A compilation of sample standard forms used in the 19th Century

Smithsonian Institution Observers 1851-1871

The first Smithsonian Institution forms were used in 1851. The title of that first form was “Meteorological Register for the First Class of Observers, Adopted by the Smithsonian Institution.” These forms had three rows for each day, with pre-printed observation times of 6 AM, 2 PM, and 10 PM for each day. There were three pages per month. The back allowed for special observations to be recorded.

In 1853, the Smithsonian Institution switched to a simpler form with only one row per day, observations at 7 AM, 2 PM, and 9 PM, and a large space for remarks (Casual Phenomena) on the reverse side. In 1856, these forms were reorganized and expanded to allow for more detailed cloud observations. Single-page forms emerged in the late 1850s for use by stations that did not have a thermometer, barometer or psychrometer. These simple forms were expanded to include temperature and more cloud information in the early 1860s. Smithsonian stations used one of these two form types until the last of the stations converted to the Signal Service in 1871.

Signal Service Voluntary Observer 1875-1892

Oversight of the network of voluntary (non-military) observers transferred from the Smithsonian Institution to the Signal Service, with most stations converting from using Smithsonian Institution forms in 1875 or 1876. The first “Voluntary Observer” form provided by the Signal Service was labeled “Form E.” These forms had three rows for each day, with pre-printed generic observation times of A.M., P.M., and M. ( midnight) for each day. The first half of the month was recorded on the left side of a full page, followed by the second half on the right. There were two different variations of Form E., with slightly different data recorded. They were quickly replaced in 1876 with “Form H,” a much simpler form with one row for each day. Form E was so quickly replaced that a few voluntary stations went from the old Smithsonian Institution forms straight to Form H. This new form included much less data.

In the early 1880s, the Signal Service began using Form 122 for voluntary observer forms. (At the same time, form 113 was assigned for use by paid observers). Space was provided for a monthly summary and instrumentation. A large amount of daily data was also recorded on the reverse side of this form. This was changed with the introduction of Form 122B, on which all daily data was entered on the front, except barometer data. This was also when state of the weather was introduced for the first time. A reprint of Form 122B was done in 1887, with -1887 added to the form number; no changes were made to the data collected. A reprint with several changes followed in 1888, when state of the weather changed to character of the day, and observers were asked to record observed barometer readings instead of reducing and correcting them.

The voluntary forms followed the standard signal service forms in a form number change again in 1891. The base form number changed from 122 to 1006, and “Met’l.” was added. (Paid observer forms were numbered 1001-Met’l.) Other than this, the only data change was the addition of 8 AM and 8 PM dry bulb temperatures. In 1892, this form was reprinted to reflect the change from Signal Service oversight to the U.S. Weather Bureau. A couple of stations used a very simple Form 1006-Met’l, with only temperature and precipitation data recorded. 

U.S. Army Surgeon Observers 1820-1872

The U.S. Army first began taking weather observations in 1820. The first form was titled “Diary of the Weather.” It was a two-page form with half a page for each month, and the last half-page provided a summary for that quarter. Temperature at 7 AM, 2 PM, and 9 PM, prevailing wind and weather, and a remarks column were provided. The observer title was preprinted as “Surgeon,” and was often followed by “U.S. Army.” This form remained unchanged for twenty years, when the Army took the same basic form and broadened the observation times to “A.M.,” “P.M.,” and “Evening.” A “Rain” column appeared as well.

The first major form change came in 1843. “Form No. 3, Meteorological Register” provided one page for each month. Wet bulb columns were dropped in 1851, but other than that this form was unchanged until late in 1855, when “Form No. 3” was dropped. Barometer data was moved to the reverse side of the form, and a cover encompassed half of the back, allowing the form to be folded for submission. This cover page feature continued for many years. In the late 1860’s, self-registering thermometer data, as well as dry and wet bulb columns, were added. This form was assigned “Form No. 40” in 1885 with no changes.

In 1888, “Form No. 40” was radically simplified, including only maximum and minimum temperature, precipitation data, and prevailing wind direction. Two years later, a section for remarks was added, and the form was changed to “Form No. 34.” The last U.S. Army forms were used through February, 1892. Every form ever printed for the U.S. Army had “Surgeon” pre-printed as the observer title, and no reference to the Signal Service was made, except for the collecting organization stamp placed on submitted forms, beginning in 1872.

U.S. Army Signal Service Observers 1871-1892

The first Signal Service forms were submitted in October of 1871. This form, “Form 22,” was very simple. There were only four columns: daily mean barometer, mean thermometer, rainfall, and remarks. In August, 1872, Form 22B was added for supplemental data, including barometer and thermometer readings for “AM,” “PM,” and “ Midnight.” Form 22 and 22B were used concurrently at most stations until the Signal Service produced an expanded Form 22.1, in April, 1873. In September, 1874, this form again became known as Form 22, “Sergeant” was added as the observer title, and a wind column appeared.

The Signal Service form underwent a major change in May, 1877. Much more wind and precipitation data were recorded, as were maximum and minimum daily temperatures. The back of the form was used for the first time, for barometer data and a cover page. After a few minor changes, Form 22 became horizontally oriented in late 1879, opening in a book style.

In the fall of 1882, Signal Service stations began using Form No. 113a. This new form included a tremendous amount of data; it was an eight page series. Notable additions were state of the weather, temperature of water, river flow data, offset from Washington Time, and station instrumentation details. 11 AM and 7 PM observations were added to the standard times of 7 AM, 2 PM and 9 PM. Even more data was added in July, 1885, (now Form 113a-1884), including station location information. There were minor changes to the data collected and hours of collection, but most annual reprints of the forms were attempts to condense the data onto fewer pages. In 1887 the Signal Service produced small “patches” for observers to paste to the main form that added/changed the data collected. This information became permanent on the next form incarnation, Form 113-1887. During the 7-plus years of use of Form 113a, there were as many as eight observations per day, but at the end only 8 AM and 8 PM observations were taken, although still in great detail.

In July, 1889, observers began using “Forms 131 and 113 Combined-1889.” The precursor to Form 1001, this form was an eight-page series with regular observations at 8 AM and 8 PM, special observations, wind data, a daily summary page, and monthly summary page. The form was given the 1001 designation with a few changes in November, 1890. The final change in this early period of daily observations was a reprint to reflect the change in oversight of the network from the Signal Service to the U.S. Weather Bureau, in January, 1892.