top of page

War Carrier Pigeon in Maidenform Vest

During World War I and II, carrier pigeons were used to transport messages back to their home coop behind the lines.

The pigeon vest was designed and manufactured by the brassiere company, Maidenform. In addition to the pigeon vest, Maidenform also made parachutes.

Before the advent of radio, carrier pigeons were frequently used on the battlefield as a means for a mobile force to communicate with a stationary headquarters. The pigeon carried messages in a tiny capsule attached to their leg. The capsules could contain messages, blood samples, or even tiny cameras. Oftentimes, these carrier pigeons, also called homing pigeons, were the only form of communication during World War II. They were also the most secure and reliable. Homing pigeons were the least likely form of communication to be intercepted. More than 95% of the messages they carried were successfully delivered. Due to their obvious necessity for wartime communication, approximately 56,000 carrier pigeons were trained for war missions in World War II. This was the height of carrier pigeon use.

The pigeons' average speed was 50 miles per hour and their average flight distance was 25 miles, although they could travel up to 2,000 miles. They helped with tactical gains but also saved many lives. Thirty-two pigeons received medals for their service in World War II. One of those pigeons was named G.I. Joe. He carried a message to cancel a bombing mission and, in doing so, saved the lives of about 1,000 Allied troops.

During World War I and World War II, carrier pigeons were used to transport messages back to their home coop behind the lines. When they landed, wires in the coop would sound a bell or buzzer and a soldier of the Signal Corps would know a message had arrived. The soldier would go to the coop, remove the message from the canister, and send it to its destination by telegraph, field phone, or personal messenger.

A carrier pigeon's job was dangerous. Nearby enemy soldiers often tried to shoot down pigeons, knowing that released birds were carrying important messages. Some of these pigeons became quite famous among the infantrymen they worked for. One pigeon, named "The Mocker", flew 52 missions before he was wounded. Another, named "Cher Ami", lost his foot and one eye, but his message got through, saving a large group of surrounded American infantrymen.

World War I

Homing pigeons were used extensively during World War I. In 1914, during the First Battle of the Marne, the French army advanced 72 pigeon lofts with the troops. The US Army Signal Corps used 600 pigeons in France alone. One of their homing pigeons, a Blue Check hen named Cher Ami, was awarded the French "Croix de Guerre with Palm" for heroic service delivering 12 important messages during the Battle of Verdun. On her final mission in October 1918, she delivered a message despite having been shot through the breast or wing. The crucial message, found in the capsule hanging from a ligament of her shattered leg, saved 194 US soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division's "Lost Battalion".

United States Navy aviators maintained 12 pigeon stations in France with a total inventory of 1,508 pigeons when the war ended. Pigeons were carried in airplanes to rapidly return messages to these stations; and 829 birds flew in 10,995 wartime aircraft patrols. Airmen of the 230 patrols with messages entrusted to pigeons threw the message-carrying pigeon either up or down, depending on the type of aircraft, to keep the pigeon out of the propeller and away from airflow toward the aircraft wings and struts. Eleven of the thrown pigeons went missing in action, but the remaining 219 messages were delivered successfully.

Pigeons were considered an essential element of naval aviation communication when the first United States aircraft carrier USS Langley was commissioned on 20 March 1922; so the ship included a pigeon house on the stern.[8] The pigeons were trained at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard while Langley was undergoing conversion. As long as the pigeons were released a few at a time for exercise, they returned to the ship; but when the whole flock was released while Langley was anchored off Tangier Island, the pigeons flew south and roosted in the cranes of the Norfolk shipyard. The pigeons never went to sea again.

Maidenform Bra Company

What does a brassiere company have in common with World War II? Why, the pigeon vest of course. The pigeon vest was a vest that was created to protect carrier pigeons as they parachuted through the air strapped to the chest of paratroopers during World War II.

The pigeon vest was designed and manufactured by the brassiere company, Maidenform. On December 22, 1944, Maidenform agreed to make 28,500 pigeon vests for the U.S. government, switching, as many companies did, from peacetime production to producing necessary supplies for the war. In addition to the pigeon vest, Maidenform also made parachutes.

The vests themselves could be attached to American paratroopers and were made out “of porous materials, with a tighter woven fabric underneath so the pigeon’s claws would not damage the mesh,” the NMAH wrote. “The vest was shaped to the body of the pigeon, leaving their head, neck, wing tips, tail, and feet exposed.”

Content thanks to Wikipedia, National Museum of American History, and historynet.

bottom of page