News flash with 1850s technology

Check out this hi tech way for handling hot news.

During the 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas the debates received next day coverage in all the nation’s major newspapers.


Two different papers had stenographers take down the text of the speeches in shorthand. After the speech, they transcribed their notes into longhand. They took the handwritten notes to the telegraph offices where the text was transmitted to their Chicago offices. The debates ran 180 minutes – can you imagine the time and cost to transmit by telegraph?

The Chicago offices of the two papers would then send the text of the speeches out by telegraph to their network of affiliates, however that worked at the time. Those newspapers would write down the text in their telegraph office, carry the speech to the print room where it would be set in type.

So the speeches were read the next day across the country.

Stenographer’s shorthand, to long hand, to telegraph transmission, to longhand again, retransmit by telegraph, hand write, set into type.

That info from an audio lecture from Professor Allen Guelzo. Very cool lecture series, by the way.

The current arrangement for a major live event is also amazing. From shoulder-held camera, to news truck outside venue, to satellite in geosynchronous orbit, to network headquarters, to edit room, back to satellite in geosynchronous orbit, to local affiliates, through fiber optic cable, to your television.

Also very cool.

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