January 29, 2017

Transatlantic Cable Story

…the grandest work which has ever been attempted by the genius and enterprise of man – New York Herald, 1857

In the mid 1800’s, the British economy was growing on a global scale, largely due to the empire, while the younger US economy was looking to exploit the burgeoning home market. As the industrial revolution powered ahead, there were many innovative technologies emerging such as the steam engine and the subsequent linking of towns via extensive rail networks. The need for communications along these lines drove the development of another breakthrough technology, the telegraph.

Enabled by the efficient signalling techniques proposed by Samuel Morse, an extensive telegraph network grew across the US and within the larger European countries. Although there were some underwater cables linking Ireland to mainland Britain and onward to Europe, they travelled short distances and in shallow waters.

The Transatlantic Cable which was envisaged by the great US Entrepreneur Cyrus Field in 1854 was a hugely different undertaking as it would require a cable twenty times longer than anything that had existed previously, would require ships the size of which didn’t exist, would require multi million dollar investment, would lay the cable at depths which had never been demonstrated and would require new scientific endeavours to determine if a signal could be sent along such a long single piece of copper wire.