News & Politics

The First Transcontinental Telegram Was Sent to DC 155 Years Ago

President Abraham Lincoln was on the receiving end.

The First Transcontinental Telegram Was Sent to DC 155 Years Ago
The first transcontinental telegraph was sent on October 24, 1861 to Washington DC. All Photos via the Library of Congress.

In the first half of the 19th century, Samuel F.B. Morse’s telegraph began to tame America’s vast distances, allowing people to communicate instantly as long as they were in the same geographic area. It wasn’t until 1861, however, that people on different coasts would be able to connect via telegram.

The first transcontinental telegraph system was completed on October 24, 1861, by the Western Union Telegraph Company, which linked the telegraph networks of the East and West in Salt Lake City.  Stephen J. Field, the Chief Justice of California, sent  the first cross-country message on the new line on October 25, 1861. It was addressed to President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, DC.

In his message, Field told Lincoln he thought the new link would would help the Western states stay loyal to the Union during the Civil War.

Here’s the text:

 

In the temporary absence of the Governor of the State I am requested to send you the first message which will be transmitted over the wires of the telegraph Line which Connect the Pacific with the Atlantic States the People of California desire to Congratulate you upon the Completion of the great work.

They believe that it will be the means of stengthening the attachment which bind both the East & West to the Union & they desire in this the first message across the continent to express their loyalty to that Union & their determination to stand by the Government in this its day of trial They regard that Government with affection & will adhere to it under all fortunes

Stephen J Field

Chief Justice of

California

Check out the history of the telegraph through these photos:

First Telegraph by Samuel Morse in 1844. The message was taken from the bible and reads: "What hath God wrought?" Photo by Samuel Finley Breese Morse.
First Telegraph by Samuel Morse in 1844. The phrase was taken from the Bible and reads: “What hath God wrought?” Photo by Samuel Finley Breese Morse.

 

Original drawing of telegraph machine by Samuel Morse in 1854. Photo by Samuel Finley Breese Morse.
Original drawing of a telegraph machine by Samuel Morse in 1854. Photo by Samuel Finley Breese Morse.

 

Signs for Telegraph Machine by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1835. Photo by Samuel Finley Breese Morse.
Signs for Telegraph Machine by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1835. Photo by Samuel Finley Breese Morse.

 

Original Telegram from Chief Justice of California, Stephen J. Field to President Abraham Lincoln on October 25, 1861. Photo via Library of Congress.
Original Telegram from Chief Justice of California, Stephen J. Field to President Abraham Lincoln on October 25, 1861. Photo via Library of Congress.
1923 Western Union Telegraph Operator. Photo by Harris & Ewing.
1923 Western Union Telegraph Operator. Photo by Harris & Ewing.

 

 

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Editorial Fellow

Sydney is an editorial fellow at Washingtonian Magazine, where she writes about history, news, food, and events. A recent graduate of the College of William & Mary, she is interested in writing and videography. You can follow her on Twitter @sydneykmahan

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