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The New York Times Once Signaled Election Winners With Searchlights

The New York Times Once Signaled Election Winners With Searchlights

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For the quickest news of election results, who needs 5G when you’ve got the equivalent of a bat-signal?

Before Election Day in 1904, The New York Times told readers that it would announce the results of the presidential race by flashing a searchlight from the top of its new building, on 43rd Street in Times Square (even though the paper wouldn’t move in for another two months). If a steady light beamed to the west, that meant President Theodore Roosevelt was re-elected. If a steady light pointed to the east, that meant the Democratic challenger, Alton B. Parker, prevailed.

Signals would also be used to indicate the winner of the New York governor’s race between Lt. Gov. Frank W. Higgins and Judge D. Cady Herrick, as well as the overall party makeup of Congress — an up-and-down light to the west would mean Republicans had control; the same maneuver to the east would signal a win for Democrats.

A Times article the day before the election noted that, with the top of the building rising nearly 360 feet, the lights could be seen within a 30-mile radius. That would make it convenient, it said, for people from Elizabeth, N.J., or Tarrytown, N.Y., to view the results — or, for that matter, anyone “who doesn’t want to stay out all night at a telegraph office.”

For subsequent elections, The Times added more sophisticated touches. In 1912, the paper began using arrangements of red, white and green lights. In 1920, the code of movements involved circles and semicircles.

The searchlights continued even after The Times began using its scrolling news bulletin “zipper” in Times Square in 1928. And they remained through the 1950s, when the lights and zipper were joined by an 85-foot electric tote board later known as the “thermometer,” which was mounted on the north side of the Times Tower and displayed accumulating tallies of electoral votes. (The Times moved to its current headquarters on Eighth Avenue in 2007.)

ImageThe “election indicator,” introduced in 1952 and later known as the “thermometer,” displayed the accumulating electoral votes of candidates.
Credit…The New York Times

Those offerings reflected the paper’s persistent efforts in the 20th century to hasten the way it relayed information, a philosophy that dates at least to the days when the publisher Adolph S. Ochs and the managing editor Carr V. Van Anda worked together in the early 1900s, according to David W. Dunlap, a longtime reporter and historian for The Times.

“The Times was always interested in finding new ways of conveying news in the fastest possible way to the greatest number of people,” he said. “That is: We were platform-agnostic from the moment Ochs and Van Anda took over, if not earlier.”

Source: | This article originally belongs to Nytimes.com

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