The Awesome History of America’s Giant Arrows

Did you know there are at least 30-some giant concrete arrows spread over several states in the U.S.? Before GPS was available with everything, air mail pilots had to fly blind through storms, mountains, fog and other bad weather, and hope they made it to their destination on time and—more importantly—alive. Thus, giant concrete arrows dot the landscape of the continental United States. Sorry, it wasn’t aliens.

Sometime during the 1920s, a pilot was lost in a treacherous storm in the dark until he came across an illuminated path of giant arrows lined from San-Francisco to New York. Known as the Transcontinental Airway System, the arrows were created to assist air mail pilots in the early days of flight. By the 1930s, there were 1,500 arrows stretched over 18,000 miles of the contiguous United States.


These enormous arrows were 68 feet long and painted bright yellow. They were illuminated by rotating lights that pointed forward and backward to alert pilots of the correct direction. In the center were 50-foot towers each fitted with a million-candlepower beacon. Finally, each arrow had a flashing code to identify the beacon’s number. These structures replaced the much less practical night navigation method of lighting massive bonfires across the country, and for nearly two decades these beacons of light aided many pilots in their journeys.

By the 1940s, the arrows were becoming obsolete with the progression of flight technology, and their dismantlement began. However, not all were taken apart and now a handful can still be found across the country—fossils of aviation, if you will. The abandoned relics, like the one below, can be found in Utah, Wyoming, Indiana, and several other states. Some have even been bought by individual property owners—we assume for various awesome “party this way” signs. Interestingly enough, Montana still uses some of these beacons. They have 19 working arrows to help pilots navigate through their mountainous airways.

We live in a world so dominated by advanced technology at the tips of our fingers that we often forget how people got along without it. These arrows saved hundreds of lives and assisted the US airmail system in completing their jobs, and today they’ve left us some incredible relics of history.

What other “mysterious” pieces of history do you know about?



Jess Hicks
Jess Hicks
Jess lives in Ohio with her husband and 3 cats. She is a freelance writer, film critic, and overall horror hound. Her interests aren't solely movie related though and you can check out her work on Phactual, Bloody-Disgusting, Geek Legacy, and more.