HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

November 13, 2006, Herald Journal

President Abraham Lincoln . . . the first “high-tech” president


No, Abraham Lincoln did not claim to have invented the Internet, but he was the first President that used something that looks a lot like what most of us use every day.

President Lincoln made use of what is very similar to today’s e-mail.

The version Lincoln used over the telegraph at that time, could be more appropriately called T-mail.

We have the Internet Network, and President Lincoln used the Telegraph Network.

During the Civil War, Lincoln would spend much time in what was called the “telegraph” or “wire room.” Officially, it was called “Office U.S. Military Telegraph War Department.”

This is where Lincoln would send out his telegraph messages, correspondences and even his encouragement to his generals and commanders in the field.

Instead of electronic-mail (email) which we send electronically over broadband networks, Lincoln had his messages sent or transmitted over telegraph wire lines, hence: T-mail.

I am reading a book called Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: the Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War, which is written by Tom Wheeler.

In the book, Wheeler tells us that Lincoln personally sent out over 1,000 “lightning messages” telegrams during the Civil War period starting around 1862, and Second Battle of Bull Run. Wheeler explains how Lincoln, wanting to be able to send out rapid responses to those out in the field, would end up spending most nights in the War Department’s Telegraph Office.

Wheeler goes on to state that Lincoln used the telegraph to supplement his preferred forms of communication, which were meetings and letters. Lincoln did not want to replace the important face-to-face exchanges, however.

No doubt that the telegraph gave the North an advantage, in so being that the communications being sent electrically over those telegraph wires were received much faster than by other means available at the time – as those electrically transported dots and dashes speed down the telegraph wires much faster than a horse and rider could. Lincoln was able to stay connected to the generals and forces in the field in what could be called ‘real time’.

It was the new technology of the times and Lincoln embraced the telegraph as a tool, using it to his advantage. For the speed of communicating his messages directly to those under his command, he used the telegraph much like we have embraced the use of email for messaging others, taking advantage of speed, which includes saving time and getting an answer back sooner.

Lincoln used this new technology to his benefit and he helped push the evolution of what then was considered modern communications technology from the White House.

I found that President Abraham Lincoln was not a stranger to new technology, as he himself received Patent No. 6469 on May 22, 1849, for a device to lift boats over shallow waters. It was an invention which was never manufactured; however, it did make him the only U.S. president to hold a patent. You can see his scale model on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Here is a link that shows the telegraph system as it was strung across America in 1853: http://www.telegraph-history.org/map2.htm. This map is from The Library of Congress. The map shows great clarity and detail, the routing of the telegraph wires and the telegraph stations as they existed then.

The history surrounding the telegraph is fascinating in itself. Samuel Morse, who is considered to be the father of the telegraph, sent the first telegraph message from Washington to Baltimore in 1844. Samuel Morse’s last message was ceremonially sent Saturday, June 10, 1871, in New York.

I encourage you to visit Tom Wheeler’s website at http://www.mrlincolnstmails.com/ to see and read some of the actual telegraph messages Lincoln sent from 1862 to 1865.

The website also features links to more Abraham Lincoln information and also information on Samuel Morse and the telegraph.

You will be able to download the first chapter of the book in portable document format (PDF) and read it using Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Just when we thought all had been written about Abraham Lincoln, we now have something new to explore about his life and personality.