Why did Abraham Lincoln spend so many hours in the telegraph office during the Civil War?

The electronic telegraph was invented in 1844 and newspapers quickly made good use of it. The United States government, however, did not. When the Civil War began in 1861, government officials who wanted to send a telegram went to a commercial telegraph office and stood in line like everybody else.

In May 1862, a year after the war broke out, the War Department, next door to the White House, opened its own telegraph office. Before then, Lincoln sent about one telegram a month. Historian Tom Wheeler writes that on May 24, 1862 Lincoln had his "online breakout" and sent nine telegrams in a single day. He got into the habit of walking over to the telegraph office several times a day and reading whatever telegrams had come in. During major battles he even slept in the telegraph office. Even as a young man, Lincoln had been an enthusiast for new inventions and new technology. With the nation's very existence at stake during the war, Lincoln wanted to be as close to the front lines as he could—he wanted the news as quickly as possible and he wanted his unruly generals in the field to know that he was watching them closely.

Other presidents later would also show interest in new media technologies. This included Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was an early pioneer of radio, sensing quickly what that medium offered for someone who spoke with warmth, humor, and a winning sincerity. Radio proved a great way to communicate directly and intimately with Americans. Barack Obama famously has used a BlackBerry mobile phone.

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