Introduction to the AU

The origin and history of American Racing Pigeon Union

To appreciate the reasons for the formation of the American Racing Pigeon Union, you must first know something about the history of pigeon racing in the United States.

In the 1860s, homing pigeons were imported from Europe. By 1872 the first club was formed to conduct races, but most fanciers flew pigeons individually or in challenge matches. The largest concentration of fanciers was in Philadelphia where in 1880, the Red Star Club held a pigeon show at which those in attendance agreed on the formation of "The Atlantic Federation of Homing Pigeon Societies" to conduct a concourse race. The first race in 1881 was a success. The following year one club won a majority of prizes and there were many losses, resulting in termination of the annual race.

In 1883, the Federation was reorganized as "The Federation of Homing Pigeon Fanciers of America." The new organization was designed to maintain a permanent registry of the speed records at each distance and to administer all flights for record purposes.

The Federation race secretary controlled all flights for record. He appointed the liberator, obtained surveys, confirmed proof of arrival, and either checked or computed speeds. Individuals shipped their birds to him for countermarking and he forwarded them for liberation. In areas where sufficient numbers of fanciers resided, he appointed race committees under his supervision to handle countermarking and confirm arrivals. The Secretary published the annual records and recognized the fastest speeds obtained at each distance on a cumulative basis. In 1886 the first seamless band was manufactured, and in 1887 the Federation began selling seamless bands. The bands were marked with a letter of the alphabet, which indicated the year of issue, and were consecutively numbered.

Initially, a stamp with identifying marks was placed on a primary flight of birds entered in competition. Later, metal countermarks were introduced. Arrival of a race bird was confirmed by either carrying the bird, if a flight stamp or countermark was used, to a telegraph office and asking the agent to telegraph the time, and the stamp or countermark as displayed to him, to the National Secretary. An allowance of six minutes per mile was granted to transport the bird or countermark from the loft to the telegraph office, but bicycles or other means of transportation were prohibited. Where available, an individual known as a "timer" would be assigned to wait at the loft and record the time of arrival using a watch supplied to him by either the District Race Committee or the National Race Secretary.

In 1891, Fred Goldman formed a "League of American Homing Clubs" which excluded individual members. In December of 1893 the League and the Federation were reunited under a "National Federation of American Homing Pigeon Fanciers." Goldman, who has been called the father of the racing pigeon sport in America, was the President of the Federation from 1895 to 1897. In 1897 Goldman procured patent rights to an English timer known as the "Halsted," a crude two-bird timer activated when the countermark was inserted.

Goldman was instrumental in causing the Federation to be incorporated with capital stock, with the stock proceeds used to purchase 600 Halsted timers. Thereafter, members of the Federation were required to rent the timers and use them in all flights recognized by the Federation.

In 1898, as a result of the incorporation, Federation officers were selected by stockholders rather than members. C. H. Jones, who had held the office of Race Secretary since 1892, and supplied the Federation with bands and countermarks, was not reelected. He immediately formed a competing organization known as The National Association of American Homing Pigeon Fanciers.

There was little difference between the Association and the Federation. Dues in both were $1.00 per year, each sold bands at a substantial markup, and the awards offered were almost identical. In 1909 the Federation had 833 members, while the Association had 1,053. The Race Secretaries of both organizations were efficient, autocratic, and became entrenched in office. The Halsted timer was used by both and, despite frequent and expensive modifications, was subject to manipulation.

In the early 1900s, as now, pigeon publications had great influence upon the sport and its organizations. Daily newspapers were quite willing to publish news but none had a circulation, which reached all fanciers. C. H. Jones published a monthly called "Pigeon Flying," but was careful to monitor the material printed and as the official publication of the National Association, his magazine was never critical of Association policies. The Homing Exchange, however, had the widest circulation of any racing pigeon publication, maintained an independent position, and printed all constructive, though critical, materials submitted.

Prior to 1909, numerous unsuccessful efforts were made to amalgamate the Federation and the Association and on several occasions, candidates for national office ran on an amalgamation platform. Unification, however, never progressed beyond the talking stage.

By 1909, several independent organizations came into existence, the most prominent of which was the Quaker City Concourse Association of Philadelphia. The independents sought to issue their own bands, which could be purchased for one third of the cost charged by the national organizations, desired local race rules, wanted more reliable timers owned by members, and used band profits to fund cash prizes.

The Federation had reorganized in 1907 as the International Federation of American Homing Pigeon Fanciers to eliminate control by shareholders and vest voting rights in its members. It retained, however, the restrictions, which the independents wanted to avoid. In summary, the Federation paid its Secretary $120.00 per year and its Race Secretary $800.00 per year; required use of the Halsted timer; still appointed all liberators and ordered every survey; it authorized flights in 100-mile increments, from 100 to 600 miles for the old birds and 100, 150, 200, 300, 400 and 500 miles for young birds; all race schedules had to be approved by the National Secretary; detailed national race rules had to be adopted by each district; more than one release from each distance was prohibited; national awards were offered for the fastest speed obtained for old and young bird series; awards were made for noncompetitive records; and special diplomas were awarded for flights which broke pervious records.

In the April 1909 issue of The Homing Pigeon Exchange, Kenneth B. McMicken of Williamson, New York, near Rochester, expanded upon previous views of writers in pigeon journals by advocating:

  • One national organization
  • Federating clubs in close proximity
  • De-emphasizing national records made with tail winds
  • Replacing national diplomas with cash prizes
  • A uniform band sold only to members
  • Self-owned timers
  • Local race rules
  • Reduction of salaries by delegating administration to local concourse associations.

These concepts were quickly accepted and fostered by other writers, the most effective of which were Thomas M. Rivel, associate editor of The Exchange and press agent for the Q.C.C.A., and D. C. Buscall, Secretary of the Atlantic Combine.

A meeting was held on August 2, 1909, in Washington, chaired by D. C. Buscall, at which an organizational committee was appointed, comprised of seven fanciers who had written articles advocating the principles of the new entity. Buscall prepared a draft of proposed rules and an organizational meeting was held in Washington on November 2nd. Thirty-four fanciers from Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. attended. They elected McMicken as President, W. F. Dismer, Secretary-Treasurer, and D. C. Buscall, Race Secretary, of the American Racing Pigeon Union (ARPU), a name suggested by McMicken.

The initial rules created centers to administer local affairs and vested the control of the union in a management committee comprised of the elected officers and a member from each center. All matters of national importance and an annual election of officers were to be determined by a mail vote of the members. Dues were 50 cents.

No national diplomas were issued, but blank diplomas and certificates were sold to clubs. Diplomas were to be issued by clubs on the basis of one for each five lofts competing, and when less than five lofts, certificates were to be issued. Seventy-five percent of band proceeds were allotted in $10.00 prizes to be paid to winners of club races with velocities nearest a predetermined "sealed velocity." National officers received no compensation, since it was expected that a majority of the administrative details would be handled by the local Center officers.

The Union was an immediate success. In its first year of operation, 1911, it sold 24,600 bands to 737 members, had a gross income of $1,233.00 and ended the year with a net worth of $55.00. The same year membership in the ARPU exceeded that of the other organization.

An important factor in both the formation and growth of the ARPU was its promotion by Charles F. Hoser, who published The Homing Exchange, and changed its name to The American Racing Pigeon News in 1911. The "News" was designated the official journal of the AU, but Hoser continued an independent editorial policy of accepting materials from all national organizations and printing constructive controversy from any source.

The founders of the Union contemplated the creation of a single unified national entity representing all homing pigeon fanciers. Amalgamation efforts continued through the years and finally during the 1920s a "Joint Committee of Nine", with three representatives from each of the three organizations, was formed. Through the joint committee's efforts, in 1929 a joint convention of the three organizations was held in New York.

The joint committee also worked closely with the War Department, achieved reduction in express rates, and established the Hall of Fame Awards, which were first issued in 1931 for performances in 1930. After the death of C.H. Jones the National Association lacked strong leadership and expired in the early 1930s. The joint committee was dissolved in 1932 and thereafter the ARPU and IF each established a Hall of Fame Award.

Some of the original ARPU concepts have been changed substantially as the sport has grown through the years. As membership grew, the duties of an unpaid Secretary became substantial and all administrative duties could not be delegated to Centers. Payment to the Secretary was first based on a portion of the dues, but in 1972 the Secretary began receiving a salary determined by the Board of Directors.

In 1944, a ladies auxiliary was established which has been supportive, particularly in assisting Centers' host conventions.

The original Management Committee, comprised of national officers and a delegate from each Center, grew in size as additional Centers were formed. In 1951 the AU was incorporated with a 15-member elected advisory Board of Directors, but retained the delegate concept, although delegate duties were limited. Delegates still had an effective voice, but the group was large and at annual meetings representation was greatest from Centers located near the convention site, so the concept of representation of the members was not achieved.

The original concept of "sealed velocity" prizes became unlawful since it constituted a lottery and violated Federal laws enacted subsequent to formation of the AU. An effort was made in 1951 to replace sealed velocity with "merit prizes" taking into account distance, competition and entry. The basic elements of lottery remained, however, and the plan was abandoned.

Reorganization in 1956 replaced Center delegates with a corporate Board of Directors, now comprised of nine directors and five officers, elected by the membership.

Current Era

Restrictions prohibiting the keeping of pigeons were unforeseen in 1909, when many homes had stables housing horse and buggy. Today, ordinances and other governmental restrictions are a limiting factor on the growth of the racing pigeon sport. Despite population increase, membership has not varied substantially in the last 35 years. Ordinances are one element in the lack of growth, but a more significant factor is the wide variety of leisure activities now available to young and old that did not exist until after the Second World War.

Our sport still needs a unified membership in a strong national organization similar to those in countries where fancier membership is greatest, such as England, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Japan. A strong national organization can more effectively foster a public relations program to educate the general public and develop programs, which will attract new members, better serve existing members, and minimize unreasonable governmental restrictions.

The ARPU is accomplishing much for its members. In 1985, the AU introduced the first computer race program for figuring race results, which greatly improved the sport. 1982 saw the beginning of the AU UPDATE, a triennial membership magazine; the start of the AU Speakers Bureau; minimum standard club race rules; and the concept of an Executive Director for the AU was born.

In 1984, the AU played a significant part in the development of the PMV-1 vaccine and conducted several clinics to instruct the membership in the proper technique of immunizing their birds. The Association of Pigeon Veterinarians was founded in 1984 and has grown to be a tremendous asset to AU members.

In 1985, the United States Postal Service approved the express mail shipping of pigeons in the United States. This service has been a significant benefit to the members in that it allows the overnight shipping of birds at much reduced rates.

1987 was a landmark year in that the AU held the first mid-year meeting of the Board of Directors. This has greatly improved the development of new projects for the members and strengthened communication between the Board Members. Annual membership dues was raised in 1988 to $10.00 per member and the first "Who's Who" book was assembled.

The Avian Assistance Council was founded in 1989 by the AU to provide legal advice to members who were involved in ordinance litigation which may deny them the right to maintain and race pigeons.

That same year, the AU initiated a very progressive promotional program, which included several videos for use by the membership. The following titles were made available "Marathon in the Sky," "The Homing Pigeon," "Before the Event," "Fly Away Home," and "Pigeons in War."

1991 was a year of many changes. The AU rewrote the entire awards guidelines, redesigned the AU UPDATE, launched the Help-A-Beginner program, and sponsored the airing of TV commercials in several areas of the country. The following year a new Constitution and Bylaws were drafted for approval by the membership and a drug task force was established to meet the rising concern for use of illegal and harmful substances in racing pigeons.

The AU also conducted the first exit survey of members that have left the organization to gather data on the reasons for leaving the sport. That year the AU, IF, AU and NPA held the first summit meeting of these national organizations.

The spring of 1993 brought with it the avian influenza crisis in the Northeast. The AU was the major funder of research on avian influenza in pigeons. The research, conducted at Ames, Iowa, was conclusive in demonstrating that avian influenza is not transmissible across species (chicken, turkeys, pigeons).

The annual elections of officers in 1994 brought with it many significant changes including: new terms of office, a new Constitution and Bylaws, new Official Race Rules, and for the first time, Rules of Conduct were adopted. The Universal Performance Rating was approved by the Board and with it the concept of Continental Race awards. The Constitution and Bylaws were streamlined and augmented by Policy Letters. The governing documents of the organization are now more flexible and they allow more responsiveness to changing situations.

An AU Infractions Committee was initiated to allow individual members, as well as clubs, an official body to hear their grievances. While it is still preferred that disputes and grievances be settled at the most local level, the Infractions Committee has the authority to investigate complaints and recommend action to the Board of Directors.

The AU also moved to standardize racing competition by developing a uniform set of national race rules to be used by AU clubs across the country. The Competition Standards Committee has primary responsibility in this area.

The goal of hiring of an Executive Director was realized in 1995. Along with the new Executive Director the AU also moved its office to Oklahoma City the same year. Today the office has three additional employees to more effectively meet the growing needs of the membership.

The AU was the sole financial sponsor of research, done in 1995 by an environmental testing firm, which documented that noise levels emanating from pigeon lofts are an insignificant part of the total noise pattern/level. The AU continues to fund the valuable work of the Avian Assistance Council. Their most recent product is the 12-page pamphlet, "Homing Pigeons: Perception vs. Reality." It has been a great help in the continuing challenge to inform neighbors, city councils, and zoning authorities of the non-threat of our birds in urban America.

In 1997, the AU contracted with an outside consulting firm to execute the most in-depth study ever of the goals, priorities, and need of the members of the organization. The survey results were presented to the AU Board, and a committee was established to study the results and make recommendations to the Board. A very progressive, far-reaching proposal that will make significant changes to the promotion and growth of the sport and strengthening of services to the members was presented and adopted by the Board.

One of the most significant changes adopted by the Board was a dues increase of $15.00 per year in 1998, along with an additional 10 cents per band. The additional funds will allow the AU to develop programs that will promote the sport to all levels of society in America. In short, it is the extra funds that allow the AU to offer more goods and services to members.

The AU has undertaken the task of bringing improved computer software to the hobby. The new WinSpeed© program, designed specifically for Windows 95 application, was introduced in January 1998.

AU leaders with ability, vision, and dedication, have accomplished the many changes described. Due to the ever-changing society we live in, the membership of the AU is also continually changing and, with those changes, brings many new demands on the AU. It will be a continuing challenge for the Board of Directors to meet the ever-changing needs and growth of the racing pigeon sport into the 21st century.

We would like to thank fancier and AU friend, Bill Bonwell, for providing this history of the emerging of the American Racing Pigeon Union, Inc.

* Reproduced from The American Racing Pigeon Union, Inc. Membership Directory, Copyright Bernard C. Harris Publishing Company, Inc., 1998.