was created to facilitate long-distance communication. The telegraph helped Civil War field commanders to direct war operations in real time and allowed senior military officials to communicate strategies across long distances. The telegraph also functioned to mediate communication between the military telegraph network and the Secretary of War Stanton and President Lincoln. The telegraph is a military device of communication, like the other objects in my collection, and it relates to the theme of my collection, which is the spread of information over time and space.

Radio, 1914, Marconi Wireless Company of America, about 3 ft. by 1 ft. by 2 ft., wood, metal, vacuum tubes, Italy

The radio provided a cheap and convenient way of communicating information. Electricity flows into the transmitter antenna, producing radio waves that travel through the air at the speed of light until they reach the receiver antenna. The radio was still in its infancy during WWI and was difficult to carry around the battlefield, but it was used by ships transmitting messages through Morse Code. Like the other objects in my collection, the radio is a form of communication used by the military. It is very relevant to the theme of my collection, the spread of information over time and space.

Radar, 1939, British physicist Sir Robert Watson-Watt, about 25 feet in diameter, metal, plastic, magnetron, Britain

The radar works by sending out radio waves that can detect objects from many miles away. The radar served several major purposes during WWII, like aiming searchlights and aiming anti-aircraft guns, but its main job was to detect bombs. The radar played a huge role for both sides of the war, and it has even been said that it won the Allies the war. The radar is a military device of communication, like the other objects in my collection. It is relevant to the spread of information over time and space, which is the theme of my collection.


My media collection consists of three devices used by the military for communication purposes. The first object in my media collection, the telegraph, was used to convey war operations during the Civil War. The second object in my media collection, the radio, was used to contact ships out at sea during World War I. The third and final object in my media collection, the radar, was used to detect bombs and to locate aircraft and other objects during World War II. 

Together the telegraph, radio, and radar constitute a media collection because they are connected by a theme and are all forms of media. Media, by definition, is “a means of, and conduit for, communication” (Peter Bloom). The telegraph, radio, and radar all played big roles as mediators of communication in their respective wars. My collection examines how information was spread by media over space and over time by analyzing one prevalent technology for each of three major wars: the Civil War, WWI, and WWII. 

Analyzing the telegraph, radio, and radar from a military perspective greatly changes the way in which our attention is directed. Since war is such an important and heavy topic, this collection directs our attention to the purposes of these three devices in each war and the role these three devices played in the outcome of each war. Thinking about the devices in relation to each other and to the idea of war really focuses a person’s attention and makes them think about wartime communication in a serious and engaged way. 

All three of the devices in my collection relate to the theme of the visible and the invisible that Krzysztof Pomian outlines in his piece, “The Collection: Between the Visible and the Invisible.” As opposed to the visible, the invisible world that Pomian explores refers to the time in the past when an object in a collection was being used to serve a purpose. This invisible aspect of an object that Pomian describes is supported by various accounts that provide us with background information and context to help us to understand more about the object during the time period when it was being used functionally. All three objects are not really functional today. The telegraph and the radar are both outdated forms of communication, as is the radio that was used during WWI. However, when the three devices are placed together in a collection, they each augment the others by highlighting the importance each had during their respective wars. 

For me, the military radio has a personal significance. My grandfather was a soldier in WWII and kept his radio from the war. This radio does not work anymore, but it is a semiophore for me because it represents my grandfather, who I never really got the chance to know. My project concentrates on the radio from WWI, but I believe that this is still very relevant.

A huge portion of the value of the telegraph, the radio, and the radar as a collection lies in the invisible realm; this is why we need to understand their histories to understand their importance. Each device was a form of communication used by the military during a different war. Studying the capabilities and effectiveness of each will allow us to analyze the spread of military information over time and space.

For the first time ever in the history of war, the telegraph helped field commanders to direct war operations in real time, as David Hochfelder explains in his article, “The Telegraph.” The telegraph also allowed senior military officials to plan out strategy across long distances. Lastly, the telegraph functioned to mediate communication between the military telegraph network and Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton and President Abraham Lincoln. Stanton relied heavily on the telegraph to keep track of his generals in the field and Lincoln joined Stanton for hours at a time. The abilities of the telegraph played a huge role in the North’s victory and the South’s defeat in the Civil War.

While the telegraph was revolutionary at the time it was invented, by the time of WWI, the task of laying miles of cables out on the ground every day was too daunting. As outlined in the Digital Public Library of America’s article, “Golden Age of Radio in the US”, warfare had become mobile and it was necessary to be able to communicate with radio while on the move. Military radio equipment was still in its early stages of production, though, and was very heavy and bulky and hard to transport. Where the radio really found its value during WWI was at sea. Navy radio stations were able to send out real-time messages to ships at sea. The impact of this capability can not be overstated.

By the time of WWII, the military radio had been improved, but the radar had also been invented with its own unique abilities. As explained in the Engineering and Technology History website’s section on the “Radar during WWII”, the radar can basically “see” radio waves; therefore, it served to detect many objects during WWII, most notably bombs. The radar was placed on ships and used to navigate through the dark and fog, to detect enemy ships, and to direct gunfire. It was placed on airplanes and used to navigate the aircraft and to detect other aircraft and bombing targets. The radar played a major role in WWII; it has even been said that the radar won the war for the Allies.

Individually, each of these objects is fascinating, as each gives a rich and extensive perspective as to how a whole war played out. However, when placed together, the three objects form a collection that renders far more value. Together, the telegraph, the radio, and the radar provide us with an understanding of how the military spreads information over long distances and how these methods change over time.

My collection is very small for the theme it is studying. Many other forms of military communication could be added, like the terrestrial microwave, the facsimile, the tropospheric scatter, carrier pigeons, and forms of encryption and security. Also, some military communication devices, like the radio, have been used in multiple wars. I could add a military radio from WWII to my collection and compare it to the radio from WWI.

All of these objects would serve to add to the history of military communication that my collection aims to study. Because communication is so integral to war, a collection studying military communication over such a long period of time should go into much more depth than my collection does. All of the objects that I listed above would serve to provide the collection with this depth. My collection is analyzing something so important that it should aim for this dream of total scientific knowledge that Eco describes in his chapter on “The Wunderkammer.” As opposed to Pomian, Eco’s interest in a collection is based more on the actual content of the collection. Therefore, a collection centered on my theme should be filled with all forms of military communication that have been used since the Civil War, as well as any other objects that can help explain the history of military communication.