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Why Are These Mysterious Enormous Arrows Are Hidden All Over The U.S.?

When you think about it, the relationship between man and technology is a lot like our relationship with a dog. Or a cat. Or even a wily pet goat.

We nurture it, it becomes stronger, and, in return, it bestows us with many gifts. Pets, for instance, gift us with companionship, a rewarding sense of responsibility, and unconditional love. Technology has given us cars, instant communication, and the ability to watch videos of your adorable pet goat eating peanut butter out of the palm of your hand.

Today, thanks to advances like the Internet, airplanes, Amazon Prime one-day shipping and — in the very near future — drones, we have become very demanding of how fast things are delivered to us. We forget that there was a time when people had to rely on The Pony Express — men racing cross-country on freakin’ horseback! — to deliver parcels and letters.

The Wright brothers made the first flight in 1903 and revolutionized travel. It didn’t take the U.S. Postal Service long after that to stumble upon a brilliant idea: airplanes=faster delivery.

Yet this was a time before radios and radars. So mankind, being the cunning McCleversons that we are, decided to create beacons, or landmarks that could help pilots navigate air travel between the East and still-developing West Coasts.

Colossal, concrete arrows that measured between 50 and 70 feet acted as a road map for early aviators before the invention of radios.

Some of these navigational beacons still remain hidden throughout the country today! You may not even know you’re looking at an interesting aspect of our history at first, because many look like slabs of concrete buried in weeds and shrubbery.

In 1924, the concrete arrows’ glory days, they looked a bit more like this.

They were typically accompanied by a 50-foot tower with rotating lights that enhanced their visibility.

There were also small shacks that were used to house generators.

There were 1,500 airmail beacons, or arrows, dotted across the U.S.

Each arrow was roughly three and five miles apart and placed in remote locations or areas difficult to access.

To increase visibility of the concrete arrows, they were painted bright yellow.

The first towers contained acetylene gas-powered lights that were fueled by the sheds. At the top of the towers, there were 5,000 rotating candlelit beacons that would flash every ten seconds.

The lights could be seen ten miles away in clear weather, but were also visible at night and in bad weather, when the arrows couldn’t be seen.

Possibly the coolest feature of these towers was that they also had a secondary set of red and green lights that would flash a Morse Code letter to identify themselves to pilots.

As you can imagine, the U.S. Postal Service was pretty psyched about this innovation.

They even commemorated it with a stamp.

This 1924 map shows early airmail beacon route. In 1926, management of the beacon system was turned over to the Department of Commerce, which expanded the beacons even more. Towers and arrows were built 10 miles apart and were equipped with better lights.

But by the 1930s, navigation and radio technology had improved to allow flight without land-based visual guidance.

In 1933, due to technology and the Great Depression, it was defunded — though some beacons continued to operate into the 1940s.

The Department of Commerce disassembled the towers for their steel and stripped everything bare.

This is all that remains today.

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