“Technologist-in-chief”

The Washington Post has an item on technology and the Civil War, with an examination of Lincoln’s fascination with modern gadgets:

The telegraph came along in 1844, and information suddenly no longer moved at the speed of a horse. Since earlier in the century, the ancient sources of power — wind, water, human and animal muscle — had been to a great extent supplanted by the miracle of steam. Lincoln saw these changes and approved. He was a technophile, curious about contraptions, a student of machines. He became a promoter of railroads and an eager user of the telegraph.

He was even an inventor himself. He owned a U.S. government patent, which no other president before or since could boast. He had designed a mechanism for assisting a boat across shoals. He was quite obsessed with the importance of what people called “internal improvements,” meaning the building of roads, railroads, canals, harbors. He once told his best friend, Joshua Speed, that he wanted someday to be the DeWitt Clinton of Illinois – Clinton being the New Yorker behind the Erie Canal.

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