Thursday, November 03, 2016

Announcing the President 100 Years Ago in 1916

In the age of 24/7 news and social media, the American people will find out who the next president is fairly quickly. In 1916, the Birmingham Age-Herald had an innovative way to let people know who won the election between the Republican candidate, Charles Evans Hughes, and Democrat candidate, Woodrow Wilson. 

If you were in downtown Birmingham, you could find out the results by looking at the side of the Age-Herald building where they would be displayed on a screen. If you were out of town, the Age-Herald put a spotlight on top of its building and used pre-arranged signals to let you know who had been elected president. The searchlight beam would point straight up if Wilson won; if Hughes was the winner, the searchlight beam would point toward north at an angle of 45 degrees. 

The 1916 election was a tight election, and early results in the newspapers predicted Charles Evan Hughes to be the victor, much to the chagrin of Alabama voters and the rest of the South who had overwhelmingly voted for Wilson.

It took three days for the Age-Herald to announce the winner using the spotlight as the public waited on voter results to be calculated all across the country. Wilson was declared the winner in both the popular and electoral vote and re-elected to the presidency. 

Sources: the Birmingham Age-Herald, November, 5, 8, and 10, 1916

Enjoyed this story? It's part of the Throwback Thursday series on the Southern History Department's Facebook page. 

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