The story of the giant concrete arrows from Airmail Beacons
Published on July 27, 2013
Increasingly many surprising forms, figures or sculptures are found in unsuspected places. In many cases they deal with ingenious marketing campaigns. However, there are many other instances where these are forgotten parts of the mankind development that in the past had a very specific function. Our Core77’s colleagues have recently published an article that responds to the function of the giant concrete arrows found across the United States. For this reason we believed it appropriate to publish it: To follow arrows is human behavior. So it may not surprise you to learn that these gigantic concrete arrows dotting America, from east to west, are for wayfinding.
In the 1920s, America began coast-to-coast Airmail service, but the pioneer pilots had problems navigating the route, since navigation charts of the day were fugazi and you couldn’t exactly pull over to ask a farmer for directions. And traveling at night, when it would have been most efficient, or in bad weather was impossible. To solve this Congress then funded these gi-normous arrow-shaped Airmail Beacons, some up to 70 feet long, to trace a route across the country.
The arrows were painted bright yellow and each was accompanied by a tower up to 50 feet in height. At the top of each tower was a powerful gas-powered light, and at the bottom of the tower, a shed to hold the gas.
The easily-discernible design made the arrows visible from a distance of ten miles, and each arrow pointed the way towards the next, some three miles distant. That’s according to the Postal Museum; however, this blog claims the towers were 10 miles apart with a 40-mile visibility. It’s possible the former is describing the earlier towers and the latter is describing updated versions.
What’s not in dispute is that the beacon towers are all gone, the steel having been broken up and recycled for America’s World War II effort. But the no-longer-used arrows remain, their paint long since worn off by the elements, the arrows themselves too difficult to make breaking them up worthwhile. And unless Omer Haciomeroglu sends his Concrete Recycling Robots into the American hinterlands, they’ll likely be there forever.