Learning Lincoln On-line


Lincoln's Assassination-- The Telegraph on Telling the Country


This page also goes with Part 6.--After the Assassination—The News Gets Out!

The Effects of the Telegraph

The travel time from New York City to Cleveland in 1800 was two weeks, with another four weeks necessary to reach Chicago. By 1830, those travel times had fallen in half, and by 1860 it took only two days to reach Chicago from New York City. However, by use of the telegraph, news could travel between those two cities almost instantaneously. This section examines three instances where the telegraph affected economic growth: railroads, high throughput firms, and financial markets.


First transatlantic cable is laid from Newfoundland to Valentia, Ireland. Fails after 23 days, having been used to send a total of 4,359 words. Total cost of laying the line was $1.2 million.



First Transcontinental telegraph completed.  It would spread more and more as the war was conducted.  The U.S. Military Telegraph System would take lead in construction of telegraph lines. 

Abraham Lincoln Was a Technological President

         During the entire American Civil War, 1861 to 1865, all news that reached Europe about what was happening in the United States and the Confederacy, was carried across the Atlantic by steamship.  When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, this news reached England in a week by steamship.  Our nation would find out instantaneously by telegraph and then by word of mouth or newspaper!

         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.”

Go to The U.S. Military Telegraph Site for More Information

16th President Topics Index

Learning On-Line Home Page