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Transatlantic Cable


In 1866 a transatlantic cable was laid along the ocean floor to carry telegraph messages from North America to Europe. But this success had been long-awaited: it followed four failed attempts to lay the wire. In 1854 American financier Cyrus W. Field (18191892) founded the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company (two years later renamed the Atlantic Telegraph Company). He became determined to connect America and Europe with a submarine telegraph cable, which would greatly improve communication. Cables laid in 1857 and 1858 broke. A third cable was put down later in 1858 and it successfully carried messages across the Atlantic for a period of four weeks before it broke. A fourth wire was put down between Newfoundland (Canada), and Ireland in 1865, but before the project was completed, it too broke. The following year, aided by a cable developed by British mathematician and physicist William Thomson (18241907), the project was finally a success. Thomson, who had been a chief consultant during the laying of the first cable in 18571858, developed a theory on the mechanics of submarine cables, and a cable following his specifications was successfully laid, from east to west, between Valentia, Ireland, and Heart's Content, Newfoundland. The crewmen who worked on that project were also able to repair the cable laid in 1865. By 1900 there were fifteen telegraph cables lying on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, enabling telegrams (called "cables" when they were intercontinental) to be transmitted between the United States or Canada and Europe. The development was a tremendous boom to communication. Prior to the transatlantic telegraph cable (1866), the fastest way to send a message across the ocean was aboard a ship. The telephone (invented 1875), which allows voice transmission over electrical wires, gradually replaced the telegraph. But for many decades the two technologies were both in use.

See also: AT&T, Alexander Graham Bell, Telegraph

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