With the popularity of cell phones and e-mail, it's already hard to imagine how people got along without them. Harder still is picturing life before the telegraph -- or even a sophisticated postal system. However, one of the most amazing early methods of communication endured from ancient times until well into the 20th century: the carrier pigeon.
For thousands of years, humans have recognized the remarkable homing mechanism of pigeons. If you release a homing pigeon hundreds of miles from its nest, it will invariably return home. It's as if they have a built-in GPS. In fact, we still don't know exactly how their homing mechanism works. Most researchers believe pigeons use a "map and compass method" by determining both direction from the sun and the earth's magnetic field.
Whatever the method they use, pigeons have served as invaluable to people who need to send important messages over long distances. In the process, some special pigeons have saved hundreds of lives and were even decorated by governments. We'll go over some of these remarkable stories in the following pages.