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Ocean Cables

Ocean Cables Collection

History Archive - Ocean Cables Collection

Ocean cable telegraph lines were laid from shore to shore beneath the sea. The first Atlantic cable was successfully laid in 1866 by Cyrus W. Field. Submarine telegraph lines had already for some years been in operation over short distances. Coney Island and Fire Island had been successfully connected. In Europe a cable had been laid from Dover to Calais, and many others over distances less than a hundred miles. In deeper waters, also, cables had been laid, one from Newfoundland to Cape Breton and another from Spezia to Corsica.

In 1857 Mr. Field made his first attempt to lay a cable under the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Valentia in Ireland. This attempt failed, as did several others. In 1858 a cable was laid which worked at first but became silent after a few weeks. In 1865 the Great Eastern took on board a vast cable weighing 20,000 tons, and laid 1,200 miles of it, when by a sudden lurch of the ship the cable was snapped. The next year's attempt was, however, successful. The cable, 2,000 miles long, was safely stretched across the ocean, and submarine communication was an accomplished fact. Its first message was the news that a treaty had been signed by Prussia and Austria.

By 1903 there were 16 cables carrying messages through the Atlantic Ocean, besides three that are no longer used. But the greatest triumph of cable-laying was the completion of the British Pacific cable, 7,800 nautical miles long, which now connects British Columbia with Australia. In 1903 an American cable was laid to the Philippines from San Francisco by way of Hawaii. Thus, by means of the overland telegraph and the submarine cable, it is now possible to transmit a message in a few hours to almost any country on the globe.

Submarine Cables are laid on the bottom of the sea. They require not only good insulation, but great tensile strength, else they will not support their own weights when lowered from the vessel to the bottom of the sea. This tensile strength is acquired by wrapping the guttapercha insulation with a sheathing of steel wire. There now are 16 cables of this type across the Atlantic Ocean, each carrying two copper conductors. Each of these conductors is capable of transmitting about 20 words a minute.


The New Student's Reference Work (1914) pg. 300

Available Books


Image Name
The Reels of Gutta-Percha-Covered Conducting-Wire Conveyed into Tanks at the Works at Greenwich
The Cable Passed from the Works into the Hulk Lying in the Thames at Greenwich
The Cliffs, Foilhummerum Bay : Point of the Landing of the Shore End of Cable, July 22
Interior of One of the Tanks on Board the Great Eastern : Cable Passing Out
Title Page - Weighing Anchor off the Maplin Sands, Nore, July 15, 1865
Forward Deck Cleared for the Final Attempt at Grappling, August 11
Splicing the Cable (After the First Accident) on Board the Great Eastern, July 25
Getting Out One of the Large Buoys for Launching, August 2
The Atlantic Telegraph [Chart] (1865)
The Atlantic Telegraph [Map] (1865)
Coiling the Cable in the After-Tank on Board the Great Eastern at Sheerness : Visit of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales on May 24.
View (Looking Aft) from the Port Paddle-Box of Great Eastern : Showing the Trough for Cable, etc.
Back Cover
Foilhummerum Bay Bay, Valentia, from Cornwall Fort : The Caro-Line and Boats Laying the Earth-Wire, Jul 21
In the Bows, August 2 : The Cable Broken and Lost : Preparing to Grapple
H.M.S. Agamemnon Laying the Atlantic Telegraph Cable in 1858 : A Whale Crosses the Line
General View of Port Magee, &c., from the Heights Below Cora Beg : The Caroline Laying the Shore End of the Cable, July 22
Foilhummerum Bay, Valentia, Looking Seawards from the Point at Which the Cable Reaches the Shore
Map Showing the Proposed Ocean Telegraphs and Overland Route Round the World
The Great Eastern Under Weight, July 23 : Escort and Other Ships Introduced Being the Terrible, the Sphinx, the Hawk, and the Caroline
Valentia in 1857-1858 at the Time of the Laying of the Former Cable
Telegraph House, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland : Interior of Mess-Room 1858
Searching for Fault After Recovery of the Cable from the Bed of the Atlantic, July 31
Trinity Bay, Newfoundland : Exterior View of Telegraph House in 1857-1858
Front Cover
Launching Buoy on August 8, in Lat. 51° 25' 30''; Long. 30° 56' (Marking Spot Where Cable had Been Grappled)
The Old Frigate with Her Freight of Cable Alongside the Great Eastern at Sheerness
Chart, Showing the Track of the Steam-Ship Great Eastern on Her Voyage from Valentia to Newfoundland
The Forge on Deck : Night of August 9 : Preparing the Iron Plating for Capstan
Coiling the Cable in the Large Tanks at the Works at Green-Wich
Paying-Out Machinery
The Great Eastern (1865)


Map Name
The Atlantic Telegraph - Chart, Showing the Track of the Steam-Ship Great Eastern on Her Voyage from Valentia to Newfoundland (1865)


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