A History of Underseas Cables

A History of Underseas Cables

Post by TELECOM Moderato » Sat, 14 May 1994 23:10:00



Recently a correspondent to the Digest asked about the history of
underseas cables ... cables which carry communications between the USA
and other countries around the world.  Two very excellent responses
were received and are being submitted here for your weekend reading
enjoyment along with some additional commentary by John Levine. I
hope you enjoy this history lesson as much as I did. It will become
a permanent file in the Telecom Archives /history sub-directory.

Patrick Towsnon
TELECOM Digest Editor

   From: jo...@iecc.com (John R Levine)
   To: Brasuell_B...@tandem.com, tele...@iecc.com
   Subject: Re: Need Date of First Undersea Cable
   References: <telecom14.20...@eecs.nwu.edu>
   Organization: I.E.C.C., Cambridge, Mass.

> Does anyone know the date of the first undersea cable between the USA
> and Europe/UK?

The answer is about 1870.  The first trans-Atlantic cable was run
between Ireland and Newfoundland in 1856-57, and signals were passed
along it on 16 August 1857, but it was operated at voltages too high
for the insulation it used and it failed a month later.

The first successful cable was run along the same route in 1865-66,
and worked until 1877, by which time several other cables had been
run.  One of those, laid in about 1870, ran from Brest in France to
Duxbury MA, and would be the first between the USA and Europe.  These
were all telegraph cables, of course.  (This info from the 1910
Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

The first trans-Atlantic telephone cable, TAT-1, was laid in 1956.

Regards,

John Levine, jo...@iecc.com, jlev...@delphi.com, 1037...@mcimail.com

   From: Alan.Leon.Var...@att.com
   Subject: Re: Need Date of First Undersea Cable
   Organization: AT&T Network Systems

   Bill, you weren't clear about the type of cable, and whether it was
North America to UK or specifically a cable hitting the USA directly.
So here's a cronology of Telegraph, Telephone and Radiotelephone, the
three services reaching across the Atlantic before the 1960 Echo
satellite.  Any good history of each service will have more details.

           TELEGRAPH

 1837 - Charles Wheatstone patents "electric telegraph"
 1844 - Samuel Morse demonstrates "Morse code" -- but this is the old
        version, where a number is assigned to each possible word.
        Alfred Vail helps him later with a "variable-length letter code".
 1845 - General Oceanic telegraph Co. registered in NYC to link Europe
        and North America (was this just another stock swindle?)
 1847 - Gutta-percha (an inelastic latex) is discovered.  It serves as
        a reliable insulator in water (reliable, but not great capacitance).
 1849 - England to France telegraph cable goes into service -- and fails
        after 8 days.
 1850 - Morse patents "clicking" telegraph.
 1851 - England-France commercial telegraph service begins.  This one
        uses gutta-percha, and survives.
 1858 - August 18 - First transatlantic telegraph messages via wire.
        Cyrus Field (a 35-year-old retired merchant) & John Pender formed a
        British company, "The Atlantic Telegraph Co."  The cable deteriorated
        quickly, and failed after 3 weeks.
 1861 - First USA transcontinental telegraph cable begins service.
 1868 - First commercially successful transatlantic telegraph cable
        completed between UK and Canada, with land extension to USA.
        (Lack of repeaters & cable capacitance in insulation restricted
        the cable to 2 words/minute -- signaling speed was inversely
        proportional to square of length, per Lord Kelvin's prediction.
        A "siphon receiving" mechanism raised that rate to 20 WPM in 1870.
        Even 2 WPM beat the next fastest method; 10 days by steamship.)
        Also, Werner Siemens patents a keyboard perforator for Morse code.
 1874 - Baudot invents a practical Time Division Multiplexing scheme
        for telegraph.  Uses 5-bit codes & 6 time slots -- 90 bps max. rate.
        Both Western Union and Murray would use this as the basis of
        multiplex telegragh systems.
 1875 - Typewriter invented.
 1880 - Oliver Heaviside's analysis shows that a uniform addition of
        inductance into a cable would produce distortionless transmission.
        (It would be 40 more years before Bell Labs devised a practical method
        of producing uniform inductance --  "permalloy" magnetic ribbon spiral
        winding around a conductor.  This would permit 400 WPM on the
        New York-Azores Western Union cable in 1925.)
 1901 - Donald Murray links typewriter to high-speed multiplex system, later
        used by Western Union.  [ The beginnings of Teletype ? ]

           TELEPHONE

 1876 - Bell patents telephone.
 1877 - Bell attempts to use telephone over the Atlantic telegraph cable.
        The attempt fails.
 1883 - Test calls placed over five miles of under-water cable.
 1884 - San Francisco-Oakland gutta-percha cable begins telephone service.
 1910 - Cheasapeake Bay cable is first to use loading (inductor) coils
        underwater.  Contained 17 pairs of 13-guage conductors.
 1915 - USA transcontinental telephone service begins (NY-San Francisco).
        (Used 2500 tons of 8 guage copper on 180,000 poles, with loading
        coils every 8 miles.  Three vacuum tube repeaters were initially
        used -- by 1918, that was increased to 8 repeaters.  In 1920,
        all loading was removed and 12 improved repeaters installed.
        This resulted in doubling of the bandwidth (to 3 kHz), halving
        of the loss and a 3.5-fold increase in propagation speed.
        The reduction in echo was very obvious.)

      (A 3-minute call was $20.70)

 1921 - Key West-Havana cable begins service, using continuous loading
        via "permalloy" wrap and a blend of rubber and gutta-percha.
 1928 - Design of a continuously-loaded Newfoundland-Ireland cable begins,
        as a joint AT&T-British Post Office project.  The planned loss was
        165 dB over 1800 miles.  It used 4 layers of Perminvar tape for
        loading.  Manufacturing in Germany began in 1930.  The Depression
        caused all work to be abandoned.  By the late 1930s, submerged
        repeaters and multiplexing promised more circuits at the same cost.
 1947 - Polyethylene replaces rubber & gutta-percha as preferred insulator.
 1949 - "SB" submarine cable developed by AT&T, using polyethylene + 5% butyl
        rubber dialectric.  The cable was made up of a core of several dozen
        steel wires, covered by a copper tube, then about .2 inches of
        dialectric and another copper tube, covered by a plastic jacket
        and armor.
 1950 - Repeatered SB submarine cable used on Key West-Havana route.
 1952 - Joint AT&T-BPO meetings at Dollis Hill lab to begin transatlantic
        cable project.
 1953 - Canada (Canadian Overseas Telecommunications Corp.) joins in project,
        along with Eastern Telephone & Telegraph Co. (AT&T's subsidiary in
        Canada).
 1955 - June 28, HMTS "Monarch" leaves Clarenville, Newfoundland laying cable.
        After weathering Hurricane Ione, it reaches the Firth of Lorne in
        Oban, Scotland on September 26.
 1956 - June 4, "Monarch" leaves Oban to lay the other cable (these are
        uni-directional repeaters).  Final splice at Clarenville, August 14.
        All links and channels were tested within 6 weeks.  A total of 102
        repeaters were needed on the main cables.  Connections at the North
        American end:
        USA (29 circuits of the 35 originally available)
           White Plains, NY (via L1 coaxial cable) to Albany, NY or West
             Haven, Connecticut
           Albany/West Haven (via K-carrier) to Portland, Maine
           Portland (via TD-2 microwave) to Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia
           Sydney Mines (via BPO underwater cable) to Clarenville.
        Canada (6 circuits)
           Montreal (via carrier on cable and open wire) to Saint John,
             New Brunswick
           St. John (via TD-2 microwave) to Sydney Mines (as above).

 Sept. 25, 1956 at 11 am EST, Chairman Craig of AT&T calls Dr. Charles Hill,
        Her Majesty's Postmaster General.  This initiates the first long-term
        transatlantic telephone service, using the TAT-1 cable.

    [In 1966, after ten years of service, the 1608 tubes in the repeaters
    had not suffered a single failure.  In fact, more than 100 million
    tube hours over all AT&T undersea repeaters were without failure.]

 1963 - First cable from New Jersey to England.
 1965 - First cable from New Jersey to France.

            RADIOTELEPHONE (cable's competition)

 1920s- Catalina Island telephone service to mainland via radio system.
        Replaced by cable in 1923 so frequencies could be used for broadcast.
        For 6 weeks, a "privacy" system was tested, using inverted sidebands
        and a "wobbling" carrier.  Later systems used 4 or 5 "bands",
        re-ordered before transmission.  Some bands were inverted.
        The band arrangement was changed a few times per minute, in synch.
 1921 - British "Marconi Co." offers 3 MHz calls between England and Norway.
 1923 - Amateur radio proves that high frequency radio can reach long
        distances (sometimes).  Transatlantic transmission demonstrated.
 1927 - first commercial transatlantic radio telephone service begins.
        This uses low frequency radio from RCA's Rocky Point, Long Island
        & Rugby, England transmitters.  Receivers were in Houlton, Maine
        and Cupar, Scotland.  The 2800 Hz bandwidth was modulated to 33 kHz
        carrier & then 92 kHz, with the lower sideband then at about 60 kHz.
        Three 250-watt tubes in parallel amplified this, and fed a 2-stage
        water-cooled final stage of up to 35 tubes, yielding 150-200 kW.
        Low frequencies were considered more "reliable".  HF radio took
        30 dB losses over day-long periods between Deal, New Jersey and
        New Southgate, England during magnetic disturbances.  On those
        same days, LF radio actually gained a couple of dB.

      (A 3-minute call was $75.)

 1929 - HF radio begins commercial transatlantic service (2 circuits!).
        Transmitters in Lawrenceville, New Jersey and Rugby, England;
        receivers in Netcong, New Jersey and Baldock, Hertfordshire.
        (Calls used which ever radio system was working "best" at the time.
        By 1931, HF was the choice 80% of the time.)
 1930 - HF radio service begins to Buenos Aires.
 1931 - Dixon/Point Reyes, California radio begins transpacific service.
 1932 - Florida sites begin Caribbean & Central American service.
 1937 - USA can call 68 countries via HF radio -- 93% of the world's
        telephones are interconnected via wires & radio waves.

Al Varney

   From: Donald E. Kimberlin <0004133...@mcimail.com>
   Subject: Re: Need Date of First Undersea Cable
   Organization: Telecommunications Network Architects, Inc.

In article <Digest v.14, iss. 207>, Brasuell_B...@tandem.com (Bill
Brasuell) asks:

> Does anyone know the date of the first undersea cable between the USA
> and Europe/UK?
> In return I'll supply a bit of trivia, in 1876 it cost $7.50 per word
> to send a cablegram between New York and Buenos Aires.

I'll tell you the date, but first I'm going to make you learn some
more history, to show how such things don't pop out of one head
overnight:

The concept of wiring two continents together is far older than most
people might know.  Telegraphers on both sides of the ocean took up a
Shakespearean line from "A Midsummer Night's Dream," where Puck says,
"I'll put a girdle `round the earth in forty minutes."  England's
Cable and Wireless, in fact made that the title of their (privately
published) corporate history book, and the most recent historian of
Western Union, George Oslin, opens Chapter 11 of his epic history,
"The Story of Telecommunications," with the same line, as he begins to
tell about submarine telegraphy.

I'm missing my copies of the CandW book and some others at the moment,
but prototypes of the art were done in crossing the River Thames at
London around 1840, while Oslin reports Samuel Morse himself tried to
connect New York's Battery with Governor's Island on October 18, 1842
 -- but souvenir hunters cut his hand-made cable and took 200 feet away,
destroying the job.  Morse was reported to build a similar experiment
at Washington, DC two months later, and even suggested that a
telegraph cable could be laid across the Atlantic, but Congress (even
with Morse having cronies there), hadn't even acted on subsidizing
that first famous Washington-Baltimore overland link of 1844 that our
history books usually begin with.

By 1845, many entrepreneurs had jumped into the then-fantastic new
technology of transmitting messages instantly by wire.  (Consider the
revolution it portended at that point in history!), and the first of
several crossings of the Hudson River and New York Harbor began in
that year, not by Morse at first, but by several of his many
competitors.  One quasi-competitor was Morse's personal friend, Samuel
Colt (of revolver fame), who laid several crossings of the East River
in New York to support Colt's local telegraph company.

But these submarine cables all lacked a needed quality: Permanence and
physical durability.  The only materials for "insulating" and
"waterproofing" wire at the time were things like oakite and
asphaltum.  These did not last long for even short, shallow crossings,
much less reaching 3,000 miles across an ocean.  The discovery of a
form of rubber called "gutta percha" in 1843 led to electricians and
telegraphers developing a suitable means by 1847 or so, with the
British leading the development.  In 1848, the first U.S. factory to
insulate wire with gutta percha opened up.  In Germany, Werner von
Siemens, operating in a frenzy of creativeness similar to that of the
later Thomas Edison, also had a gutta percha insulating machine
developed in 1847, and Siemens laid a gutta percha cable in Kiel
Harbor in 1848.

The real beginnings of global submarine cable telegraphy began with a
wealthy English merchant family named Brett, who financed a cable
crossing the English Channel to France in 1850.  Like a later chapter
in this story, that cable failed after only a few messages were
exchanged, and was finally replaced with an engineered design that
could withstand the currents at the bottom of the Channel in
September, 1851.  Also in the 1850-51 time frame, former aerial
crossings of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers that had been wrecked by
floods were replaced with submarine telegraph cables.  Development of
that art continued apace in Europe, where by 1852 cables were
connecting England, Holland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, and another
connected Italy with Corsica, Sardinia and even across to Africa.
(Siemens was instrumental in much of this construction.)  By the time
of the Crimean War, a 300-mile cable was laid across the Black Sea, so
England and France had instant connectivity with their armies in the
Crimea.

Meantime, in Canada, construction of telegraph companies was also
moving apace, with connectivity out to the Maritime provinces and
several border crossings to the U.S. completed in the same time frame.
Close ties of the several companies in Canada were forming with
Western Union and its competitors.  These ties are significant to a
later part of the story.

The most notable driving users of the early telegraph were the press,
which had reporters waiting on the docks when packet ships landed,
grabbing their packets of news dispatches and running them to
telegraph offices for filing into the domestic telegraph network.  As
connectivity extended northward up the Atlantic coast of the U.S., the
press moved first to Boston, then to Nova Scotia, to get dispatches a
day or more sooner, what with shorter times from Europe by ship.
Thus, connectivity to Halifax, Nova Scotia was accomplished early on.
Even prior to that, some reporters would collect the news at Halifax,
write it onto tissue paper and use carrier pigeons to fly it to Boston
for filing to the telegraph.  Canadians can even take credit for the
concept of a "pony express," having had the first riders carrying
press from Halifax to Digby, Nova Scotia, where the rider boarded a
ferry across the 50 miles of the Bay of Fundy to file press on the
telegraph network that reached from the U.S. to St. John's,
Newfoundland -- a location to later prove extremely important, even a
century later.

It made sense then, to make the first transatlantic cable connect from
Canada to Ireland, the shortest route through relatively shallow water
across the North Atlantic. Frederick Gisborne, a founder of one of
Canada's several first telegraph companies, placed a proposal before
the Canadian government in 1850 to connect Newfoundland with England.
Gisborne got some initial funding, and was financially ruined by New
York investors who backed out on him.  He had to return to New York to
find new backers, and finally, in January, 1854, met Cyrus Field, a
wealthy New York paper merchant who had retired from active business
at the age of 35.  Field was not a man of narrow vision, although he
and Gisborne were very different people.  Field jumped into the matter
with great enthusiasm, and found that, indeed, the U.S. Navy had
surveyed a large area of the North Atlantic and found a shallow
plateau on the ocean bottom that would provide a 1,600 mile crossing
between Newfoundland and Ireland.  Amazingly, the words from the naval
survey said, "...the bottom of the sea between the two places is a
plateau, which seems to have been placed there especially for the
purpose of holding the wires of a submarine telegraph."  Field's
enthusiasm for the venture mounted further.  A flurry of activity
ensued, and Field gathered a number of wealthy New Yorkers to join
with him, some of them being names like Peter Cooper, Moses Taylor,
Marshall O. Roberts of the Erie Railroad, and Chandler White.  This
group founded the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company
on May 6, 1854.  They purchased cable from the English firm of Glass,
Elliott and Company, a name to later figure heavily in manufacture of
submarine cables crossing most of the oceans of the earth.  An attempt
to lay cable from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia in August, 1855 proved
that handling a wire, no matter how strong, from the deck of a
pitching ship, was no simple matter, and after several losses,
connectivity was finally achieved from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia,
but the funds of the company were exhausted by this effort.

Field then went to England to get further partners, and obtained them
in Charles T. Bright, Chief Engineer of England's successful Magnetic
Telegraph Company and John Brett, the backer of that first cable
across the English Channel, in September, 1856.  Another name that was
to gain some fleeting dark fame in technology, Dr. Edward Whitehouse,
a physician who experimented with electricity joined a bit later.  The
influence of Bright and Brett garnered support with ships for cable
laying and a committment of UK# 14,000 per year for the carriage of
government messages on the new cable.  Stock sales in England were
oversubscribed, and although Field reserved 25% of the shares for
American investors, only 27 shares were ever sold in the U.S.  The
reason: Western Union had its own grand plan to reach Europe by way of
Alaska and Siberia, crossing the entire land mass of Asian Russia
overland, a route that required only 25 miles of submarine cable
across the Bering Strait.  Western Union's view of the Atlantic route
was that it was entirely too unproved and risky, especially after
evidence of the problems earlier, shorter attempts had shown.  No
smart investor in the U.S. would doubt the expertise of Western Union,
which was immensely profitable at that point in time.  Field even had
real trouble in Congress getting U.S. government support in the form
of naval ships to form half the convoy to get the wire across the
ocean.  The needed resolutions in the U.S. Congress barely passed, and
President Franklin Pierce only signed them into law on his last day in
office, March 3, 1857.

Meantime, the Atlantic Telegraph Company, as the Bright/Brett/
Whitehouse/Field-organized company was named, had ordered up 2,500
miles of insulated cable, containing a single copper conductor made of
seven twisted strands, surrounded by gutta percha insulation,
protected and strengthened by eighteen surrounding iron wires coated
with hemp and tar.  Half the cable was loaded on the British
battleship <Agamemnon> and the other half on the American frigate
<Niagara>, and the two sailed out of Valentia Bay, Ireland to begin
laying across the Atlantic on July 30, 1857, managing to start in the
short few weeks of relatively calm waters of the North Atlantic Ocean
each year.  The <Niagara> paid out its portion from the Irish shore,
which was to be spliced to the <Agamemnon's> portion in mid-ocean to
finish the western half. After only thirty miles had been laid, the
strain of the long end descending to the ocean bottom caused the cable
to snap under its own weight.  The project was once again a failure,
further vindicating the plan of Western Union.  No further attempts
could be made in the short summer left in 1857.

Atlantic Telegraph gave it another try beginning June 10, 1858.
Telegraph cable engineers had made considerable improvement in "deck
engines" to handle cable paying out to the ocean bottom, and the plan
was changed to have the two ships meet and splice their sections in
mid-ocean, and each pay out their half toward their own shore.  There
was a ten-day storm at mid-ocean in which both ships nearly sank
(which may explain the way cable ship sailors ever since have shown
themselves to be willing to sail through almost anything on the ocean;
just ask a mariner), and paying out finally began June 26.  The cable
broke after only three miles, but the ships rejoined, made another
splice and started again.  The cable broke again the following morning
and the ships again rendezvoued to make a third splice and attempt.
On June 28, after laying only 112 miles of cable, the strain caused by
sailing in the stormy waters broke the flooring in the cable tank that
had been built into HMS <Agamemnon>, the cable was damaged, and the
ships had to sail back to port for repairs.  Field traveled to London
for a showdown with the directors of Atlantic Telegraph, and managed
to prevail, largely with the support of William Thomson (Lord Kelvin),
whose standing as a respected physicist swayed the rest.

In the amazingly short period to July 29 of the same summer, the cable
fleet spliced cable halves in mid-ocean and made a fourth attempt at a
continuous lay.  That very afternoon, a curious great whale inspected
the new item in its habitat and grazed the cable, but did not break
it.  Later that night, a damaged portion of cable was found coming up
from the tank, and workmen made a hurried repair on deck before it
passed overboard.  Finally, at 4 AM on August 5, <Niagara> entered
Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, and Field rushed ashore to send a message
to the press at New York.  The two ships had maintained communication
through the cable as it was being laid (a practice followed by every
oceanic cable layer since, regardless of technology), so he could
report that the cable was still intact.  At 6 AM the same day, a
message came across from <Agamemnon> that she had reached Valentia in
Ireland.  A message flashed across Ireland and England to be carried
out to Queen Victoria, who was banqueting with the Emperor of France
on board a ship in Cherbourg harbor.  On receiving the news, Queen
Victoria immediately knighted the then 26-year-old Charles Bright
_in_absentia_.

There were a further eleven days described as "testing" in the Oslin
version of the story, but English books are more frank about the
matter.  The truth is that in 1858, nobody knew what Ohm's Law really
was (in fact, Georg Ohm had been ridiculed by many of his peers for
suggesting his "law"); nobody knew what would happen to an electrical
pulse in a piece of wire thousands of miles long, and nobody had an
inkling of knowledge about any differences in potential between two
points on the surface of the earth thousands of miles apart...all of
which added up to the transmission of signals so feeble and slow that
this cable was doomed to commercial, if not physical failure.  The
attitude of Western Union seemed ever more correct.

Finally, something had to be given to the public, because there were
mass celebrations, fireworks and cannons being shot off in cities
across the U.S., in anticipation of the public opening of the cable.
So, on August 16, an attempt to transmit Queen Victoria's formal
inaugural message to President Buchanan was made.  Only 25 of the 72
words of the Queen were copyable from the weak and wavery pulses that
arrived.  The cable was clearly not going to be able to support a
reliable commercial enterprise.  The public didn't know that, of
course, and Field and the <Niagara's> crew were treated as heroes at
New York, with a parade and endless celebrations and rhetoric at stops
all over the city.  By August 27, enough operation had been attained
so a short news dispatch from Europe could be printed in the {New York
Daily Tribune} as the world's first transoceanic press dispatch by
electrical means.  What wasn't being told was that it was taking hours
and hours to send only a few words, what with repeats and repeats
necessary to try to interpret the weak, wavery signals that had to be
detected with a candle-lit mirror galvanometer on which earth currents
registered higher than the actual signals.  Three operators at a time
had to stand and watch the beam trace on a wall at Newfoundland and
make a majority guess about what the intended character was that was
coming in.

Delays on the cable didn't get any better, and by a month later, on
September 26, the press was frustrated to the point that the <New York
Leader> printed. "Have we a pack of asses among us and are they
specially engaged in electrical experiments over the Atlantic cable?"
(Many of today's technologists can probably relate to that sort of
treatment.)  The original sending voltage applied to the cable had
been about 600 volts.  That British physician, Dr. Whitehouse, made
one of the classic mistakes that's still today being made by
telecommunications users -- when the signals didn't get through, he
raised the voltage.  Now, Lord Kelvin, the physicist director of the
Atlantic Telegraph Company, had reservations, but he was overridden by
the non-technical "chief electrician," Dr.  Whitehouse.  Whitehouse
cobbled together apparatus to raise the sending voltage to about 2,000
volts -- and the cable's insulation failed!

After only three months of use and a total of 732 messages, the first
cable across the Atlantic Ocean went dead, apparently forever.
Western Union's plan to go around the world the long way was again
shown to be the best.  Many people believed that Cyrus Field had
actually committed a hoax that could outdo any of P.T. Barnum.  An
investigation was held by the British government in the interests of
shareholders of Atlantic Telegraph.  Field's own business was drenched
in debt, and he managed only by personal influence to get that
forgiven ... and he once again started in.

Meantime, the technology was improving, and Charles Bright in England
was beginning to knit together Queen Victoria's empire, with cables
that moved outward, first to Portugal, then to Gibraltar, and through
the Mediterranean to the Suez.  Submarine cable telegraphy over great
distances was beginning to prove itself in.  Werner von Siemens was
engaged in a race to reach India overland, while Charles Bright was
trying to beat him with a submarine cable route.  Siemens eventually
won (with a far longer telegraph line than the one trumpeted in
American history for crossing North America), but Bright was not far
behind, and Bright's work went on to connect South Africa and extend
from India to Singapore to Australia within a short time, plus many
spurs and waystations throughout Victoria's empire.

With his close knowledge of Bright's successes, Field was able to once
again establish a project for the Atlantic Telegraph Company.  British
investors again rose to the challenge of backing a new attempt.  Among
them were self-interested people like John Pender a member of
Parliament, John Chatterton, who made insulating material and R.A.
Glass, a partner in the burgeoning Glass, Elliot that was making
cables for Charles Bright to lay all over the world.  Americans were
still somnolent, preferring to take the advice of Western Union, in
spite of Charles Bright's successes going around the world easterly
from England to reach an ultimate goal of Australia by cable with his
Eastern Telegraph Company, which was to become the antecedent of
today's Cable and Wireless.  The Atlantic Telegraph Company took on
such a British complexion that Field's name virtually dropped from the
Brittanica for half a century.  In England, the Gutta Percha Company
and Glass, Elliott merged into the Telegraph Construction and
Maintenance Company, which wound up laying all of Bright's Eastern
Telegraph and most of the submarine telegraph cables of the rest of
the world, too.  TC&M came up with an improved cable design based on
its experience around the world, fabricated a new cable that was three
times the diameter of the failed 1858 cable and weighed in at 9,000
tons in one 2,300 mile piece.  To handle this chunk of copper and
iron, TC&M had to purchase the largest ship in the world at the time,
a ship sailors regarded as jinxed, the 700 foot long cargo ship
originally named <Leviathan>, renamed it <Great Eastern> and fitted it
out to be a cable ship.  The task of merely coiling up the 2,300 miles
of cable in the three circular tanks of the ship took from January to
June, 1865.  A crew of 500 was needed to operate the ship, of which
200 were needed merely to raise its anchor.  Supporting this crew and
feeding it meant the <Great Eastern> carried a dozen oxen for deck
work, plus twenty pigs for breeding meat while at sea, and a cow.
Finally, on July 23, 1865 the <Great Eastern> started off from
Valentia to attempt retracing the route of seven years earlier.

This attempt was almost as problem-filled as the first failed one in
1857.  Several times, faults were found in the wire as it was paid
out, and the operation had to stop for cable repairs on deck.  On
August 2, the cable broke after laying 1,186 miles of cable, and the
end was lost to the ocean floor.  Dragging and grappling for it for
nine days, and losing the end after snagging it twice more than two
miles under the water, the attempt was abandoned on August 11, 1865,
and the expedition turned back to England.

This time, a new company had to be formed, called the Anglo-American
Telegraph Company, which made 1,600 miles of more new cable, with
again three times the tensile strength of even the previous year's
cable.  Again, <Great Eastern> and its fleet set off from Valentia
Bay, Ireland, and started westward.  The cable was, as in all previous
attempts, operated from the deck of the ship, and was connected back
through to England, so the English public knew of the progress.  (This
may have been the world's first press reports from the deck of a ship
at sea, since in earlier attempts, the cable, while being operated,
had not been connected through to shore.)  After a relatively
trouble-free run of laying 1,896 miles of cable, <Great Eastern>
arrived offshore from Heart's Content, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland.
Being so large, <Great Eastern> could not approach the shore closely,
so a smaller ship took aboard the shore end to make the connection to
the cable station that had waited there for a replacement for eight
years.  The inhabitants were overjoyed, and celebrated, of course.  On
July 27, 1866 Daniel Gooch, the cable laying engineer on board <Great
Eastern>, sent a message back down the cable just before cutting the
shore end off for transport to the cable station, informing Lord
Stanley, the British Foreign Secretary, that the New World was once
again connected with the Old.

Cyrus Field was still there, and had ridden along on board <Great
Eastern> (yet another tradition one sees in ocean cable laying to this
day -- top executives go along for the ride when a new cable is being
laid), and as before, he rushed ashore to telegraph the news to the
U.S., but the line down to the States was out of order.  He finally
got to inform the U.S. two days after the transatlantic portion was
completed, on July 29, with a message dated July 27.  This time, days
and days of "testing" were not required, so Queen Victoria and (now)
President Andrew Johnson exchanged formal opening messages on July 29,
1866.

As an aftermath to final success, <Great Eastern> sailed back to sea,
and after 30 attempts, managed to grapple the end of the 1865 cable it
had lost the year before, splice to it, and lay a new end to Heart's
Content.  This meant that the first successful cable crossed the
Atlantic on July 27, 1866 (with service to the U.S. on July 29) was
duplicated on September 9, 1866.  So, the first successful route had
two cables from very early days.

As to operating details, the speed of transmission was eight words per
minute (a speed that many submarine telegraph cables operated at for
decades afterwards), and the rate for twenty words or less,
*including* address, date and signature, was $100 in gold or $150 in
greenback banknotes (which weren't any sort of "hard currency" in
those days), while additional words were $5 in gold, $7.50 in
greenbacks *each*.

Finally, on February 27, 1867, Western Union, after having its project
stalled badly by Siberian winters, abandoned its attempt to reach
Europe by way of Alaska and Siberia.  (Western Union began to purchase
into the operations of Anglo-American and would eventually lay a dozen
or more submarine cables across the Atlantic, in addition to those of
its competitors from France and Germany that landed in the U.S.  By
1928, there were 21 telegraph cables across the Atlantic to Canada and
the U.S. As well, Western Union's expedition to Alaska has very clear
ties to the U.S.  purchasing Alaska from Russia, but that's beyond the
focus of this story.)

So, on either August 5, August 16 or August 27, 1858, there was
telegraph connectivity of a feeble sort between the U.S. and the U.K.
for three months, or beginning July 29, 1866 there was finally a
permanent route.

However, that was *still* not a "cable between the U.S. and the U.K."
That was a route via Canada.  And, even though the French Atlantic
Cable Company laid a "direct" cable to the U.S.  from Brest via St.
Pierre et Miquelon to Duxbury, Massachusetts, completing that first
"direct U.S." cable on July 23, 1869, that cable went to France, not
to the U.K.

Finally, there was a direct competitor to Anglo-American between the
U.S. and the U.K. built sometime in 1870, by the Siemens Brothers, who
were largely the only real competitors of the British Bright/Pender/Glass
and affiliates operations around the world.  The Direct United States
Cable Company started to lay a cable from Ballinskelligs Bay, Ireland
to Newfoundland, but was stonewalled by Anglo-American's exclusive
landing rights with the Newfoundland government.  So, Direct U.S.
landed its cable at Halifax, Nova Scotia, then laid a connecting
undersea cable from Halifax down to Rye Beach, New Hampshire.  If you
want to be a purist about when the first DIRECT U.S. - U.K. cable was
laid, it would have to be the Siemens-made Direct U.S. cable of 1870.
(Siemens, by the way, makes a false claim in advertising that it "laid
the first transatlantic cable in 1870."  That's obviously modern
corporate ignorance showing in full-page ads.  As you can see, there's
plenty of documented history that negates Siemens' claim.)

The heyday of submarine telegraph cables is one full of history and
quite some adventure.  There are stories like the time a U.S. Coast
Guard cutter fired shots across the bow of a Western Union cableship
that attempted to land an unauthorized cable at Miami Beach.  In both
WWI and WWII, an accepted act of war was to cut the enemy's submarine
telegraph cables, splice onto them, and run them ashore to your own
cable station -- and *keep* the captured cable after the war.  Germany
lost its cables to the U.S. in both World Wars that way, while the
Allies cut Japanese cables throughout the Pacific, and only put them
back together after the wars.  Stories abound about laying submarine
cable right on top of the earth to cross whole islands and subcontinents,
as an expedient way to establish a route, and it is even pretty well shown
that Pender's Eastern Telegraph people probably did the first intentional
jamming of an early Marconi radio demonstration in England back near
the turn of the century.  In fact, there was nobody else on the radio
to do any jamming at that time!

The global network of British submarine telegraph cables had reached a
staggering 155,000 *nautical* miles by the mid-1950's, before other
means of international communications began to atrophy it.  I have no
figures for the total of all companies of all nations, but it is
probably double that mileage, a figure that has not yet nearly been
approached in total route mileage since the first transatlantic
telephone cable of more than a century after that first transatlantic
telegraph attempt.

Oh, technologically, it was Britain's Telegraph Construction &
Maintenance that came up with the concept of "coaxial" cables and
polythene (later to become polyethylene) plastic insulation an
improvement used in some of the last of the submarine telegraph
cables, to which Bell Labs added "continuous loading" with permalloy
tape.  The combination got the speed of submarine telegraph cables up
to as much as 2,800 characters per minute by 1928.  This permitted a
transmission rate high enough that Western Union even offered a
"cablephoto" facsimile service in competition with RCA's "radiophotos"
via shortwave radio.  However, transmitting a cablephoto ate up the
total capacity of a cable that could handle far more revenue in
cablegrams, so the cablephoto offering saw very little real use.

I hope this long answer to your short question wasn't boring.  There's
just far, far more to what actually was accomplished many years ago
than most corporately-biased history books will tell.

How about some digital telephony trivia: Did you know that the first
Bell Labs mathematical paper defining how to transmit speech digitally
dates to 1914?  That the first PCM channel bank was actually built at
STC in England by Alec Reeves in 1937?  Of course, it was a roomful of
vaccum tubes then.  There's so much rich history in telecommunications
 -- and we're about to see much of it get lost in a wave of revolutionary
new technology if we don't get it documented now!

                  =============================

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note:  <amid much applause from the Editor
and readers >  ... indeed Don, telecommunications history is very
rich with details such as the reports you send us from time to time,
and it *would* be lost forever if efforts were not made to document
it. That is one reason why the Telecom Archives exists in the compre-
hensive way it does, and why a large sub-directory within the Archives
is devoted to /history ... that people might be aware of how things in
telecom came to be the way they are; that they might be made aware of
the early efforts of others, even more than a century ago, that brought
us to the point we are at today.

This special issue of TELECOM Digest will be filed in the Archives in
the /history sub-directory for future reference. The Archives can be
accessed using anonymous ftp lcs.mit.edu. Login anonymous, then use
yourname@yoursite as password. When connected, 'cd telecom-archives'.
After reviewing the master directory, then 'cd directory-of-choice' to
read the many files available.  If you need to use email to access the
Archives, then the Telecom Archives Email Information Service is avail-
able to you. Simply write me and request the archives help file.

In addition to the history section, we have:

    George Gilder -- an entire directory devoted to his essays;
    country.codes -- an entire directory devoted to dialing instructions
                     when calling other countries from the USA

    a variety of technical reports, along with the past thirteen years
    of TELECOM Digest back issues ... and a lot more.

Much of this is possible because the International Telecommunication
Uhion in Geneva, Switzerland supports TELECOM Digest with a generous
monthly grant which partially funds my work with the Digest and the
Archives. The remainder of the funding comes from readers such as yourself
who wish to participate and help out as they see fit.

Of course without MIT's donation of space for the Archives, they would
not be possible, nor would the Digest itself without the patience and
cooperation of Northwestern University's Department of Electrical
Engineering and Computer Science, which provides the resources for
publishing the Digest and maintaining the Archives.

Enjoy the Archives and the Digest, and have a great weekend!

Patrick Townson
TELECOM Digest Editor

 
 
 

1. History of Underseas Cables

        I was surprised that in the excellent series of articles on
telegraph and telephone cables there was no mention of Arthur C.
Clarke's fine book "Voice Across the Sea" (Harper, 1958).  I don't
know whether it's in print anymore, but it is very well written and
worth finding.  It gives the full history of the early cables, and
proceeds through early radio telephone connections through the first
AT&T voice cables in the 1950s.

David Ofsevit    Digital Equipment Corp. (for identification only)

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Perhaps our resident historian on these
things, Don Kimberlin will respond to your comment.   PAT]

2. Pointers vs References

3. Footnote to A History of Underseas Cables

4. ObtainBestPen()

5. History of Underseas Cables

6. FS98 is great! Don't believe all the whiners!

7. Footnote to A History of Underseas Cables

8. Dialer

9. Telegraph History - More on USA Cable History

10. Underseas Cable Data

11. History Retain Timer - Hidden SHOW ISDN history command

12. Submarine Cable History

13. Telegraph History - What About Rye Beach Cable Station?