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Words Along The Wire
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In today's world of instant mass-communication, where everyone is totally connected at all times, it is amazing to consider how much things have changed since the invention of the telegraph in 1838 changed the world of communication forever.
An American professor, Samuel F.B. Morse, began experimenting with sending communications via electromagnetic signal in the early 1830s. In 1838 he was able to demonstrate the device by sending a message across two miles of wire in Morristown, New Jersey.
Morse eventually received funds from Congress to install a line for demonstration between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. After an abortive effort to bury wires, it was decided to hang them from poles, and wire was strung between the two cities.
On May 24, 1844, Morse, stationed in the Supreme Court chambers, which were then in the US Capitol, sent a message to his assistant Alfred Vail in Baltimore. The famous first message: “What hath God wrought.”
The practical importance of the telegraph was obvious, and in 1846 a new business, the Associated Press, began using the rapidly spreading telegraph lines to send dispatches to newspaper offices. Election results were gathered via telegraph by the AP for the first time for the 1848 presidential election, won by Zachary Taylor.
In the following year AP workers stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, begin intercepting news arriving on boats from Europe and telegraphing it to New York, where it could appear in print days before the boats reached New York harbor.
By the time Abraham Lincoln became president the telegraph had become an accepted part of American life. Lincoln's first State of the Union message was transmitted over the telegraph wires, as the New York Times reported on December 4, 1861:
The message of President Lincoln was telegraphed yesterday to all parts of the loyal states. The message contained 7, 578 words, and was all received in this city in one hour and 32 minutes, a feat of telegraphing unparalleled in the Old or New World.
Lincoln's own fascination with the technology led him to spend many hours during the Civil War in the telegraph room of the War Department building near the White House. The young men who manned the telegraph equipment later recalled him sometimes staying overnight, awaiting messages from his military commanders.
The president would generally write his messages in longhand, and telegraph operators would relay them, in military cipher, to the front. Some of Lincoln's messages are examples of emphatic brevity, such as when he advised General Ulysses S. Grant, at City Point, Virginia in August 1864: “Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible. A. Lincoln.”
This photograph was taken at the train station in Kelso, California
February 3rd, 2012
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