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Native Americans on a painting by Frederic Remington
Native Americans on a painting by Frederic Remington

The smoke signal is one of the oldest forms of long-distance communication. It is a form of visual communication used over long distance. In general smoke signals are used to transmit news, signal danger, or gather people to a common area.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Random Watermelon Smoke Flare
  • ✪ Homemade Signal Flares
  • ✪ Smoke signal flare


[Captions by Judy V. at Y Translator] Guys, Grant and I are going to be at a Mini Maker Faire. Guys, Grant and I are going to be at a Mini Maker Faire. It's at Electric Park in Thanksgiving Point, which is in Lehi, Utah. It's going to be going down September 15th. We're going to be bringing some of our favorite projects. We're going to have a stage show. We'll have a craft table where you can make your own Sky balls. It's going to be awesome. Check the link in the description for 20% off of admission price, which is only like $8 to start with. So if you can make it out there, would love to see you. [Music] YouTube user Ricky Alvarez wanted to see what would happen if we put a smoke grenade inside of a watermelon. We're pretty sure it would just make smoke inside the watermelon, and leak out wherever the hole is. So we wanted to upgrade this idea to something even cooler. We want to turn the watermelon into the smoke grenade. So we've got all our chemicals for making our smoke powder. We're going to mix up a batch in six different colors, layer them inside the watermelon, add a pull-tab fuse, and see what happens. The idea here is simple. We've got a great recipe for making smoke powder in several different colors. We'll mix up a batch of each color, layer them inside our hollow watermelon, light it off, and see what the result is. The first step is going to be mixing up a whole bunch of our smoke powder base. That has four different chemicals, all of which are a white powder, and we then go ahead and add the colored powders later. But we're not going to do that here. We're going to take this up to the Dome and light it off because it's a much better area. We're not bothering people with the smoke. So let's mix up, I don't know about that jar full of smoke powder base. We'll take that up to the Dome, mix up the individual colors, and fill our watermelon. [Music] Once we've got all of our smoke powder mixed up inside of a watermelon, we're going to want to add one of those little pull tab fuse igniters, because those are by far the most fun. So, we've got a book of matches, we've got some fuse, and I have this steel straw that I'm going to use to sort of guide the fuse down into the watermelon into the powder. [Music] We've got a watermelon, we've got our smoke powder, and we have our pull-tab fuse. Let's head up to the Dome, hollow this thing out, fill it with smoke powder, and light it up. Here we are out of the Dome, so now it's time to hollow out this watermelon, and fill it up with smoke powder. [Music] Not bad. [Music] Our watermelon is carved out. It's got holes added into it. It's got a spot for our fuse straw. Let's finish mixing up the smoke powder and fill it up. [Music] One caveat I should explain before we light this off. All of the chemicals that we're using for this are like 10 months old, and I'm not entirely sure if they go bad or not. So we're hoping that this ignites the same way as other smoke stuff we've done. But we don't know. [Music] Here we go. A watermelon full of smoke powder, and I mean like that is a lot of smoke powder in there. Here we go. Pull tab. [Music] We have ignition. [Music] So much ignition. Uh... That's amazing. [Music] Little piece of fuse flew out. Holy cow. That is a lot of smoke. [Music] Oh, it's working really well. Remember how I was worried that maybe it wasn't going to work. I'm not worried anymore. Yeah. [Music] It's getting more energetic. [Music] I don't know how the lid has separated from the rest of the watermelon. I think the body of the watermelon got so hot that it just kind of contracted and curled down. The lid just stayed up on top. That right there is the remnants of a whole lot of smoke powder. Oh, that worked great! There's like little bits of every color that didn't quite burn. We're just getting plumes of different colors. I love how divided up the colors are. Like it's not just all swirling together to make one gray mist. You really seeing a bunch of different colors coming out at different times. When the smoke cleared, I half expected this garage door to just be completely multicolored, like someone had just graffitied all over it. But amazingly, it didn't really seem to do much. That was the largest amount of smoke powder I've ever set off at once, and the effect was really, really cool. There was so much smoke that was so thick and so vibrantly colored. I was honestly a little worried that it wasn't going to work in transition colors. I thought we might just get a grayish brownish plume coming out the top, but it did a really good job of just going through the whole rainbow order. I love how it turned out, and then just the extra that I poured out has just been going and it keeps finding little bursts of more smoke to ignite. Overall, very cool idea. Ricky Alvarez, thank you for your suggestion. Check your YouTube inbox. We'll be sending you 25 bucks. Remember, if you've got a fun idea for an experiment, let us know down in the comments, and if we like your idea, we'll send you $25. Guys, that's not all, there's more fun for you to see. That little box up of the top will transport you directly to our last video. You should check that out. The other box will show you what YouTube thinks you need to be watching next, and if you hit this bomb in the middle, you'll be subscribed to our channel so you never miss out on a video. Don't forget to ring that bell, and we will see you in the next one. Talk to you then.


History and usage

In ancient China, soldiers stationed along the Great Wall would alert each other of impending enemy attack by signaling from tower to tower. In this way, they were able to transmit a message as far away as 750 kilometres (470 mi)[citation needed] in just a few hours.

Misuse of the smoke signal is known to have contributed to the fall of the Western Zhou Dynasty in the 8th century BCE. King You of Zhou had a habit of fooling his warlords with false warning beacons in order to amuse Bao Si, his concubine.[1]

Polybius, a Greek historian, devised a more complex system of alphabetical smoke signals around 150 BCE, which converted Greek alphabetic characters into numeric characters. It enabled messages to be easily signaled by holding sets of torches in pairs. This idea, known as the "Polybius square", also lends itself to cryptography and steganography. This cryptographic concept has been used with Japanese Hiragana and the Germans in the later years of the First World War.

The North American indigenous peoples also communicated via smoke signal. Each tribe had its own signaling system and understanding. A signaler started a fire on an elevation typically using damp grass, which would cause a column of smoke to rise. The grass would be taken off as it dried and another bundle would be placed on the fire. Reputedly the location of the smoke along the incline conveyed a meaning. If it came from halfway up the hill, this would signify all was well, but from the top of the hill it would signify danger.[citation needed]

Smoke signals remain in use today. In Rome, the College of Cardinals uses smoke signals to indicate the selection of a new Pope during a papal conclave. Eligible cardinals conduct a secret ballot until someone receives a vote of two-thirds plus one. The ballots are burned after each vote. Black smoke indicates a failed ballot, while white smoke means a new Pope has been elected.

Colored smoke grenades are commonly used by military forces to mark positions, especially during calls for artillery or air support.

Smoke signals may also refer to smoke-producing devices used to send distress signals.[2][3]


Native Americans

Lewis and Clark's journals cite several occasions when they adopted the Native American method of setting the plains on fire to communicate the presence of their party or their desire to meet with local tribes.[4][5]


Yámanas of South America used fire to send messages by smoke signals, for instance if a whale drifted ashore.[6] The large amount of meat required notification of many people, so that it would not decay.[7] They might also have used smoke signals on other occasions, thus it is possible that Magellan saw such fires (which inspired him to name the landscape Tierra del Fuego) but he may have seen the smoke or lights of natural phenomena.[8][9]

Noon Gun

The Cape Town Noon Gun, specifically the smoke its firing generates, was used to set marine chronometers in Table Bay.

Aboriginal Australians

Aboriginal Australians throughout Australia would send up smoke signals for various purposes.[10][11][12][13] Sometimes to notify others of their presence, particularly when entering lands which were not their own.[10] Sometimes used to describe visiting whites, smoke signals were the fastest way to send messages.[13] Smoke signals were sometimes to notify of incursions by hostile tribes, or to arrange meetings between hunting parties of the same tribe. This signal could be from a fixed lookout on a ridge of from a mobile band of tribesman.[12] "Putting up a smoke" would often result in nearby individuals or groups replying with their own signals.[11][12] To carry information, the colour of the smoke was varied, sometimes black, white or blue depending on whether the material being burnt was wet grass, dry grass, reeds or other, and the shape of the smoke could be a column, ball or smoke ring. This message could include the names of individual tribesmen.[12] Like other means of communication, signals could be misinterpreted. In one recorded instance, a smoke signal reply translated as "we are coming" was misinterpreted as joining a war party for protection of the tribe when it was actually hunting parties coming together after a successful hunt.[12]


Modern avionics has made skywriting possible.


  1. ^ Sima Qian. Records of the Grand Historian. 4.
  2. ^ Pyrotechnic device (US3120183 A), Feb 4, 1964, retrieved 2017-02-01
  3. ^ Smoke signal (US3354829 A), Nov 28, 1967, retrieved 2017-02-01
  4. ^ "Nation Park Service Fire History Timeline".
  5. ^ "Lewis and Clark Journals, July 20, 1805".
  6. ^ Gusinde 1966:137–139, 186
  7. ^ Itsz 1979:109
  8. ^ "The Patagonian Canoe". Retrieved 2013-02-19.
  9. ^ Extracts from the following book. E. Lucas Bridges: Uttermost Part of the Earth. Indians of Tierra del Fuego. 1949, reprinted by Dover Publications, Inc (New York, 1988).
  10. ^ a b Myers, 1986: 100
  11. ^ a b "Report on Patrol to Lake Mackay Area June/July 1957". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 2014-01-31.
  12. ^ a b c d e Idriess, Ion L (1953). The Red Chief. ettimprint.
  13. ^ a b Idriess, Ion L (1937). Over the Range. ettimprint.


  • Gusinde, Martin (1966). Nordwind—Südwind. Mythen und Märchen der Feuerlandindianer (in German). Kassel: E. Röth.
  • Itsz, Rudolf (1979). "A kihunyt tüzek földje". Napköve. Néprajzi elbeszélések (in Hungarian). Budapest: Móra Könyvkiadó. pp. 93–112. Translation of the original: Итс, Р.Ф. (1974). Камень солнца (in Russian). Ленинград: Detskaya Literatura. Title means: “Stone of sun”; chapter means: “The land of burnt-out fires”. (Leningrad: "Children's Literature" Publishing.)
  • Myers, Fred (1986). Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self. USA: Smithsonian Institution.

External links

This page was last edited on 8 February 2019, at 06:54
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