Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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October 24th
The Transcontinental Telegraph
October 24, 1861, brought the opening of the transcontinental telegraph and the advent of nationwide communication. Congress, anxious to connect distant California with the rest of the United States, had offered $40,000 a year to any company that could build and maintain a line across the rugged frontier. The Western Union Telegraph Company took up the challenge.

The obstacles were daunting. Wire, insulators, and other materials for the line’s western portion would have to be shipped around Cape Horn to San Francisco. Supplies would have to be pulled by ox team over the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. Vast stretches of plains contained “not a stick of timber in sight,” as one builder put it, so telegraph poles would have to be hauled hundreds of miles. On top of all that, the outbreak of the Civil War cast shadows of uncertainty on the project.

Building began in summer 1861. One crew worked eastward from Carson City, Nevada, the terminus of an existing line. The other crew worked westward from Omaha, Nebraska. The two lines would meet in Salt Lake City.

On average, they strung three to eight miles of wire a day, across mountains, plains, and desert. First came the men who measured and staked off the route, followed by the hole diggers, then the pole setters, and finally the wire party. When they ran out of poles, they trudged into the mountains to cut more. One day they built sixteen miles across the hot desert to reach a place with water.

On October 24, the work complete, Chief Justice of California Stephen J. Field, in San Francisco, sent the first transcontinental telegram to President Lincoln in Washington, D.C. The message assured Lincoln that the line “will be the means of strengthening the attachment which binds both the East and West to the Union.”

American History Parade
1781
In Philadelphia, Congress hears a report of the American victory at Yorktown and processes to a nearby church to give thanks.

1836
Alonzo Phillips of Springfield, Massachusetts, receives a patent for safety matches.

1861
The first transcontinental telegraph message is sent from San Francisco to President Lincoln in Washington, D.C.

1901
A 63-year-old schoolteacher named Anna Edson Taylor becomes the first daredevil to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

1940
The 40-hour workweek goes into effect under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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