By JIM ZBICK
Although there was no 24/7 news coverage and no social media outlets for people to offer their personal commentary, the 1912 presidential election offered some cutting edge technology for its day.
The race featured a rare four-way race between Republican incumbent William Howard Taft, Democrat Woodrow Wilson, Progressive Theodore Roosevelt and Socialist Eugene Debs.
Weighing over 300 pounds, Taft was our heaviest president. On entering the White House as our 27th president he even had to have a special bathtub installed.
Many historians credit Taft for one of our cherished baseball traditions. While attending a baseball game, the president stood up to stretch his legs. Seeing that, others around him followed Taft's lead and thus, the seventh inning stretch was born.
With the 1912 race heading into the homestretch, Taft outlined his campaign issues during an October speech in Beverly, Mass. What's noteworthy is that there was only one other person in the room at the time. That's because Taft's voice was being recorded on a phonograph which was then sent across the country for rebroadcast.
"The president's arguments for his policies were emphatic," according to one news reporter. "At times his voice was raised to a pitch that could be heard in the next room."
This phonograph record marked the first time many Americans heard the president's actual voice.
Since television campaign advertising was still a half century in the future, the photograph remained the most effective visual advertisement for a candidate in 1912. Campaigns relied heavily on the photographic images of their candidates being distributed as handouts or posters, and for newspaper and magazine ads.
"You can judge something of a man by looking at his picture. There is no doubt that a good looking campaign picture wins votes," the Tamaqua Courier stated a month before the 1912 election. "You are much more apt to support a man after you have seen his picture than you are if you are not acquainted with his lineaments."
In the same way as today's airbrush and cropping techniques can influence a photo, a photographer in 1912 could do much to enhance or belittle his subject. The Courier writer said under the searching eye of the camera, a photographer's expertise could make the most "grotesque and ugly face" seem "agreeable and intelligent."
"A man may have a thin, hatchet-shaped countenance, or at the other extreme, a swollen, beefy jaw, when seen in full face. Placed at an angle it is quite likely that his profile may be well proportioned and forceful," the Courier said in 1912. "But the voter who is influenced by such considerations as this should reflect that either the artist with his pencil or the photographer with his lens, can somehow twist any man's face so as to make it give a good impression."
The writer said it was only natural that voters wanted to know how a candidate looked. Local residents actually had the opportunity to see one of the candidates, third party candidate Theodore Roosevelt, when he made a brief stop in Mauch Chunk while travelling to Wilkes-Barre over the Lehigh Valley Railroad on Aug. 21, 1912.
With his exuberant personality and cowboy persona, Roosevelt was by far the most charismatic of the four candidates in 1912. One local reporter covering Roosevelt's Mauch Chunk stop noted there were many ladies in the crowd of 2,000 that had assembled to see him at the train station. This, the writer said, showed what a "great idol the colonel is in their eyes."
A month later, on election night, Tamaqua citizens had a chance to follow the returns as they were posted on a large canvas stretched across the front of Livingstone's Store. The election night exposure gave the local merchant some free advertising.
"We invite the thousands of people in Tamaqua and the Schuylkill and Panther Creek Valleys to be on hand promptly at 7:30 o'clock to read the bulletins as they will appear in front of The Big Store," a front page advertisement in the Courier stated.
"In order to receive the correct returns from all parts of the United States, we have secured the services of the Western Union Telegraph Company and the best of service is secured," it said. "A picture machine will flash each bulletin as fast as it comes off the wire. Other interesting picture views and scenes of the most popular event of the day will be flashed on the canvas."
As for the 1912 election results, Wilson became the only elected president from the Democratic Party between 1892 and 1932, winning a large majority in the Electoral College and 42 percent of the popular vote. Roosevelt, his closest rival, won only 27 percent, a total which was disappointing to many of his fans, including the throng of ladies who showed up to greet the athletic Rough Rider during his brief train stop in Mauch Chunk a month earlier.