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The History Behind the WigWag Name

When I share the name WigWag for first time with others, I often get asked the questions “What does WigWag mean” and “What does WigWag have to do with the Internet of Things”. To answer this question, it helps to understand a little about WigWag’s co-founders and the origin of the term “wig-wag” as it relates to communications.

Wig-Wag is a lightweight, portable, signalling system using left or right movements of a flag waved back and forth in a binary code. It is conceptually similar to the Morse code of dots and dashes. The wig-wag signalling system, also known as "aerial telegraphy" was developed by U.S. Army Major Albert J. Myer in the 1850’s. Myer’s was the first officer assigned to, what would become, the United States Signal Corps, serving as the Chief Signal Officer.

alt American Civil War Era "wig-wag" signaling flags

The wig-wag signalling system was used extensively by Signal Corps troops on both sides in the American Civil War. Its initial wartime use was on July 21, 1861, in the First Battle of Bull Run by Confederate Captain Edward Porter Alexander, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1857. Prior to the Civil War, Alexander worked as an assistant to Major Myer (who served the Union during the war).

In the Battle of Bull Run, the Union's forces were slow in positioning themselves, allowing Confederate reinforcements time to arrive by rail. Each side had about 18,000 poorly trained and poorly led troops in their first battle. Confederate Capt. Alexander stationed atop "Signal Hill" in Manassas, Virginia, saw Union troop movements and signaled "Look out for your left, your position is turned", which meant that they were in danger of being attacked on their left flank.

Upon receiving this crucial information, the reinforcements were sent and properly positioned, turning the tide of battle in the Confederates' favor. Proving itself, the Wig-Wag system of communication was used from that point forward by both sides of the Civil War.

alt WigWag Practice 1937

If you would like to better understand how the WigWag flag signalling system check out this Interactive WigWag Flag Code training tool or this 1864 Manual of Signals.

In 1998, 137 years after wig-wag’s first use in the Civil War, our two co-founders,
Ed Hemphill and Travis McCollum also graduated from West Point and served as Signal Corps officers in the U.S. Army. As they thought about starting a company to solve the communication and signalling problems in the Internet of Things, they thought the term WigWag was a perfect fit.

As we developed our logo and icons, we wanted to reflect on the history of the name WigWag. As you may have noticed, our icon is the WigWag flag.

alt WigWag Flag and Icon

It pays tribute to the proud tradition of secure wireless signalling. We also added 2 subtle stacked W’s at the top and bottom of the flag itself.

While, the first signal communicated from WigWag Relay across our mesh Internet of Things (IoT) network was to merely turn the "lights on". Over time, this next evolution of WigWag as a secure, lightweight, portable signalling system will surely prove to be just as impactful in the IoT world, as that first signal sent from the top of Signal Hill, was on the world of military communications.

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