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150 years after Gettysburg Address, Google shows Lincoln's many rewrites

The Google Cultural Institute put five versions of the Gettysburg Address online.
The Google Cultural Institute put five versions of the Gettysburg Address online.

It's 150 years to the day since Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address. Now that Google has put five versions of the speech online in extremely close detail, we can see that, yes, even the great President Lincoln had to edit his work.

Today, the speech is set in the history books, but back in 1863, Lincoln, like any politician today, was constantly fiddling with his message. His early versions of the speech, as Google explains, didn't include the words "under God," while the phrase "a new birth of freedom," one of its most famous lines, wasn't added until after the New York Times war correspondent Samuel Wilkeson used something similar to describe a battle in which his son died. And three versions in Google's exhibit were written down after Lincoln delivered the historic address.

In the days before laser printers, Lincoln also had to deal with formatting requests: The president had to rewrite his speech for the organizers of a Maryland fair for wounded soldiers because they wanted bigger margins, a formal heading and "Abe's autograph."

To create this comparative view of the drafts, Google collaborated with the White House, the Lincoln Library, Cornell University, Dickinson College and the Library of Congress, all of whom donated their versions of the speech so Google could make high-resolution copies.

This is one of the most high-profile "exhibits" put on by the Paris-based Google Cultural Institute, which has created interactive galleries centered around everything from archival photos from Hiroshima to reproductions of famous paintings hanging in Versailles

Currently, the Google Cultural Institute features 40,000 works of art from around the world, Google Street View tours of landmarks like Stonehenge, and thousands of historic photos from museums, universities and national libraries.

As for its Gettysburg Address exhibit, Google spiced the historical text up with relevant YouTube videos, interactive maps and letters written by former President Jimmy Carter and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. 

So, which version of the speech did Lincoln actually deliver on Nov. 19, 1863, at Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania? Experts still aren't sure. As Google's exhibit points out, the version that appears in textbooks wasn't put down on paper until March 11, 1864.

Keith Wagstaff writes about technology for NBC News. He previously covered the tech beat for TIME's Techland and wrote about politics as a staff writer at TheWeek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kwagstaff and reach him by email at Keith.Wagstaff@nbcuni.com.