List of McKinley Firsts Part 4: McKinley was the first president to campaign by telephone

It has happened to all of us. We pick up the telephone when we are in the middle of doing something else, and who is on the other end of the line but a candidate for office. Usually, it’s now a recording of the candidate asking for your vote. Many voters see these “robo calls” as irritating. The practice of using the telephone during a campaign is not something new. In fact, it dates back to the Presidential Election of 1896.

charles-dawes-sm                                    WM Osborne

Charles G. Dawes                                                       William McKinley Osborne

Blame it all on William McKinley. Or rather, blame it all on his campaign staffers, including Charles G. Dawes and William McKinley Osborne. According to Stanley L. Jones, author of The Presidential Election of 1896, the McKinley campaign centered in Canton, New York, and Chicago. Dawes was McKinley’s chief aide and confidante in Chicago. Osborne was McKinley’s “right hand man” in New York. Jones stated, “When a private telephone line was established between New York and Chicago headquarters, the telephones were installed in the offices of Dawes and Osborne. Dawes and Osborne enjoyed an intimate correspondence, with McKinley and his campaign manager, Mark Hanna. The McKinley Campaign House on Market Street in Canton, which the McKinleys rented from Ida’s father early in their marriage, was again rented by the McKinleys for use in the 1896 campaign, as a place from which to conduct the Front Porch Campaign (the McKinleys purchased this house in 1899 in hopes of retiring there after McKinley’s presidency). A telephone, as well as a telegraph, state-of-the-art technology in 1896, had been installed in the house.[1]


Bryan          Mark_Hanna_1896TN

William Jennings Bryan                                 Marcus Hanna

McKinley and his campaign workers made use of this technology to keep up with the latest news about McKinley’s political opponent, William Jennings Bryan. Additionally, McKinley and his staff used these items to plan their political moves. According to historian Rebecca Edwards “Through telegraph and telephone, including new long distance telephone services, McKinley was in close touch daily with his campaign manager, Marcus Hanna, and with Republican headquarters in New York.”[2] Through the use of this technology, the course of Presidential campaigns came into the modern age. Eventually, technology used in campaigns came to include radio, film, and later television. Now it includes email as well as social media. And it still includes the telephone!

Photo credits:

Charles G. Dawes, retrieved 7.12.2016 from

William McKinley Osborne, retrieved 7.12.2016 from

William Jennings Bryan, retrieved 7.12.2016 from

Marcus Hanna, retrieved 7.12.2016 from




[1] Stanley L. Jones. The Presidential Election of 1896. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. 1964

[2] Rebecca Edwards, “William McKinley,” Vassar College, 2000. Retrieved 7.12.2016 from

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