Following the devastating fires of 1910, early fire detection became a priority
within the Forest Service. To help aid detection, lookout towers began to be
built on national forests throughout the country. These building efforts were
further aided during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, who worked on
numerous lookout building projects across the nation.
The fire detection process was also aided over the years by an invention
developed by USFS forester William Bushnell Osborne, Jr.
Osborne first invented a "firefinder" in Oregon in 1911 using a rotating steel
disc with attached sighting mechanisms. This instrument allowed lookouts to
accurately pinpoint the geographic location of forest fires by sighting distant
smoke through the device. Further modifications and technological developments
were made by Osborne to the firefinder over the next 30 years. The Osborne
Firefinder was widely used by Forest Service lookouts throughout the 20th
century, and production of the devices by various companies continues even
Helen Dowe at the Devil's Head Fire Lookout, Pike National Forest, Colorado, 1919.
"Hallie M. Daggett: Early Woman Lookout," USFS History Line, Fall 1999.
(In 1913, Hallie Daggett became the first female fire lookout in the Forest Service. She spent 15 years on the job, working at the Eddy Gulch fire tower on the Klamath National Forest.)
"The Lookout Cookbook," issued June 1, 1938.
"Lookouts," a selection from A History of the Architecture of the USDA Forest Service.
Browse historic images from the following FHS online photo galleries:
Fire Detection - Lookout Towers
Fire Detection - Fire Finding Equipment
Fire Detection - General
Raymond Thompson, fire guard at Brule Tower in Minnesota, using fire finder, 1950.