New York, Newfoundland, & London
Telegraph Company

Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company

Atlantic Telegraph Company

Anglo-American Telegraph Company

Direct United States Cable Company

Commercial Cable Company

Historical Notes

We must remember that (in 1854) whilst one part of the project, the land line (between New York and Nova Scotia) and the connection across the Gulf (of St. Lawrence, between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland) was practicable and feasible, the main project of an Atlantic cable (between North America and Europe) was looked upon by ninety-nine men out of every hundred as the wild project of a Yankee lunatic; even on the very eve of its completion, the London Times declared it was a visionary and utterly impracticable undertaking.

Daniel Woodley Prowse, Judge of the Central District Court of Newfoundland
on page 639 of his History of Newfoundland, 1895, London

In 1895, the cable is no longer a wonder and a marvel, but as one sits through the long watches of the night, with both continents at rest, and notes the beginning of the business day in Europe, and later on the rush from America, watching by the cable instrument, we appear almost to hear the eager steps of the busy multitudes in two worlds; to the tired operator it is mere ordinary business, but to the onlooker, this joining of the hemispheres, and the complete annilhilation of time and space, will always appear as the most wonderful achievement in an age of scientific marvels.

— D.W. Prowse, Judge of the Central District Court of Newfoundland
on page 641 of his History of Newfoundland.

The Wayback Machine has archived copies of single pages of
History of Newfoundland
by D.W. Prowse

Prowse, page 628   Archived: 1999 November 28

Prowse, page 629   Archived: 1999 November 28

Prowse, page 630   Archived: 1999 November 28

Prowse, page 631   missing (no archived copy found)

Prowse, page 632   Archived: 2000 March 05

Prowse, page 633   Archived: 2000 March 05

Prowse, page 634   missing (no archived copy found)

Prowse, page 635   Archived: 1999 November 28

Prowse, page 636   Archived: 1999 November 28

Prowse, page 637   Archived: 1999 November 28

Prowse, page 638   Archived: 1999 November 29

Prowse, page 639   Archived: 1999 November 29

Prowse, page 640   Archived: 1999 November 29

Prowse, page 641   Archived: 2000 March 06

Prowse, page 642   Archived: 1999 November 27

Prowse, pages 643 and 644   missing (no archived copies found)

Prowse, page 645   Archived: 1999 November 27

Prowse, page 646   Archived: 1999 November 27

Prowse, page 647   Archived: 1999 November 27

Prowse, page 648   Archived: 1999 November 27

Prowse, page 649   Archived: 1999 November 27

Prowse, page 650   Archived: 2000 March 25

Prowse, page 651   Archived: 1999 November 27

Every adequate history of the early (1850-1910) development of telecommunications in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick must pay close attention to the vital part played by Newfoundland.

Donald R. Tarrant

A highly underdocumented aspect of Newfoundland's history is its role in transatlantic communications.  During the 1850s, Newfoundland played a leading role in attempts to bridge the Atlantic, as its geographic location made it the natural choice as the western terminus for transatlantic cables.  Every adequate history of the early (1850-1910) development of telecommunications in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick must pay close attention to the vital part played by Newfoundland...

Atlantic Sentinel by Donald R. Tarrant, published 1999 by Flanker Press, St. John's, Newfoundland, ISBN 1894463005

    Special Topics:
•  #   General Overview
•  #   Earliest Suggestion, Newfoundland Telegraph 8 November 1850
•  #   New York, Newfoundland, & London Telegraph Company April 1854
•  #   Peter Cooper (1791-1883) first president of the NYN&L Telegraph Co.
•  #   Peter Cooper's autobiography
•  #   Laying the Cabot Strait Cable August 1855
•  #   The First Telegraph Cable across Cabot Strait
•  #   Atlantic Telegraph Company December 1856
•  #   Alexander McLellan Mackay (1834-1905)
•  #   Samuel Cunard Sends Telegrams across the Atlantic 1858
•  #   Why the 1858 Cable Failed
•  #   TransAtlantic Telegraph Rates August 1866
•  #   The First Encrypted Message 26 November 1866
•  #   Atlantic Telegraph Cable Routes 20 June 1873
•  #   Why the Companies Were Merged in 1873
•  #   Prowse: A History of Newfoundland (excerpts from)
•  #   Direct United States Cable Co. startup, 1873
•  #   Commercial Cable Company Co. startup, 1883

#   First Direct New York Cable
#   Cable Ship Mackey-Bennett

•  #   Direct United States Cable Co. ad 1893
•  #   Western Union Telegraph Co. ad 1893

#   “Cablegram” versus “Telegram”


General Overview

In the spring of 1852, the Newfoundland Legislature passed an act to incorporate the Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company, authorizing it to build and operate an electric telegraph line across Newfoundland, between St. John's and Cape Ray.  It was also authorized to build several branch telegraph lines, including one to Trepassey.  The company was given exclusive rights to all telegraph operations in Newfoundland for thirty years.  However, it went bankrupt late in 1853.

On 15th April 1854, an Act, entitled "An Act to incorporate a company under the style and title of the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company," was passed by the Newfoundland Legislature.  The New York, Newfoundland, & London Telegraph Company was legally organized in the spring of 1854, and soon acquired the assets of the bankrupt Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company.

In December 1856, the Atlantic Telegraph Company was organized in Great Britain by Cyrus Field and John W. Brett, with Sir Charles Bright.  The Atlantic Telegraph Company was founded to establish communication by electric telegraph between Ireland and Newfoundland and the attempt to lay the first cable, over 2000 miles in length, took place in 1857.  It was unsuccessful, as was the second attempt in 1858, although connection was maintained for long enough to demonstrate the feasibility of such a cable.

In 1873, the New York, Newfoundland, & London Telegraph Company was merged with the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, and the combined companies continued in operation under the Anglo-American Telegraph Company name.

In 1883, the Commercial Cable Company was organized by J.W. Mackay and J.G. Bennett to lay a telegraph cable across the North Atlantic Ocean, to operate in competition with the other transatlantic telegraph companies.


8 November 1850

First Published Suggestion
of a Telegraph Line Across Newfoundland

The first link in the electric chain
which will unite
the Old World and the New

To the Editor of The Courier:
Sir: I regret to find that, in every plan for transatlantic communication, Halifax is always mentioned, and the natural capabilities of Newfoundland entirely overlooked.  This has been deeply impressed on my mind by the communication I read in your paper of Saturday last [2 November 1850] , regarding telegraphic communication between England and Ireland, in which it is said that the nearest telegraphic station on the American side is Halifax, twenty-one hundred and fifty-five miles from the west of Ireland.  Now would it not be well to call the attention of England and America to the extraordinary capabilities of St. John's, as the nearest telegraphic point? It is an Atlantic port, lying, I may say, in the track of the ocean steamers, and by establishing it as the American telegraphic station, news could be communicated to the whole American continent forty-eight hours, at least, sooner than by any other route.  But how will this be accomplished? Just look at the map of Newfoundland and Cape Breton.  From St. John's to Cape Ray there is no difficulty in establishing a line passing near Holy-Rood along the neck of land connecting Trinity and Placentia Bays, and thence in a direction due west to the Cape.  You have then about forty-one to forty-five miles of sea to St. Paul's Island, with deep soundings of one hundred fathoms 180 metres, so that the electric cable will be perfectly safe from icebergs.  Thence to Cape North, in Cape Breton, is little more than twelve miles.  Thus it is not only practicable to bring America two days nearer to Europe by this route, but should the telegraphic communication between England and Ireland, sixty-two miles, be realized, it presents not the least difficulty.  Of course, we in Newfoundland will have nothing to do with the erection, working, and maintenance of the telegraph; but I suppose our Government will give every facility to the company, either English or American, who will undertake it, as it will be an incalculable advantage to this country.  I hope the day is not far distant when St. John's will be the first link in the electric chain which will unite the Old World and the New.

(signed) J.T.M. [Bishop Mullock, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland]

This letter was dated 8 November 1850, and was published soon after in the Newfoundland Courier.

The complete text of this letter is quoted on pages 7-8 of the book The Story of the Atlantic Telegraph, by Henry M. Field, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1903.  Henry M. Field was a brother of Cyrus W. Field, one of the founding shareholders of the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company.

The complete text also appears on pages 9-10 of Atlantic Sentinel by Donald R. Tarrant, published 1999 by Flanker Press, St. John's, Newfoundland, ISBN 1894463005


15 April 1854

New York, Newfoundland, & London
Telegraph Company

On 15th April 1854, an Act, entitled "An Act to incorporate a company under the style and title of the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company," was passed by the Newfoundland Legislature.

Sections 14 and 15 of this Act read as follows:

§14 — The corporation hereby created shall have the sole and exclusive right to build, make, occupy, take or work the said line or any line of telegraphs between St. John's and Cape Ray, or between any other points in this island, (excepting only the existing line between St. John's and Carbonear,) for the full period of fifty years from the passing of this Act, subject, nevertheless, to the right of pre-emption by the Government of this colony, as hereinafter provided; and during the said period of fifty years no other person or persons, body or bodies, politic or corporate, shall be permitted to construct, purchase, take or operate any line or lines of telegraph on this island, or to extend, to enter upon, or touch any part of this island, or the coast thereof, or of the islands or places within the jurisdiction of the Government of this colony with any telegraphic cable, wire, or other means of telegraphic communication, from any other island, country or place whatsoever: Provided, however, that if the said line of telegraph shall not have been completed from St. John's to Cape Ray or other point on the western coast of Newfoundland, and a communication by telegraph across Prince Edward Island, or the island of Cape Breton, or otherwise, established with the continent of America, within five years from the passing of this Act, the exclusive privileges granted by this section shall cease.

§15 — If at any time after twenty years from the passing of this Act it shall be deemed advisable by the Governor in Council that the lines of telegraph and other property of the said company shall be transferred to and vested in the Government of this island, it shall be lawful for the Governor to cause a written notice to be given to the said company, which shall be served upon the President, or Director or Manager in this island, which notice shall state that the Government has decided upon becoming the holder of the said lines and other property, and thereupon the Governor and company shall each choose an arbitrator, and the arbitrators so chosen shall appraise the telegraph lines, wires, cables, apparatus, vessels, and all other property connected therewith, and if they cannot agree they shall choose a third as umpire, and if they do not make such choice the Supreme Court shall appoint an umpire, and the appraisement of any two of them shall be taken as the true and just value of the said property, and after the expiration of one year from the time the award of the arbitrators shall have been communicated to the Government and the company, and after the payment made or tendered in manner hereinafter provided, all and singular the said telegraphic lines, wires, cables, apparatus, vessels, and other property so appraised shall become the property of Her Majesty, for the benefit and public use of this island, and shall be held thenceforth free and discharged from all claims of such company or shareholders thereof, or any person whomsoever, and the Government shall draw warrants on the treasurer of this colony for the payment to such company of the amount so awarded as aforesaid, and the payments in discharge of such warrants shall be made or tendered by the treasurer aforesaid to the President and Directors of the said company, or their Director or Manager in this island, as the Governor shall direct and appoint, but this section shall not apply to any lands granted to the said company by virtue of the 10th and 22nd sections of this Act, nor to the proceeds thereof, or any land or property purchased with such proceeds, nor to the bonuses to be paid to the said company, or to any land or property purchased with the same or any part thereof, nor to any mines or minerals, or the property connected with the management or working of such mines or minerals.


December 1856

Atlantic Telegraph Company

Cyrus West Field (1819-1892), with Peter Cooper (1791-1883), Moses Taylor (1806-1882), Marshall Owen Roberts (1814-1880) and Chandler White, formed the New York, Newfoundland & London Telegraph Company, which procured a more favourable charter than Gisborne's, and had a capital of $1,500,000.  Having secured all the practicable landing rights on the North American side of the ocean, Field, with John W. Brett, who was now his principal colleague, approached Sir Charles Bright in London, and in December 1856 the Atlantic Telegraph Company was organized by them in Great Britain, a government grant being secured of £14,000 annually for government messages, to be reduced to £10,000 annually when the cable reached a traffic level that would pay a 6% yearly dividend; similar grants were made by the United States government.
Cyrus West Field in the 11th (1911) edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica

Atlantic Telegraph Company by Wikipedia

The Atlantic Telegraph Company was incorporated on 31 October 1856.  The first Board of Directors was elected on 9 December 1856.
Chapter 44, Pages 622-624 The telegraph manual: a complete history and description of the semaphoric, electric and magnetic telegraphs of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, ancient and modern., by Taliaferro Preston Shaffner, published 1859.


Peter Cooper

Peter Cooper (1791-1883), built the Canton Iron Works about 1828 in Baltimore, Maryland, the foundation of his great fortune.  He designed and built the first steam locomotive constructed in the United States.  In the late 1850s, when Cooper was a principal investor and first president of the New York, Newfoundland & London Telegraph Company, the firm undertook one of the l9th century's monumental technical enterprises – laying the first transatlantic underwater telegraph cable.  Cooper's frequent cash advances to the company kept it afloat during the tough times between the failure of the 1858 cable and the ultimate success of the 1866 cable.  Cooper also was president of the North American Telegraph Company, which controlled more than one-half of the telegraph lines of the United States.  Peter Cooper was a remarkably far-sighted and innovative user of new technology — the Cooper Union's high-rise brownstone building, completed in 1859 in New York City at the intersection of Third Avenue with Seventh Street, is now the oldest existing structure in North America framed with steel beams.
Cooper, Peter in the 11th (1911) edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica

History of the Cooper Union


Peter Cooper's Autobiography

The following is excerpted from Peter Cooper's Autobiography:
...It is now [1877] twenty years since I became the president of the North American Telegraph Company, when it controlled more than one-half of all the lines then in the country; also president of the New York, Newfoundland, & London Telegraph Company.

An attempt had been made to put a line of telegraph across Newfoundland, on which some work had been done. Cyrus W. Field, Moses Taylor, Marshal O. Roberts, Wilson G. Hunt, and myself completed that work across the island of Newfoundland, and then laid a cable across the Gulf of St. Lawrence [Cabot Strait], intending it as the beginning of a line from Europe to America by telegraphic communication.  After one form of difficulty after another had been surmounted, we found that more than ten years had passed before we got a cent in return, and we had been spending money the whole time.  We lost the first cable laid, which cost some three or four thousand dollars, at the Gulf of St. Lawrence [Cabot Strait, between Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island].

Laying the Cabot Strait Cable
August 1855

We hired a vessel at seven hundred and fifty dollars a day, and we directed the steamer Adger to go to Cape Bay, and tow the vessel across the Gulf, in order to lay the cable.  We went to Port Basque, and found the vessel had not arrived.  We accordingly anchored in Port Basque until she did arrive, which was two days later.  On her arrival the captain was directed to take our vessel in tow, and carry her up to Cape Ray, where we had already prepared a telegraph house, from which to commence laying the cable.  On this telegraph house we placed a flag-staff, which was to be kept in line by the steamer, as she crossed the Gulf, with a certain very excellent landmark on the top of a mountain some three, four, or five miles distant, – a landmark which seemed to be made on purpose for our use.

We had an accident at starting.  We joined the ends of cable and brought one end into the telegraph house, and made everything ready to take the vessel in tow.  The captain was then directed to bring his steamer in line, take the vessel in tow, and carry her across the Gulf.  In doing that, he ran his steamer into the vessel, carried away her shrouds and quarter-rail, and almost ruined our enterprise the first thing, dragging the cable over the stern of the vessel with such force as to break the connection; and we were obliged the cut the cable and splice it again.

The captain of the steamer had failed entirely in trying to get hold of the vessel, and after we had mended the cable, and got everything ready for a second attempt, he was again ordered to take the vessel in tow.  We had provided ourselves with two large cables, two hundred feet long and four inches in diameter, as tow-lines, so as to be sure of having sufficient strength to tow the vessel in all kinds of weather; but the captain of the steamer so managed matters, in his second attempt to take the vessel in tow, as to get this cable entangled in the steamer's wheel, and he hallooed to the captain of the vessel to let his cable slip, in order to get this unentangled.  At this the captain of the vessel let go his cable and lost his anchor and one of our big cables, for we had to cut it, in order to disentangle it from the wheel.

After that was got loose there was the vessel without an anchor; and she was going rapidly down upon a reef of rocks, with a strong wind against her.  It was only with the greatest difficulty that we could get the captain of the Adger to go to her relief, and save her from being dashed on the rocks, with her forty men on board.  We had to expostulate with the captain of the steamer until the vessel was within two or three hundred feet of the rocks, before he would consent to attempt her rescue; and by the merest good luck we got out a rope to her and saved her from going on the rocks, when she was so close to the shore that we could almost have thrown a line there.

The captain of the steamer, however, got hold of the vessel at last, and brought her back to her place in the harbor, where we had to renew the connection of our cable, and prepare again to start.

The third attempt to take hold of the vessel was successful, and on a beautiful morning we started to lay the cable across the Gulf [Cabot Strait]. In a very little while I discovered that we were getting out of line with the marks that the captain had been directed to steer by. As president of the line, I called the matter to the attention of the captain. The answer I got was, "I know how to steer my ship: I steer by my compass."  It went on a little while longer, and finding that he was still going farther out of the line, I called his attention to the fact again, and so on, again and again, for some time, until he had got some eight or ten miles out of line. I then said to him, "Captain, we shall have to hold you responsible for the loss of this cable."  We got a lawyer on board to draw up a paper to present to him, stating that we should hold him responsible for the loss of the cable, as he had not obeyed the orders of Mr. Buchanan, as agreed on. After we had served this paper on him, he turned the course of his ship, and went just as far from the line in the other direction.

He had also agreed not to let his vessel go more than a mile and a half an hour, as it was impossible, under the circumstances, to pay out the cable faster than a mile and a half an hour. It was discovered, however, that he was running his vessel faster and faster, while Mr. Buchanan hallooed, "Slower, slower," until finally the captain got a kink in the cable, and was obliged to stop. This happened several times.

So much delay took place that, when it was late in the afternoon, we had not laid over forty miles of the cable out of the eighty miles that we had to go in crossing the Gulf.  Then a very severe gale came up, and raged with such violence that the steamer, "Victoria," which was a small one, came near being swamped; and in order to save that vessel, and the forty men on board of her, we were compelled to cut the cable.

Subsequently we sent a vessel to take up that part of the cable; and it was then found that we had payed out twenty-four miles of cable, and had gone only nine miles from shore.  We had spent so much money, and lost so much time, that it was very vexatious to us to have our enterprise defeated in the way it was, by the stupidity and obstinacy of one man.  This man was one of the rebels that fired the first guns upon Fort Sumter [Charleston, South Carolina, 12 April 1861].  The poor fellow is now dead.

Having lost this cable, we ordered another, and had it ready in a year or two.  This time we had a good man to put it down, and we had no trouble with it.
The second attempt, in the summer of 1856, to lay the
Cabot Strait cable between Newfoundland and Cape Breton
Island, was successful.  St. John's, Newfoundland, was now
connected with the North American electric telegraph system.

The great question then came up, What could we do about an ocean cable? After getting a few subscriptions here, which did not amount to much, we sent Mr. Field across the ocean, to see if he could get the balance of the subscriptions in England; and he succeeded, to the astonishment of almost everybody, because we had been set down as crazy people, spending our money as if it had been water.  Mr. Field succeeded in getting the amount wanted, and in contracting for a cable.  It was put on two ships which were to meet in mid-ocean.  They did meet, joined the two ends of the cable, and laid it down successfully.  We brought our end to Newfoundland, where we received over it some four hundred messages.  Very soon after it started, however, we found it began to fail, and it grew weaker and weaker, until at length it could not be understood any more.

It so happened that the few messages that we received over the cable were important to the English government; for it had arranged to transport a large number of soldiers from Canada to China in the war with the Chinese, and, just before the transports were to make sail, a telegram came stating that peace was declared.  This inspired the people of England with confidence in our final success.  This occurred just before the Crystal Palace burned down, and we had a meeting in the Crystal Palace to celebrate the great triumph of having received and sent messages across the ocean.

Samuel Cunard Sends Telegrams across the Atlantic

Our triumph was short-lived, for it was only a few days after that the cable had so weakened in transmitting that it could no longer be understood.  One-half the people did not now believe that we had ever had any messages across the cable.  It was all a humbug, they thought.  In the Chamber of Commerce the question came up about a telegraph line, and a man got up and said: "It is all a humbug.  No message ever came over."  At that Mr. Cunard arose, and said that "the gentleman did not know what he was talking about, and had no right to say what he had, and that he himself had sent messages and got the answers."  Mr. Cunard was a positive witness; he had been on the spot; and the man must have felt "slim" at the result of his attempt to cast ridicule on men whose efforts, if unsuccessful, were at least not unworthy of praise.

We succeeded in getting another cable, but, when we had got it about half-way over, we lost that as well.  Then the question seemed hopeless.  We thought for a long time that our money was all lost.

The matter rested some two years before anything more was done.  My friend Mr. Wilson G. Hunt used to talk to me often about it; for we had brought him into the Board some two or three years before.  He said he did not feel much interest in it, but he felt concerned about spending so much money; and he remarked that he was not sure, as we had spent so much money already about the telegraph line, but that we had better spend a little more.  So we sent Mr. Field out again.  We had spent so much money already, it was "like pulling teeth" out of Roberts and Taylor to get more money from them; but we got up the sum necessary to send Mr. Field out.

When he arrived there, Mr. Field said they laughed at him for thinking of getting up another cable.  They said that they thought the thing was dead enough, and buried deep enough in the ocean to satisfy anybody.  But Mr. Field was not satisfied.  Finally, he got hold of an old Quaker friend, who was a very rich man, and he so completely electrified him with the idea of the work that he put three or four hundred thousand dollars into it immediately to lay another cable, and in fourteen days after Mr. Field had got that man's name he had the whole amount of subscription made up, six millions of dollars.

The cable was made and put down, and it worked successfully.

We then went out to see if we could not pick up the other one [laid in 1858].  The balance of the lost cable was on board the ship.  The cable was found, picked up, and joined to the rest; and this wonder of the world was accomplished.  I do not think that feat is surpassed by any other human achievement.  The cable was taken out of water, two and a half miles deep, in mid-ocean.  It was pulled up three times, before it was saved.  They got it up just far enough to see it, and it would go down again, and they would have to do the work over again.  They used up all their coal, and spent ten or twelve days in "hooking" for the cable before it was finally caught.  But they succeeded: the two ends of the cable were brought in connection, and then we had two complete cables across the ocean.

Why the 1858 Cable Failed

In taking up the first cable, the cause of the failure was discovered.  It originated in the manufacture of the cable.  In passing the cable into the vat provided for it, where it was intended to lie under water all the time, until put aboard the ship, the workmen neglected to keep the water at all times over the cable; and on one occasion, when the sun shone very hotly down on this vat where the cable was lying uncovered, its rays melted the gutta-percha, so that the copper wire inside sunk down against the outer covering.  I have a piece of the cable which shows just how it occurred.  The first cable that was laid would have been a perfect success if it had not been for that error in manufacturing it.  The copper wire sagged down against the outside covering, and there was just a thin layer of gutta-percha to prevent it from coming in contact with the water.  In building the first cables, their philosophy was not so well understood as it is now; and so, when the cable began to fail, they increased the power [voltage] of the battery, and it is supposed that a spark of electricity passed off into the water.

After the two ocean cables had been laid successfully, it was found necessary to have a second cable across the Gulf of St. Lawrence [Cabot Strait].  Our delays had been so trying and unfortunate in the past that none of the stockholders, with the exception of Mr. Field, Mr. Taylor, Mr. Roberts, and myself, would take any interest in the matter.  We had to get the money by offering bonds, which we had power to do by charter; and these were offered at fifty cents on the dollar.  Mr. Field, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Taylor, and myself were compelled to take up the principal part of the stock at that rate, in order to get the necessary funds.  We had to do the business through the Bank of Newfoundland, and the bank would not trust the company, but drew personally on me.  I told them to draw on the company, but they continued to draw on me, and I had to pay the drafts or let them go back protested.  I was often out ten or twenty thousand dollars in advance, in that way, to keep the thing going.

After the cable became a success, the stock rose to ninety dollars per share, at which figure we sold out to an English company.  That proved to be the means of saving us from loss.  The work was finished at last, and I never have regretted it, although it was a terrible time to go through.

The Autobiography of Peter Cooper made available online by
Tadahisa (Tad) Kuroda, Professor of History, Skidmore College, Saratoga, New York

Map of the 1858 Atlantic Telegraph Cable
Map of the 1858 Atlantic Telegraph Cable

From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 21 August 1858


9 January 1856

The First Telegraph Cable across Cabot Strait

The Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company
Annual Report for 1855

...It was expected that the cable would have been successfully submerged from Newfoundland to Cape Breton the past summer [1855], and the Executive Committee have to express their great regret at the failure of the attempt in consequence of a storm arising while the parties were in the act of, and had submerged a great part of the submarine cable.  They have, however, every reason to believe that the attempt will be renewed at a more favorable time next summer [1856], and trust the work may be accomplished, which will connect Newfoundland with the continent of America, and as the Committee hope, ultimately with Europe...

Source: 1855 Annual Report of the Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company, dated in Halifax on 9th January 1856, and published as Appendix No. 6, pages 67-72 of Journal and Proceedings of the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia, Session 1856
CIHM: 9_00946_107

Transtlantic Telegraph historic site Aspy Bay, Cape Breton Island


26 November 1866

The First Encrypted Message

The New York, Newfoundland & London Telegraph Company
sues the United States government, and wins

On the early morning of 26 November 1866, before American Minister to France John Bigelow was out of bed, a secret encrypted cable from Secretary of State William Seward began arriving in the Paris telegraph office.  The dispatch's last installment was completed late the following afternoon.  News and rumors about the lengthy encoded telegram spread rapidly through the French governmental departments and the diplomatic corps, but Bigelow maintained a determined silence.  The first steamer [steam ship] from New York to arrive in France after the dispatch was written brought a reprint of the confidential cable in the pages of the New York Herald newspaper!

This strange episode in American foreign relations commenced a fascinating chapter in American cryptology history.  Moreover, the event shaped American State Department code books for the next two generations and provoked a costly lawsuit against the US Government.

Security Concerns

In August 1866, Bigelow had written to Seward praising the inauguration of the Atlantic cable, which he termed the "umbilical cord with which the old world is reunited to its transatlantic offspring."  Bigelow recognized the new challenges for communications security that accompanied the new Atlantic cable, completed on 28 July 1866.  He advised Seward to develop a new cipher for the exclusive use of the State Department so that Seward could communicate secretly with his diplomatic officers.  Even better, he suggested a different cipher for each of the legations overseas.

Bigelow was concerned that the State Department code – the Monroe Code – was no longer secret, for he believed copies of it were taken from the State Department archives by the "traitors to the government" working in an earlier administration.  Bigelow concluded by warning Seward that the Department should take steps to "clothe its communications with that privacy without which, oftentimes, they would become valueless."

Seward, replying to Bigelow's dispatch, dismissed the conjecture that traitors took copies of the code.  And he added an astonishing statement: the Department code, in service for at least half a century, is believed to be the "most inscrutable ever invented."  Because he held this opinion, Seward wrote that he rejected the offer of five or six new ciphers each year.

Costly Communications

Seward had first discussed the new transatlantic cable with the parent company, the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company, at a celebration in New York on 29 August 1866 honoring President Andrew Johnson.  At the conclusion of the evening's festivities, one of the directors of the company, Mr. Wilson G. Hunt, asked Seward why the Federal Government did not use the new Atlantic cable.  It was a question that would eventually lead to a $32,000 claim against the State Department.  Seward told Hunt that the tariff was too costly and that "the Government of the United States was not rich enough to use the telegraph."

In fact, the provisional tariff rates were very expensive: cable charges between America and Great Britain were $100 or 20 pounds sterling for messages of 20 words or less, including address, date, and signature.  Every additional "word" (five letters) cost 20 shillings.  Code or cipher messages charged double.  And all messages had to be paid in gold before transmission.
In November 1866, a gold dollar equalled about $1.40 in greenback currency.

Given the "oppressive and extortionate" cost of the tariff and faced with an immense Civil War debt, Seward told Hunt that the State Department would lose public confidence if it incurred the great expense of telegraphic communication under the existing tariff.  Moreover, Seward recognized that a code or cipher would have to be employed for telegraphic communication in order to maintain confidentiality.  Using the cipher code for a cable, Seward said, "increased the number of words about five times, and the expense of transmissions ten times."
The telegraph rate for coded messages was double the rate
for plaintext messages – because coded transmissions
required extra vigilance by the telegraphers all along the
line.  Increasing the number of characters in a telegram
(a "word" was carefully defined in the telegraph company's
rules as five letters or characters, regardless of the number
of letters in each word in the actual message) increased the
cost in proportion.  Five times as many characters meant the
cost would be five times higher, and the coding doubled this
to ten times.
ICS (18 September 2002)

After some discussion, in which each party apparently misunderstood the other's position, Hunt came away believing that he would soon receive a written message from Seward requesting lower rates.  Seward, in turn, believed he could send a trial message as an experiment for lowering rates, with Seward determining what the proper pay would be for the trial message.  The seeds of confusion grew when Seward failed to send the written communication to the company's proprietors.

Several months later the company, bowing to public pressure, lowered its rates.  Wilson Hunt then sent Seward a listing of the new prices.  Ten days after the new tariff went into effect on 1 November 1866, Seward sent in plain text the first State Department cable via the Western Union Telegraph Company.  It was a brief dispatch to John Bigelow in France telling him that his successor was embarking later that month.  Shortly after sending the plain-text message, Seward decided he needed to send a coded dispatch to Bigelow containing a warning, to be delivered to Emperor Napoleon III, about France's interventionist activities in Mexico.

A Historic Document

Seward believed it was necessary to send an encoded message to Bigelow because his highly confidential message would pass through the hands of American and foreign telegraphers.  But encoded American diplomatic dispatches had become a distinct rarity in the years after 1848.  The decline of encrypted diplomatic communications mirrored a new liberal tradition sweeping Great Britain.  In support of oppressed Polish leaders and others persecuted by Russia or Austria, the British abolished the secret foreign-letter monitoring branch of the Post Office along with the deciphering office.

Seward's decision to send the encrypted message was prompted by an alarming dispatch from Bigelow earlier in November about continuing French designs on Mexico.  Seward believed the message would be in accord with the trial cost agreement he thought he had reached with Wilson Hunt in August.  Expecting that Bigelow would read the message in its entirety to the Emperor, Seward left no word out for reasons of economy.

Seward's original plain-text message of 780 words, when encoded, grew to 1,237 number groups, with an additional 88 code symbols spelled out.  Moreover, there were more than 35 transmission errors, and some phrases were mistakenly repeated.  The dispatch, now 3,722 words long, took six hours to transmit.  This historic document became the first encoded American diplomatic dispatch to use the new Atlantic cable.

The State Department clerk who prepared the cable, John H. Haswell, later recalled that the cablegram "...was an important one addressed to our minister at Paris.  It caused the French to leave Mexico.  I was directed by the Secretary to send it in cipher, using the Department's code which had been in vogue since colonial times but seldom used."  Despite the age of the code, Haswell wrote that "it was a good one, but entirely unsuited for telegraphic communication.  Its cumbersome character, and what was of even more importance, the very great expense entailed by its use impressed me, and turned my attention to an arrangement for cipher communication by telegraph."

A Big Bill

And indeed the cable was expensive, especially in comparison with previous costs.  Earlier State Department monthly bills for using domestic telegraph lines were quite modest.  In September 1866, for example, the bill – with an 8-percent discount – came to $73.79.  For October, the bill was $76.34 and November (minus the encrypted message) $46.94.  But the charge for the 23 November encrypted message was $19,540.50!  This cost, together with other cables sent in November, added up to $24,996.12, an amount equal to the yearly salary of the President of the US and three times more than that paid to Seward.  The Secretary of State was unwilling, and unable, to pay the cable charges.

Further, the use of expensive encryption was questionable, given that Seward, only days later, testified in some detail before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on the subject of the dispatch.  And the Secretary of State provided the full plain text of the 23 November dispatch to the New York Herald!  For more than six decades, the Monroe Code had provided a limited degree of protection for diplomatic communication.  Seward's release of the information to the Senate Committee and to the Herald greatly lessened communications security and the value of the code.

At Seward's request, Wilson Hunt and Cyrus Field, the manager of the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company, met with the Secretary to discuss the bill.  Seward asked Field to accept a partial payment of between $5,000 and $6,000, based on the number of words in the original message before encryption.  Field, recognizing that Seward had no idea encipherment would be so expensive, questioned the Secretary's decision to use a code that had been in use since the formation of the nation.  Seward replied that a new, economical cipher would replace the old one.  And he promised that the company would eventually be paid in full and that the State Department would continue to use Field's company.  Seward's compromise offer was not accepted, and he ended the conversation by stating he would not pay the bill.  He did, however, invite the gentlemen to dine with him.

Someone leaked the news about the Seward-Field-Hunt exchange to the New York Herald. The newspaper reported inaccurately that the company had charged $25,000 for the November dispatch and that Seward had paid only $5,000.  The editor commented that the Herald had paid for all of its cable dispatches in gold before transmittal and had never made any request for "abatement or delay" in payment.  The editor concluded that "It is a shame for the United States Government not to be able to pay its telegraph bills as promptly as a New York newspaper."

More Trouble

Another cable dispute involving Seward began in March 1867, when the Russian Minister to the US sent an encrypted 1,833-word cable to St. Petersburg.  The cable was transmitted through the newly organized State Department telegraph office at a cost of close to $10,000.  The cable, which contained the basic treaty conditions for the purchase of Russian America for $7 million, was sent, according to the Russian Minister, at the "...request of Seward who pays for it..."  The charges for the cable thus were transferred to the American account, which by now had grown to over $42,000!

Wilson Hunt, acting on behalf of the telegraph company, made further efforts to recover the money from Seward.  Always a tough negotiator, Seward succinctly replied: "I have received and attentively read your letter of the 1st instant.  I am, dear sir, Your obedient servant." One week later, the cashier for the telegraph company asked the State Department accounting clerk if he could collect on the account and received a prompt "No."

A New Code

Seward's unhappiness with the cable costs for transmitting dispatches in the Monroe Code brought into existence the first new State Department code in fifty years.  This awkward code, devised for economy, was based on the letters of the alphabet.  The 23 words used most frequently in dispatches were assigned one letter of the alphabet.  For example, "a" was the; "b" was it; "c" was have; and so forth.  "W" was not used for the code (though it was in cipher) because European telegraph operators were not familiar with this letter.  The next 624 most frequently used words were encoded by two letters of the alphabet.  For example, "ak" was those; "al" was who; and "az" was such.  Three letters were used for the remainder of the diplomatic vocabulary and a fourth letter could be added for plurals, participles, and genitives.

On 19 August 1867, a copy of the new code was sent to US envoys serving overseas.  For security purposes, Seward asked that the code be used with discretion and that the ministers have a small box made that could be fastened with a lock, the key to which should be kept by the head of the legation.

This novel code, which delighted the thrifty Seward, would be used from August 1867 until 1876.  It proved to be a disaster because European and American telegraphers often merged code groups, and dispatches were frequently unread until mailed copies reached the State Department weeks later.  Indeed, the first encoded message received at the Department from the American minister in Turkey formed a long string of connected letters and remained a conundrum until finally decrypted by an assistant clerk after days of puzzlement.  A similar message from Vienna was never decoded.  Seward's battle over money with the cable company had as its result, then, a supposedly thrifty but flawed encryption system.

Lower Tariffs

Meanwhile, the battle over money continued.  The telegraph company did not contact Seward again until it had a new tariff schedule that lowered rates by fifty percent.  Further, under the new schedule, messages in code carried no extra charges.  In notifying Seward of these modifications, Wilson Hunt politely renewed his request for payment of outstanding charges, including the cable sent by the Russian minister and other Department cables.  Appealing to Seward's patriotism, Hunt noted that 90 percent of the New York stock was owned by citizens of the US.

Seward's reply, written exactly one year after the famous dispatch to Minister Bigelow in Paris, praised the tariff reduction.  But Seward regretted that no reductions had been made in previous charges, and he added that the Department was not responsible for the cable sent by the Russian minister because the dispatch was neither signed nor ordered by him.


In the ensuing months, a tedious exchange of polite letters between the company and Seward led nowhere.  Frustrated by the failure to resolve the issue, the company suggested that the entire matter be referred to the Attorney General for his opinion, which the company was prepared to accept as final.

Two years after the Paris dispatch, and with only three months remaining as Secretary of State, Seward wrote his last letter to the cable company.  In one sentence, he explained that he had no authority to make, nor the Attorney General to entertain, an adjudication of the claim.

Paying Up, Finally

When the new Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish, endorsed his predecessor's position, the company finally decided to go to court.  On 25 February 1870, the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company filed a petition with the courts requesting that the government pay $32,240.75 in gold coin for the cable messages.

The case was heard before the Chief Justice and Judges of the Court of Claims in Washington, DC, on 26 May 1871.  The Court decided for the claimant in the exact amount requested by the company.  But the State Department had one victory: payment in gold was not required.  Finally, on 28 August 1871, almost five years after the cable to Bigelow in Paris, the Comptroller's Office paid the full amount in dollars and cents.

America's First Encrypted Cable Message
by Ralph E. Weber, professor of history at Marquette University, a former Scholar in Residence at CIA and at the U.S. National Security Agency


20 June 1873

Atlantic Telegraph Cable Routes
and the Natural Laws of Electricity

It has been suggested, and many persons have thought the suggestion a very probable one, that in course of time improvements on the mode of telegraphing, or on the present system of telegraphy, (and which may fairly be anticipated), will render the transmission of messages over cables laid between Britain and Halifax or New York quite as easy and rapid as over shorter cables between Britain and Newfoundland, and that hence Newfoundland will, in great part, lose its value as a cable terminus.  Upon this point we are enabled to quote from a letter of G. Von Chauvin, Esquire, M.S.T.E. (Member of the Society of Telegraph Engineers), Manager and Electrician of the Direct United States Cable Company, who says:

"As far as the fears expressed that improved instruments might make it less desirable for Atlantic telegraph cables to touch at Newfoundland are concerned, it must be said that whatever improvements may be made, either on the conductors of electricity, or in the apparatus employed for the transmission of messages, the principal laws of electricity will always hold good, being entirely independent of the way in which they are utilised.  It is a law of nature that the transmitting power of insulated conductors decreases with the square of the length; so that for any system whatever, the advantage will always be on the side of the shorter route, and every invention which will improve the working of long cables will do the same in a still larger proportion for short ones."

Upon the general subject of the abolition of the monopoly heretofore possessed by the Atlantic Company, the press of Great Britain and the United States take the same view as that which has actuated our Government [of Newfoundland], and look forward with a good deal of satisfaction to the prospect of more liberal supplies of information for their readers at a very great reduction upon present telegraph rates.  In publishing a communication from a gentleman writing from St. John's, the London Daily News of 31st May 1873 says—

"We are glad to find from a letter which we published on Saturday from 'A Newfoundlander', that public opinion in Newfoundland is in favor of throwing open the island to all telegraphic enterprise.  Some twenty years ago a monopoly was granted to certain enterprising American gentlemen to work the land lines of Newfoundland, and to connect them with Europe by submarine cables.  The result of this ill-considered policy has been that messages across the island are charged a preposterous tariff, and cables of only one particular company are allowed to land on its shores.  The concession fortunately contained a clause enabling the Government [of Newfoundland] at the end of twenty years to get rid of this monopoly at a small expense.  It is to be hoped that, in the interests of the commerce of the two worlds, the colony will not shrink from acting upon this clause.  Our correspondent points out that the geographical position of Newfoundland makes it the proper telegraphic centre between the old and new worlds; and it would appear not only that the island is far nearer to Europe than any other part of America, but that the bottom of the Atlantic between its shores and those of Ireland is a soft level bed of mud specially adapted for submarine cables.  The practical effect of a telegraphic monopoly in Newfoundland is to create a monopoly of the bed of the Atlantic Ocean.  The result is to increase enormously the cost of telegrams between Europe and America.  The Newfoundlanders may rest assured that action on their part to put an end to concessions which interfere with inter-oceanic telegraph enterprise, being subjected to the natural laws of supply and demand, will be supported by public opinion both here [in England] and in the United States.  Were the carrying trade between Europe and America in the hands of one company, the price of freight would be enormous.  It is brought down to its natural level by competition.  When half-a-dozen competing cables connect Newfoundland with Ireland, we may fairly expect that the charge levied on inter-oceanic telegrams will be very considerably reduced, to the manifest advantage of the public on both sides of the Atlantic."

Cable to Halifax Much More Costly
Compared to Newfoundland Terminus

The following very excellent letter from a Conception Bay correspondent of the Courier shows that intelligent people in the Outports are giving their attention to the duties of the Government in connexion with the subject, and such persons will be glad to find that the Government have dealt with it in a manner consistent with good sense and with an eye to the interests of the colony [of Newfoundland], at the same time doing no injustice to any company or individuals:

On perusing some of the English newspapers received by last mail, I find that our long-neglected and almost forgotten island is assuming her destined position as the connecting link between the two continents.  Our great natural advantages have been long understood and recognized by local authorities, and from time to time have been made to bring them prominently before the commercial world, but their attempts have been to a great extent ineffectual.  Now, however, it is a matter of congratulation to all interested in the welfare of Newfoundland, to find that her geographical position is acknowledged by the world's great commercail and telegraphic speculators as of incalculable advantage to them in successfully accomplishing their undertakings.  As an illustration of the interest created in the speculating and monied world, with regard to our future, I give the following extracts from a periodical received by last mail:

Why the Companies Were Amalgamated

The Money Market Review of 24 May 1873, contains a report of the proceedings of a meeting in London, of the shareholders of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, convened for the purpose of effecting an amalgamation with the Newfoundland Company [New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company] and the French Cable Company.  After the terms of the proposed agreement were read by Sir William Drake, the chairman of the meeting gave the following amongst other explanations of the reasons which induced them to adopt the proposed consolidation.  "By the agreement which was passed last year... the proportion of receipts, which would have come to the different companies, was 48 per cent to the French Atlantic, and 52 per cent to the Anglo-American and Newfoundland companies, and that was on the laying of the cable from Lands-End to Halifax.  But the Directors were very unwilling at that time that this company should be saddled with the liability and risk of laying a cable over those unknown depths... On the 11th of March last it was proved that submarine cables were not so free of injury at that depth as had been supposed; and when it was shown that the great length of the submarine cables only increased the risk and expense of repairing them in case of breakage — when, too, it was demonstrated that a cable from Ireland to Hearts Content could be worked twice as fast as a cable of the same dimensions between Lands-End [England] and Halifax [Nova Scotia] — which was shown to be the case with similar unanimity by the leading electrical engineers of the day — when that was so shown, it became of importance that the route of the new cable should be changed... Without amalgamation the cable would have to be laid to Halifax instead of Newfoundland, at an extra expense of between £200,000 and £300,000 incurred... Unless a cable was laid to Newfoundland instead of Halifax, it was impossible to repair this cable (1865); and this company could not get permission from the Newfoundland company to land the new cable in Newfoundland unless the companies were amalgamated, and after protracted negotiations £100,000 was arrived at as the sum which the Newfoundland company should receive... When they had got so far, another difficulty cropped up, viz.: the power of pre-emption by the Newfoundland Government... The Newfoundland company — confident in their rights — had therefore consented to forego for two years the sum of £135,000... and had also consented that if by the 1st of May 1875, no action had been taken by the Newfoundland Government to the prejudice of this company, that they would hand over the whole of this £135,000 to this company."

Now, Mr. Editor, these extracts most decisively point to the importance of the privilage enjoyed by the Telegraph Company, of landing their cables on our shores; and it is satisfactory to find that our Government have already taken the initiative in the enforcement of rights reserved under a charter granted to the Newfoundland company in 1854.  It is not my intention to enter upon the questions of monopoly, pre-emption, &c., involved in a discussion of the terms of the company's charter.  I feel that our Government, in this particular, will as heretofore protect the interests of the colony with a due regard to the rights of the company, and by all means throw open our island to the free competition of all speculators in mines, telegraphy, railroads, commerce, and agriculture.

From the Newfoundland Semi-Weekly Chronicle, 20 June 1873, as quoted in pages 35-38 of the report, dated 1873, Charter of the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company — Reserved Pre-emption Right of the Government of Newfoundland.

The title "Electrician" as used above conveys approximately the same meaning as "Electrical Engineer" nowadays.

M.S.T.E. is believed to mean Member of the Society of Telegraph Engineers.


31 July 1873

Direct United States Cable Company

The position of the Direct United States Cable Company, the company which proposes to lay its [undersea telegraph] cables via Newfoundland, so soon as the existing monopoly shall terminate, may be gathered from the following authoritative financial statement:

Capital of the Company — £1,300,000 in 65,000 shares of £20 each, all fully subscribed for by an influential body of shareholders of responsibility and position.  The amount upon application and allotment — viz.: £2 and £3 respectively — has been fully paid up, amounting to £325,000.  The call of £3 per share due 31st May 1873, amounting to £195,000, has been almost entirely paid up.  The first instalment to the contractors, of upwards of £250,000, has been paid in cash, and the manufacture of the cable is being proceeded with.

The Money Market Review of 12th July 1873, states that the first general meeting of the shareholders was held on the previous Wednesday [9th July 1873] at the City Terminus Hotel, Mr. E.H. Lushington in the chair.  In the course of his address the chairman stated that the condition of the company was most satisfactory — that "they had succeeded in raising all their necessary capital; that they had completed the preliminary arrangements with Messrs. Siemens, the contractors, and that he was sure that all that modern science can do will be used on the cable.  Messers. Siemens, in order to insure the successful laying of the cable, have determined to build a vessel for the purpose, and I feel that in intrusting our affairs in the hands of Messrs. Siemens we have done the best we could for the company.  We are determined to continue by ourselves, and not to enter into any amalgamation whatever."

The following influential names appear among the shareholders of the company: Fred. Alers. Hankey, Banker, Silverlands, Chertsey; Henry Labouchere, Esquire, 9 Park Street, Westminster, of no occupation; Edward H. Lushington, Banker, Brackenhurst, Cobham; Philip L.R. Martin, 20 Fenchurch Street, London, Merchant; Joseph Lebag, Stockbroker, 40 Westborne Terrace; J. Lynn Bristowe, Denmark Hill, Stockdealer; L. Loeffler, 33 Cedars Road, Clapham, Civil Engineer.

From the St. John's, Newfoundland, Morning Chronicle, 31 July 1873, as quoted in the report, dated 1873, Charter of the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company — Reserved Pre-emption Right of the Government of Newfoundland.

The Direct United States Cable Company was bought by the British government in 1921 and became the Imperial and International Communications Company.  In 1935 that company changed its name to Cable and Wireless Limited.


The excerpts below are from:

A History of Newfoundland
from the English, Colonial, and Foreign Records

by D. W. Prowse
Judge of the Central District Court of Newfoundland
originally published 1895, London

Daniel Woodley Prowse
Dictionary of Canadian Biography

In the spring of 1852 an Act was passed incorporating "The Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company," giving the company the exclusive right to erect telegraphs in the Island of Newfoundland for thirty years, and a large grant of land on the completion of the line.  The Ellen Gisborne came to St. John's in December 1852, but it was not until the spring of 1853 that Mr. Fred Gisborne organized a company in New York, with Horace B. Tibbetts, Darius B. Holbrook, and others; he then proceeded vigorously with the work of building the line to Cape Ray. His agents in St. John's were Gisborne and Henderson; everything was progressing favourably in the summer of 1853, when the New York agents dishonoured his bills and the whole concern collapsed; Gisborne himself was stripped of everything he possessed.  This unfortunate result produced intense distress amongst the unfortunate labourers; on 31st January 1854, the Governor, Ker Baillie Hamilton, refers to the widespread poverty amongst the people, "aggravated, moreover, by the failure of the electric telegraph company."
Source: History of Newfoundland, by D.W. Prowse: page 636

In none of Mr. Gisborne's written communications about this time is there one word about an Atlantic cable or telegraphic communication with Europe; there can be no doubt, however, that an able man like Gisborne had thought of the project, as had others, long before.  The written and printed papers, the prospectus and plans of his company make no reference whatever to the larger and grander conception.  In January 1854, Gisborne came in contact with Cyrus W. Field, then a young merchant who had made a handsome fortune and retired from active business. Field at once took hold of the larger idea of cable communication with Europe; for Gisborne's project of the limited Newfoundland line he cared nothing and would have nothing to do with it, but when he found from Professor Morse, Lieut. Maury, and Brett, that an Altantic telegraph was a practicable undertaking, he threw himself into the project with all his marvellous zeal and pertinacity.  No one claims for Mr. Field any originality of thought about this great enterprise, but nothing can rob him of the credit of being the first organizer, the moving spirit, the vital force and power that from first to last completed the Atlantic cable.  His enthusiasm brought over Peter Cooper, Moses Taylor, Marshall O. Roberts, and Chandler White, the financiers of the new company, founded in March 1854, and granted a charter by the Newfoundland Government as "The New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company."
Source: History of Newfoundland, by D.W. Prowse: page 637

Field, Cooper, Taylor, Roberts, and Wilson G. Hunt are known as the "Five Immortals";
the men who first risked £500,000 in 1854, and paid up the balance of the
million sterling to keep up the connection with Newfoundland until the Atlantic cable
was completed in 1866.

Source: D.W. Prowse, footnote 1, page 637

There is a marked contrast between the prospectus of Mr. Gisborne's Company and Mr. Field's.  The indefatigable Cyrus came down in the Merlin in March 1854, and returned in her, leaving his able brother, David Dudley Field, and Chandler White to secure and perfect the charter.  There was a good deal of discussion in the Executive Council and in the House on the grant to the new company, especially the Government guarantee of £50,000 worth of bonds, not a penny of which was ever required; it was, however, practically passed unanimously, and immediately the poor labourers on the line and all outstanding liabilties of the defunct company were paid off.  Chandler White remained for a year as manager; he gave rise to more lawsuits in that short period than the Anglo-American has had ever since.

Whilst his associates were busy settling the affairs of the company in St. John's, C. W. Field was in England getting the first cable made for the Gulf.  It was very unfortunate for the company that Mr. Field could not two places at once; the company's affairs in the Colony were managed with reckless extravagance and woeful incapacity [incompetence]. One Sunday I remember seeing the Victoria's crew landing glass insulators at Burgeo; three out of every five were smashed on a lot of ballast at the head of the wharf.  "There goes ten cents for Peter Cooper's" said the profane Sluyter.
Source: History of Newfoundland, by D.W. Prowse: page 638

It has been argued by many persons in our day that the charter to Field's Company was extravagant and unjustifiable, that harder terms should have been exacted, and particularly that the Colony should have secured a revenue out of the company.  Now let us look at the facts as they appeared to the highly intelligent and able men who arranged this question in 1854.  I admit, at the outset, that the Act was ably drawn, drafted in the interest of the company by the first lawyer in America, David Dudley Field; but were its provisions unreasonable? In the first place Mr. Cyrus Field would accept nothing less than the Act; if there had been any important modification he would simply have let the matter drop and have retired to New York to enjoy his well-earned leisure.  We must remember that whilst one part of the project, the land line and the connection across the Gulf, was practicable and feasible, the main project of an Atlantic cable was looked upon by ninety-nine men out of every hundred as the wild project of a Yankee lunatic; even on the very eve of its completion, the London Times declared it was a visionary and utterly impracticable undertaking.  Our Legislature had before them an offer from wealthy Americans to pay off the debts of the bankrupt company, to expend a million dollars in the Colony [Newfoundland], to give the Island telegraphic communication with England and America, and a local line to Cape Ray and Cape Race absolutely for nothing.
Until the local lines were begun by Mr. Mackay in 1877, this Colony [Newfoundland] had not spent a farthing on telegraphs beyond the Carbonear line, which was taken over at par [the price Field paid was what the line had cost to build] by Mr. Field.  All the other North American Colonies expended large sums on local lines. In 1877, Trinity, Catalina, and Bonavista were connected by telegraph; in 1878 Government lines were extended to St. George's Bay, Bay of Islands, Betts Cove, Tilt Cove, and Little Bay mines; in 1885 the telegraph was extended to Greenspond and Twillingate, Burin, St. Lawrence, Lamaline, Grand Bank, and Fortune; in 1887 it was extended to Fogo, Seldom Come By, Change Islands, &c.

Source: D.W. Prowse, footnote 1, page 639
Would the Legislature have been justified in rejecting such an obviously advantageous offer, and was it unreasonable for daring capitalists, who were willing to risk their millions in such a risky enterprise, to require exclusive rights subject to a right of pre-emption? Our Legislature would have been wrong to refuse such an obviously favourable offer, the rights of the Colony being carefully guarded by rather onerous restrictions.
Source: History of Newfoundland, by D.W. Prowse: page 639   page 640

The land line to Cape Ray was completed in October 1856.  In anticipation of its operation Mr. Field and a party of friends came to St. John's in the steamer James Adger, and went to Port-aux-Basques to lay the cable across the Gulf; in towing the barque Sarah L. Bryant with the cable, a gale arose, and the cable had to be cut to save the barque; a little later in the same year, however, the cable was successfully laid to Cape Breton by Sir Samuel Canning, Mr. T. D. Scanlan representing the Newfoundland Company [the New York, Newfoundland & London Telegraph Company].
"...a little later in the same year, however,
the cable was successfully laid to Cape Breton..."

This is one of the few mistakes in Judge Prowse's book.  The first attempt
to lay a telegraph cable across the Cabot Strait, between Newfouldland and
Cape Breton Island, was made in the summer of 1855.  This attempt was not successful
(as described by Peter Cooper in his autobiography).  A second cable was manufactured
for the Cabot Strait crossing, which was laid successfully in the summer of 1856
(the following year, not "in the same year").
When Mr. Field arrived in New York in December 1856, he found the Gulf cable broken, and all the Newfoundland telegraph line in a state of disorder, the superintendent, Simpson, having abandoned the country in despair. He put himself in communication with James Eddy and the well-known Daniel H. Craig, founder of the New York Associated Press, and asked them to select for him the best man in America to take charge of the Newfoundland lines; without communication with each other, they advised him to appoint Mr. A.M. Mackay, then twenty-two years old, the Superintendent of the Nova Scotia Telegraph.
The best proof of Mr. Mackay's energy and economy in management is the actual work accomplished.  In 1867 he rebuilt the whole telegraph line from St. John's to Cape Ray, which had originally cost $1,000,000, for $90,000, in recognition of which service the Company presented him with a magnificent service of plate; and in 1885 he built for the Newfoundland Government branch lines from Burin and Twillingate, to connect with the New York, Newfoundland, and London telegraph system, 340 miles [550 km] through the wilderness for $45,000.

Source: D.W. Prowse, footnote 1, page 641
When Mackay came here in January 1857 he found everything in confusion, not a single section of the line was in working order; he ascertained where the break was in the cable [across Cabot Strait], repaired it in June 1857 with the small steamer Victoria, walked over the line from Cape Ray [to St. John's], organised the staff of operators and repairers, and put the whole concern in working order.  From this period until the successful laying of the [transatlantic] cable in 1866, the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company in this Colony was kept in existence as a going concern by two men, Field and Mackay; a dozen times the other directors would have dropped it altogether but for Field's enthusiasm and perseverance, and Mackay's activity and careful, economical management in the Island.
The receipts from the Newfoundland lines throughout this period of hope deferred were very small and very precarious.  In 1859 a news boat was placed at Cape Race by the Associated Press to intercept ocean steamers; the first ship met was the S.S. Vigo, of the Inman Line. The public constantly saw the heading in English and American papers, "Via Cape Race," but few had any idea of those daring trips of bold John Murphy to catch the outward and homeward bound steamers; considering the imminent peril of landing and launching boats from such a wild spot, it is marvellous how much news was sent in this extraordinary way.

Source: D.W. Prowse, footnote 2, page 641

Off Cape Race, newspaper clipping 1862
"The Anglo-Saxon off Cape Race"
Newspaper clipping, 1862
(believed to be from the New York Times)

The S.S. Anglo-Saxon departed Europe with the latest European news on board.  As the ship neared Cape Race, a package (barrel) was tossed overboard to be retrieved by the A.P. news boat.  This news was brought ashore by the news boat at Cape Race and immediately telegraphed to the Associated Press in New York – over the one-wire electric telegraph line owned and operated by the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company – while the transatlantic steamship Anglo-Saxon continued westward at top speed.  This extraordinary effort got the latest European news to New York, and all North America, days ahead of the ship's arrival at its destination.  The heading "Two Days Later From Europe" means this brief news item — brief because of the per word cost of telegrams from Newfoundland to New York — contained European news two days later than was previously available in North America.  From 1859 to 1866, "Via Cape Race" in a newspaper headline was the equivalent of the "Breaking News" graphic we now see flashed on our television screens when important up-to-date news has arrived.

(On April 27, 1863, about 240 people died when the S.S. Anglo-Saxon ran aground on the Avalon Peninsula near Cape Race.)

Note: Part of this newspaper clip conveys the information that shipyards in England are building steamships and rams for the Confederacy.  This refers to efforts by the Confederate Navy to obtain warships from builders in Great Britain.

"...The Confederate agent Bulloch extended his ambitions when he contracted with Birkenhead shipbuilders, Laird and Sons, to construct two turreted ironclad rams.  Bulloch based the rams upon the ideas of Capt. Cowper Coles of the Royal Navy, an outspoken British ironclad designer.  They were impressive ships displacing 1,423 tons (light) and were 224 feet long.  Their iron hulls had ram bows supporting two turrets carrying 220-pounder Armstrong guns; lighter guns were mounted on raised forecastles and quarterdecks.  Bark sailing rigs gave them range; powerful twin-screw engines combined with ram bows gave them ability to fight the most imposing Union ships...Bulloch was disappointed by the loss of the Laird rams..."
The Diplomats Who Sank a Fleet: The Confederacy's Undelivered European Fleet
and the Union Consular Service,
by Kevin J. Foster
The laying of the cable of course put life into the local lines, made the worthless valuable, and from that day to this everything has gone well under the same able management.
Source: History of Newfoundland, by D.W. Prowse: page 641
The Anglo-American Telegraph Company has spent in this Colony more than $4,000,000 in salaries, renewals, and repairs over and above the entire receipts from Newfoundland sources.

Source: D.W. Prowse, footnote 3, page 641

All in Newfoundland who remember the 27th July 1866, when the Atlantic cable was landed, can bear witness to the excitement and enthusiasm that pervaded all classes.  I was present with a party in Heart's Content at the time, and I believe Cyrus W. Field hardly slept for three nights whilst in port. The cable is no longer a wonder and a marvel, but as one sits through the long watches of the night, with both continents at rest, and notes the beginning of the business day in Europe, and later on the rush from America, watching by the cable instrument, we appear almost to hear the eager steps of the busy multitudes in two worlds; to the tired operator it is mere ordinary business, but to the onlooker, this joining of the hemispheres, and the complete annilhilation of time and space, will always appear as the most wonderful achievement in an age of scientific marvels.

To Mr. F. Perry, the able Superintendent of the Anglo-American Cable Company, I am indebted for the chapter on the landing and working of the cable. Mr. Perry was at Heart's Content in 1866, and has for many years been the very efficient general manager there, one of the busiest and best-equipped telegraph stations in the world.

by F. Perry
Superintendent of the Anglo-American Cable Office at Liverpool

The 27th of July 1866 will long be remembered by the inhabitants of Newfoundland as a red-letter day in its history, for on that morning the S.S. Great Eastern, with the living end of the Atlantic cable on board, accompanied by the steamships Medway and Albany, might be discerned from the settlement of Heart's Content, two or three miles in the offing; the hopes and fears which had been entertained in reference to this undertaking were then within an ace of being successfully determined.  It is true that some years previously (1858) an attempt had been made to unite Ireland and Newfoundland by a submarine cable, which had been landed in Bay Bull's Arm, at the head of Trinity Bay, but its life had been short and at best precarious; the instruments used in its manipulation were cumbrous, while the signals recorded were sluggish, and the working painfully slow.  About mid-day on the date above mentioned the shore end of the cable was successfully landed, and from that moment until the present [1895], if we except a few months between November 1870 and May 1871, the communication between Valentia in Ireland, and Heart's Content in Newfoundland, has never for an instant been interrupted.
Source: History of Newfoundland, by D.W. Prowse: page 642

To connect Heart's Content with the United States, Canada, and the continent of America, lines [electric circuits] had been erected between Newfoundland and Cape Breton — where the wires belonging to the Western Union Company of America had their terminus — the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company had been incorporated. This latter company owed its creation to the almost superhuman efforts of Mr. Cyrus Field, a prominent citizen of the United States, to whose energy and perseverence also the formation of the companies in the United Kingdom, primarily the Atlantic Telegraph Company, and subsequently the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, was at the same time mainly attributable.

The lines of the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company consisted of an airline [overhead wire] suspended on poles along the southern shore of the island terminating at Port-aux-Basques, at its south-western corner; from this point to Aspey Bay, in the island of Cape Breton, a distance of some seventy miles, a submarine [underwater] cable had previously been submerged, although at the time of the completion of the ocean cable to Heart's Content this short cable was unfortunately interrupted, fast steamers [steam ships] being employed for the time in conveying batches of messages at frequent intervals.  Towards the autumn [of 1866], however, this short section was repaired by A.M. Mackay, the General Superintendent in Newfoundland of the New York Company, thus completing telegraph communication between the two great continents, Europe and America.
Source: History of Newfoundland, by D.W. Prowse: page 643

In the ensuing summer (1867), it having been found that the land line across the breadth of Newfoundland, from the severity of winter storms and the tardy means at hand for restoration, was generally unreliable and unsatisfactory, it was determined to lay a submarine cable from Great Placentia in Newfoundland to North Sydney in Cape Breton, taking the French island of St. Pierre by the way, and so bringing that colony within the fold of telegraph communication, and at the same time rendering the company independent of the somewhat precarious communication by the air line [overhead iron wire supported on poles] across the island of Newfoundland.  From that time until the present the cables between Placentia and North Sydney have been multiplied and strengthened, while the line via Port-aux-Basques has not of late been in use for through traffic, it is still serviceable for local messages and for completing the network of telegraphs throughout the island.

It was part of the Great Eastern's mission, if the cable of 1866 should be successfully accomplished, to endeavour to recover the lost end of the 1865 cable which had been attempted to be laid by the Atlantic Telegraph Company with the same steamer in the summer of the previous year.  This feat, which has been compared to fishing with a bent pin at the end of a string from the dome of St. Paul's, was also an accomplished fact towards the middle of September in the same year, when the ship having recovered the cable from a depth of nearly two thousand fathoms [about 3500 metres], spoken through the line to Valentia and spliced it on to the cable on board, brought that end also safely to shore at Heart's Content.
Source: History of Newfoundland, by D.W. Prowse: page 644

The instruments at first used in manipulating the cable were an ordinary double-current key and a mirror-reflecting galvanometer, the former for transmitting the signals, and the latter for receiving them; some sixteen to twenty cells of the form known as "Menotti" were used for generating the electric current, while boxes of "condensers" [capacitors], which are composed of alternate sheets of tinfoil and mica, or other insulating material, were employed to keep the movements of the "spot," or column of reflected light, obedient to the movements of the mirror, suspended by a fibre of silicon within the convolutions of fine wire contained in the galvanometer, within control.  These instruments, although simple in construction and somewhat crude in comparison with those in use in the present day, were proved to be satisfactory, and continued to hold their place for seven years.  The speed of working at the beginning was six to eight words a minute, but this was improved upon as time went on and the operators gained experience in what to them was an entirely new system.

In 1873 the siphon recorder, an invention of Lord Kelvin, then Sir William Thomson, then eminent electrician and Professor of Philosophy [Professor of Science] at Glasgow University, was introduced.  The advantage of this instrument was that the signals transmitted through the cable were no longer interpreted by the movements of a flash of light, but were permanently recorded on a paper tape or ribbon by ink flowing through a glass tube or siphon, not much thicker than a hair, one end of which was bent into a small tank or metal box containing ink, and the other moving near the surface of the paper, which was kept continually moving onward by the revolutions of a "mouse-mill" worked by a "quantity battery" of large surface, the mouse-mill also fulfilling the duty of electrifying the ink and forcing it through the bore of the narrow siphon. This system was greatly in advance of the mirror-galvanometer, inasmuch as the record could be preserved for reference in case of errors, and the eyes were relieved from the tedium and constant strain involved in the old method.

Duplex Operation

In the year 1878, duplex was successfully placed on the cables after a long period of painstaking research and perseverance by Mr. J.B. Stearns, a citizen of the United States, thus permitting a message to be sent and received on the same cable at the same time, and so nearly doubling its working power.  In this system a mock cable or artificial line was employed, an instrument, or rather succession of instruments, made up so as to represent the cable as nearly as possible, both as regards resistance and capacity; these latter had to be adjusted, or, to use a common term, "balanced," with such nicety that when outgoing signals were sent into the cable, the incoming signals would not be affected or disturbed; when this result was attained the rest was easy, and duplex from that time to the present remains an undoubted possibility.
Source: History of Newfoundland, by D.W. Prowse: page 645

The Anglo-American Telegraph Company, by its cables between Valentia and Heart's Content, makes a great point in transmitting the quick-time messages, or "stocks" as they are termed; the wires are brought into the Stock Exchange at New York, while the Company's office in Throgmorton Street, London, is within a few steps of the Stock Exchange in that city.  The land lines are placed alongside the cable instruments at Valentia, Heart's Content, and North Sydney, so that while the messages are being transcribed by one operator they are forwarded a stage on their journey by another, with the mininmum delay at each station.  By this method it is a thing of frequent occurrence for a broker in New York to telegraph an order to his client in London and receive a reply that the business has been completed, all within the space of five minutes, thus compassing the journey of two thousand five hundred miles [four thousand kilometres] in each direction, or five thousand miles [eight thousand kilometres] in all, within that short space of time.

When the first cable was landed at Heart's Content in 1866, some nine or ten individuals were landed from the Great Eastern to work it; in the present day there are forty-five persons composing the staff at that station; some are there yet who were the original operators.  The first public message that passed over the cable was at the rate of one pound sterling a word; now the same service is performed for one shilling [20 shillings = 1 pound].

In the early days it was considered a good day's work to pass two hundred telegrams per diem [per day]; now it is by no means uncommon by this one route alone to exchange three thousand.
Source: History of Newfoundland, by D.W. Prowse: page 646

Thus has an enterprise, which at first may have provoked the jeers or the ridicule of the incredulous as a scheme altogether too wild in design or too impossible of accomplishment, been proved by the persevering to be an undertaking well worthy of imitation, and may render those who initiated it, and those who have assisted in bringing it to its present state of perfection, as men deserving well of their country and posterity, and leaving, as the poet tells us, "footprints on the sands of time."

The Wayback Machine has archived copies of this document:
Prowse's History of Newfoundland
page 636

Archived: 1999 November 28

Archived: 2000 March 6
Prowse's History of Newfoundland
page 637

Archived: 1999 November 28

Archived: 2000 March 6


4 August 1866

TransAtlantic Telegraph Rates

Printed Circular No. 6

The American Telegraph Company
Halifax, N.S., 4th Aug. 1866

To Managers Offices N.S. District: The following rules will be observed regarding all messages passing over the Atlantic Cable.

Tariff from all parts of Nova Scotia is fixed as follows:

20 words
or less
To Great Britain
and Ireland
$100 $5.00
To other parts
of Europe
$105 $5.25
To Africa, Asia,
and India
$125 $6.25

The first 20 words to include address of sender and receiver, but not to exceed 100 letters, and if the number of letters exceed 100, the excess will be divided by five and each 5 letters or fractional remainder be charged as an additional word.  The letters in all words after the first 20 will be counted and divided by five, each five or fractional remainder will be charged as a word.

Messages in cipher will be charged double the foregoing rates.  All figures intended for transmission must be written in full length, and will be charged as words.  Messages destined for places beyond the telegraphic system will be forwarded by mail.

All messages must be prepaid.

You will keep a totally distinct and separate record of all Atlantic Cable business, forward an accurate statement of receipts and checks, together with all money received on this account, to the Cashier and Auditor at Halifax, by mail at the end of each week.  This business is not to be put in the regular monthly accounts.

In preparing weekly accounts state in detail date, address, signature and number of words in each message.

Alex. E. Hoyt
Asst. Superintendent

[Above is quoted whole, from the original document.]


A.M. Mackay

Alexander Mclellan Mackay
Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Born in 1834 in Pictou, Nova Scotia, Alexander McLellan Mackay had a brief teaching career before becoming a telegrapher working in Halifax, Hamilton, and New York.  In January 1857 he became head of telegraphs in Newfoundland for the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company, later the Anglo-American Telegraph Company.
Page 26 of Atlantic Sentinel (book) by Donald R. Tarrant, published 1999 by Flanker Press, St. John's, Newfoundland, ISBN 1894463005
History of Newfoundland, by D.W. Prowse (page 641)

Alexander McLellan Mackay

...Anticipating (the successful laying, in the summer of 1855, of the Cabot Strait telegraph cable between Newfoundland and Cape Breton, the Executive Committee of the Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company) deemed it advisable to be in readiness to meet the expected increase of business, and therefore engaged a first rate and experienced operator from the Canadian lines, to take charge of the company's office at the junction in Cape Breton, and also for general purposes in connection therewith they have employed Mr. Alexander McKay, formerly chief operator at Halifax, as superintendent of the lines and offices, and he has already been twice round the province, putting them in order...

Source: 1855 Annual Report of the Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company, dated in Halifax on 9th January 1856, and published as Appendix No. 6, pages 67-72 of the Journal and Proceedings of the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia, Session 1856
CIHM: 9_00946_107



Commercial Cable Company
J.W. Mackay and J.G. Bennett

The Commercial Cable Company was incorporated in New York in 1883 by two wealthy men, J.W. Mackay and J.G. Bennett.

James Gordon Bennett (the younger) (1841-1918) was the owner of the New York Herald newspaper, having inherited it from his father James Gordon Bennett (the elder).

John William Mackay (1831-1902) had made a fortune in mining after emigrating in 1840 to the United States from Ireland; in 1859 he joined the rush to Nevada, where silver had been discovered.  Mackay and James Graham Fair, later joined by William Shoney O'Brien and James Clair Flood, acquired control of valuable silver mines, which yielded them great fortunes.

Bennett and Mackay both used telegrams extensively in their businesses, and wished to compete with the Anglo-American Company and others, which at that time had formed a syndicate known as "The Pool", and enjoyed a near monopoly of transatlantic telegram traffic while being able to keep telegraph rates high and profits large.

The two men agreed to work together to found a new transatlantic telegraph company in 1883.  The Commercial Cable Company quickly laid two submarine telegraph cables from Europe, landing the North American ends at Hazel Hill, near Canso, Nova Scotia.  To maintain these cables the company kept a specially-designed cable ship, the Mackay-Bennett, at Halifax, ready to go to sea at any time on short notice if a cable failed.
In the historical record, the Mackay-Bennett appears most
prominently as the ship sent from Halifax to retrieve bodies
of people who died when Titanic sank in April 1912.

Commercial Cable Company's
Third Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable

In 1894, the Commercial Cable Company laid its third submarine telegraph cable between Ireland and Hazel Hill, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.  This additional cable was needed because the heavy telegraph traffic had grown beyond the capacity of the two earlier cables.  The 1894 cable was an improved design, and was able to handle telegraph messages at a considerably faster rate than the earlier cables.

Commercial Cable Company's
Fourth Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable

In 1899, to meet ever-increasing traffic, the Commercial Cable Company laid its fourth submarine telegraph cable between Europe and North America.  This cable was laid on a route different from its predecessors, from New York to Hazel Hill in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, thence to Horta in the Azores Islands, and from there to Waterville, Ireland.  This route enabled the Company to establish a direct exchange at the Azores of traffic with the Eastern & Associated Telegraph Companies, and Eastern Extension Australasia & China Telegraph Company, in addition to carrying through traffic between North America and Ireland.

Commercial Cable Company's
Fourth Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable
1901 December 1

The Commercial Cable Company laid its fourth submarine cable between North America and Europe.  The section between the Azores and Ireland was completed on 1 December 1901.
[100 Years Ago in The Globe and Mail, 1 December 2001]

Comment by ICS (3 December 2001): There seems to be some conflict in the two items above, about the year — 1899 or 1901 — in which this fourth cable was laid.  I'm looking for clarification.  My guess (and that's all it is) is that the cable was ordered in 1899 and it took two years for it to be manufactured and then put in place.  Two years for manufacturing and placement on the ocean floor seems about right, and with a suitable rewording of the first item, to state that the decision to lay the fourth cable was made in 1899 and the actual installation was done in 1901, would straighten out the confusion in the dates.

Commercial Cable Company's
Fifth Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable

In 1905, the Commercial Cable Company laid its fifth submarine cable between Hazel Hill, Nova Scotia, and Waterville, Ireland.  This was one of the heaviest submarine telegraph cables up to this time.  Its speed was remarkable for its day, and it quickly took a heavy load of telegraph message traffic.

Commercial Cable Company's
Sixth Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable

Cable laying was suspended during the war years 1914-1918, and even after peace came it was next to impossible to obtain new cable from the manufacturers, who were unable to handle the pent-up demand for thousands of miles of new cable.  The Commercial Cable Company was able, in 1923, to get delivery of the huge number six cable, with its conductor weighing 1100 pounds of copper to the nautical mile 270 kilograms per kilometre.

Like its predecessors, this was a submarine (underwater) cable, and it was laid on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean along a route from New York to Hazel Hill, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, thence to Horta in the Azores, and from there to Waterville, Ireland.  Its purpose was to carry telegraph messages across the ocean (no trans-atlantic telephone cable was available until September 1956).


First Direct New York Cable
Commercial Cable Company

New York, September 1894:–  To have an Atlantic cable landed 2,000 miles away from New York was thought a great thing in 1866, and in 1855, when Mr. Cyrus W. Field organized the first Atlantic cable company, it is quite presumable that he never even thought that a cable connecting the Old World and the New would be brought directly into our great metropolis.  But the time has come when such is actually the case.  With the laying of the Commercial Cable from its former terminus at Manhattan Beach, Coney Island, to Pier A at the Battery, on September 1st and 2nd (1894), New York was placed in direct communication with the heart of Europe.  There is probably no similar city in the world that enjoys such great advantages as New York now has with the completion of this work.  The Commercial Cable Company's system is so perfect that it is said that a question could be asked of London and an answer received inside of three minutes.

It will probably be interesting to many of our readers to describe the process by which this great work of cable laying is done.  Through the courtesy of Mr. George G. Ward, vice-president of [text missing here] fast to it before lowering it into the water.  At 7:30 the next morning, Sunday, September 2d (Sunday having been selected because the harbor is free from the usually heavy traffic), the tug William J McCaldm called at the Marine Club wharf and took on board the favored few, from whence they were transported to the Mackey-Bennett lying off Norton's Point.  Among the visitors aboard the vessel were John W. Mackay, Jr., director of the Commercial Cable Company; E. Lambert Lynch; G. H. Usher, assistant superintendent of the Postal Telegraph-Cable Company; T. L Cuyler Jr assistant treasurer of the Postal Telegraph-Cable Company; J.H. Smart, assistant superintendent of the Commercial Cable Company; J. H. Emmerich, superintendent of the Postal Telegraph-Cable Company and Charies Cuttriss, chief electrician of the Commercial Cable Company.

The end of the cable had been brought aboard the ship and the operation of splicing the cable laid on Saturday to the remainder in the tanks of the vessel was going on.  The armor and insulation was first removed from the core of the cable, which, in this Instance was composed of four conductors, each being made of seven small copper wires.  These cores are thoroughly cleaned and the ends nicely scarfed and soldered together.  The joint is then wound with fine copper wire which is also firmly soldered to the core wire.  The acid used in soldering is then thoroughly washed off and the gutta percha insulation replaced.  The inner armor wire is then put in position and served with fine twine.  This completed, the protecting armor is replaced and served with "marline," or "spun yarn" as the sailors choose to call it, soaked in tallow, completing the splice.  It is practically the same size as the rest of the cable and the joint can only be distinguished from the original cable by [text missing here] the Commercial Cable Company, the representative of The Electrical World, accompanied by its special artist, was invited to be on board of the ship while the work was being completed.

On Saturday, September 1st.  the tug boat Stranahan was engaged to lay about five miles of the inshore cable from Manhattan Beach to a point opposite Norton's Point, New York Harbor, the cable steamer Mackey-Bennett drawing too much water to undertake this part of the work.  This was successfully accomplished and the location of the end of the cable was marked by making a buoy [text missing here] the outer wrapping.  The officers on board the boat assert that they have never known a cable to break at the splice, which is proof of the care taken in making the joint.


Cable Ship Mackey-Bennett

In order that the reader may become more fully acquainted with the work, a brief description of the Mackey-Bennett is here given.  The boat is built of steel and is 270 feet in length with 40 feet beam, and 26 feet depth of hold.  She has two compound condensing engines of 450 I.H.P. (indicator horsepower) each, and under normal conditions can make about 12 knots (12 nautical miles per hour).  Her coaling and fresh water capacity is sufficient for a six weeks' cruise.  She is lighted through out by electricity.  Search lights are provided so that cable operations can be carried on at night.  Twin screws and .steam steering apparatus render her manoeuvering qualities excellent and make it possible to turn in her own length.  A bow rudder is provided for efficient steeling when going astern.  Refrigerating apparatus has been installed, carbon dioxide being the cooling medium instead of the usual ammonia process.

In the hold there are three immense iron tanks, 34 feet in diameter, for the storage of cable, each having a conical core for guiding the cable when it is being paid out.  The space within these cores is utilized to hold fresh water.  The capacity of the tanks is about 1,400 tons of cable, this being the equivalent of about 100 miles of inshore cable weighing 14 tons to the mile.  The weight, however, varies according to the location.  Cables in shallow water are made with heavy armor and insulation, while the deep sea cable is quite light.  Special cable has to be used in the region about Halifax, owing to the grounding of icebergs.  This is shown in one of the illustrations and is composed of the usual core with an armature of steel rings which are in turn cowered with the outside armor.  The diameter of this cable is about 2¾ inches and it is so strong that when an iceberg bears upon it the ice is crushed before any injury is done to the conductors.  The cable tanks are all connected by "ways" or troughs so that a transfer may be made from one tank to another or from any tank to either one of the paying-out machines.  Any handling of the cable made necessary by such transfers is usually done by means of a small Brotherhood engine connected to a drum and all mounted on a truck by which it may be moved about the deck.

Returning to the description of the ship, there are two paying-out machines.  These are made up of massive gears operated by double cylinder engines set at an angle of 90 degrees to each other, making it out of the question to have both engines get on dead centre at the same time.  The gears operate a large drum which controls the speed of the cable in the operation of laying or hauling in when making repairs.  The operation of the machine is controlled from a platform conveniently located above the gears and from which the scale of the dynamometer is in plain view.  The latter is shown in the cut, and consists of a massive iron upright, the upper portion of which forms a guide for the cable sheave.  The strain is measured by a heavy coil spring in tension, and the movement of the sheave is made steady by the action of a piston working in a cylinder containing glycerine, the piston being connected to the sheave by the usual piston rod and yoke.

At either end of the boat and projecting out several feet, are self-adjustable sheaves about five feet in diameter, over which the cable passes when being lowered into the water.  Surrounding these sheaves are iron platforms upon which the commanding officer stands while the cable is being laid.  At the stem of the boat is a "James submarine sentry and sounding machine." It consists of a device known as the "kite" which is attached to a piano wire wound upon the drum of the sounding machine.  It is used as a sentry when working in uncertain water or when it is desired to have the cable laid in water not shallower than a depth decided upon beforehand.  The "kite" when set, dives immediately under the stern of the boat to the minimum depth desired.  Should the boat sail into shallower water than desired, the lever at the lower end of the "kite" strikes the bottom, releasing the tow line at one end, thereby changing the position of the "kite" which immediately rises to the surface.  At the moment of release the tension upon the tow line is suddenly decreased and causes a bell on the machine to ring and also one on the navigating bridge.

Located in convenient places about the ship are several electric telegraph signaling machines made by Elliott Brothers, of London.  Some are for communicating with the engineer of the paying-out machines, while others are for signaling the engineer of the ship.

The testing room, located on the forward deck, has been thoroughly equipped with the finest of electrical measuring instruments.  There s a complete set of instruments for each of the several tests required in locating faulty insulation, doing away with the necessity of changng connections.  This department is in charge of Mr. C. Priest, electrician of the ship.

As the cable is brought from the tank it passes through an iron ring immediately over the centre of the hatch, thence around a deeply grooved iron guide, and the friction of the cable at this point acts as a tension ; it then passes several times around the drum to the paying-out machine and underneath the pulley of the dynamometer, over several pulleys on the deck and out over the sheave at the bow or stern to its final resting place at the bottom of the sea.

It is sometimes preferred to lay the cable from the bow of the boat, as it is a more advantageous point from which to direct the work.

The cable, in passing under the dynamometer pulley, is considerably depressed, and as the strain increases or decreases, a pointer at each side passing over graduated scales fastened to the uprights indicates the strain in tons.  The strain upon the cable ranged from 2 to 3 tons and in no instance was it allowed to reach more than 10 tons for the type of cable which was used.

The cable can be laid at the rate of 6 to 8 miles per hour, but the speed with this cable was but about 3-4 miles, pier "A" being reached shortly after one o'clock Sunday afternoon.  Upon reaching its destination the cable was cut and the end securely fastened to the dock.  The following morning the splice was made to the under [text missing here] Commercial Cable Company never employed it, but adopted the recording system invented by Sir William Thomson (now Lord Kelvin).  The instrument was very complicated when the company received it, and much care and attention was necessary to keep it in good working condition.  It was, to a great extent, dependent on the weather, being difficult to operate well on damp, muggy days.

The improvements effected by the company's electricians have removed all its weak points, and it is now one of the most reliable of telegraph machines.  Its principal parts are a light rectangular coil of silk-covered wire and a powerful magnet.  The coil is suspended between the poles of the magnet, and when excited by the electric current from the cable it swings upon a vertical axis.  Its movements are recorded on a paper ribbon drawn at a uniform speed before the point of a fine glass siphon no thicker than a human hair, which conducts a stream of ink from a reservoir to the paper ribbon.  The marking end of the siphon responds to [text missing here] and ground cable recently laid from the pier to the office of the company, corner of Broad and Wall streets, completing a work that will be invaluable to the business interests of New York.

A brief description of the various apparatus employed in sending and receiving cablegrams may prove of interest at this time.

It is popularly supposed that cablegrams are received by means of flashes of light; but that system is all but abandoned; in fact, the [text missing here] multiplies every movement of the coil, and leaves on the ribbon an inky trail, which is an exact and permanent record of the movements of the coil under the influence of the currents from the cable.  In the improved recorder, as devised by Mr. Charles Cuttriss, the Commercial Cable Company's electrician, and shown in one of the illustrations, the siphon is vibrated by magnetism.  The coil is pivoted on jewels, and its motion controlled by magnetism so applied as to take the weight of the coil off the pivot and liolil the coil almost suspended in the air, thereby securing the maximum freedom of motion and of control.  This method of controlling recorder coils renders them so extremely delicate that a speed of 250 to 300 letters per minute is constantly maintained.  The Cuttriss vibrator, for vibrating the siphon of the siphon recorder, is shown at the upper right hand of the illustration just referred to.  The siphon must be kept in constant vibration to do away with friction between its point and the paper ribbon, as otherwise no reliable record of the movements of the recorder coil can be obtained, the current from the cable being too feeble to overcome even a small amount of friction.

Two forms of automatic senders are in use and are shown herewith.  Automatic transmission has been in successful operation on land lines for many years, but was not considered valuable, or even practicable, on long submarine [underwater] cables until Mr. T.J. Wilmot, the Commercial Cable Company's superintendent at Waterville, Ireland, produced a modified form of Wheatstone automatic transmitter, and dcmon.strated conclusively that it was swifter and more accurate than keys manipulated by the hands.  The signals received from an automatic sender are uniform in shape and size, whereas those from the hand vary with the operator.  The automatic sender, therefore, not only does moie work in a given time, but, what is much more important, the uniformity of its signals enables the receiving operator to translate them with greater certainty.  The liability (probability) of error is consequently minimized.

Motion is imparted to the transmitter by means of a weight, and the electrical contacts are controlled by a paper ribbon perforated with three rows of holes as shown.  The upper and lower rows continued backwards and forwards upon the surface of the paper, the lines being separated by a space of (a fraction?) of an inch.  The mass is then placed in containing boxes, two feet square by six inches deep.  Metallic connection is made at frequent intervals with binding posts on the outside of the boxes.

This motor was designed specially for the purpose of drawing the paper ribbon under the point of the siphon.  A sensitive governor regulates its speed, and, consequently, that of the ribbon.  The speed of the ribbon must be regular to preserve uniformity in the record made by the siphon, otherwise the record could not be translated with any certainty.  The ribbon moves under the siphon at the rate of 30 inches per minute.  The governor, when once set, will maintain any given rate within the half of one per cent.  The motors are so wound as to run equally well on an electric light circuit, or a battery circuit of six or more gravity cells.

[text missing here] determine the polarity of the current sent into the cable.  The middle row engages a toothed wheel by which the ribbon is drawn along.

The second form of automatic transmitter also shown is novel in form and construction.  It is the invention of Mr. Charles Cuttriss, and possesses important advantages.  An mportant feature is the intermittent motion imparted to the ribbon, by which it is possible to vary the duration of current and earth contacts in any proportion ot one to the other.

Sparking at the transmitting points is absolutely prevented by a cam device, which never opens the contacts while a current is passing through.  In other words the cam makes and breaks contact when the circuit is free from current and consequently the points work bright and clean.  The clock work and weight of the older forms are abolished and continuous motion is obtained from a self-governing electric motor, also the design of Mr. Charles Cuttriss, which will run efficiently with six cells of battery, and not vary its speed if placed in an electric light circuit.

One of the most important of the many uses of the standard condenser is to measure the inductive capacity of a submarine cable.  When a cable is charged with the current from a battery, static induction is set up between the conductor and the water through the guttta-percha insulator.  A part of the charge is retained and acts as a clog on the speed of the signaling currents.  The less the inductive capacity the greater will be the signaling speed and consequently the greater the commercial value of the cable.  The condenser is an apparatus which affords a means of determining by comparison the capacity of a cable.  It is composed of a large number of alternate sheets of tinfoil and mica, the office (purpose) of the mica being to separate the sheets.

An apparatus invented by Dr. Alex. Muirhead, of London, is used to accomplish on one wire the simultaneous transmission of messages in opposite directions and is known to electricians as "duplexing" the line.  To do this efficiently, the electrical qualities of an ocean cable must be imitated is an artificial line.  A continuous narrow strip of tinfoil represents the conductor in qualities of conductivity and resistance.  Sheets of paper soaked in paraffine (kerosene) represent the gutta-percha insulation, and sheets of tinfoil represent the medium surrounding the cable.  The artificial line is built iup in the following order, repeated as often as necessary: Paraffined paper; tinfoil strips; paraffined paper; tinfoil strips.  The strip of tinfoil is [remaining text is missing]
—  The Electrical World, New York, v24 n12, 22 September 1894



Direct United States Cable Company

Western Union Telegraph Company
82 offices in Nova Scotia

82 Western Union Telegraph offices in Nova Scotia in 1893
Western Union Telegraph Company:— Proprietors and Lessees of all the Telegraph Lines in the United States and the Maritime Provinces, from Port Hood, Nova Scotia, to San Francisco, and connecting via Atlantic Cable and Northern line with all the Telegraphs in the world.
Head Office: 145 Broadway, New York

Source: Belcher's Farmer's Almanack, 1893, page 28

Cablegrams to United Kingdom, etc.

“Cablegram”   vs.   “Telegram”

A “cablegram” is the same as a “telegram” — both terms
refer to a written message sent by electric telegraph.

The term “cablegram” was used by companies such as the
Commercial Cable Company and the Direct United States
Cable Company, that had the word “cable” in their corporate
names.  They were telecommunications companies exactly
like other telecommunications companies of that time
with “telegraph” in their names, such as the Anglo-American
Telegraph Company and the Western Union Telegraph Company.

Commercial Cable and Direct United States Cable preferred
not to use the term “telegram” in their advertising, because
that tended to remind their potential customers that certain
other companies, such as Western Union Telegraph or
Anglo-American Telegraph, offered exactly the same service
(delivering a written message quickly by electric telegraph
to faraway places).

The word “cablegram” rarely (never) appeared in advertising by
any company with “telegraph” in its name.

The word “telegram” rarely (never) appeared in advertising by
any company with “cable” in its name.

From the customer's point of view, there was no difference
between a cablegram and a telegram.  Many people used the
terms interchangeably – a reasonable practice because in fact
they conveyed the same meaning.  For example, in movies
made in the 1930s we sometimes hear characters say
something like: “Send a cable immediately,” or “I got a cable
this morning”, using “cable” as a short form of “cablegram,”
meaning a telegram.  This was a generally-understood usage
of the time.

Note (added 16 April 2011):
Over the last several months, there has been much media
attention given to WikiLeaks.

Today, in the WikiLeaks entry in Wikipedia, the term “cable(s)”
occurs 24 times. The same term appears frequently in TV and
radio news reports about WikiLeaks.

If you ask anyone just what the word “cable(s)” means, in this
context, most people are unable to come up with a clear answer.
The fact is, in this context “cable(s)” simply means “telegram(s).”

The choice of noun has nothing whatever to do with what route,
or what form of technology, may have been employed in moving
the message from its origin to its destination. The means may
have been underwater cable, or landline, or the venerable
“twisted pair”, or wireless, or ordinary postal mail or – less likely
but still possible – pony express or semaphore telegraph or
smoke signals, or any combination of these. The sender and
the recipient rarely know or care about such details.

Interestingly, “telegram(s)” rarely or never appears in news
reports about WikiLeaks – it's always “cable(s).”
It has been suggested that there is a simple reason –
“cable” has two syllables compared to three in “telegram.”

"Upon their arrival overseas (during World War Two), soldiers
were permitted to send cable messages back home to advise
of their safe arrival – the messages were censored to make
certain that no place name was revealed."
The Advertiser, Kentville, Nova Scotia
24 September 2002

Here, "cable messages" simply means "telegrams".

"Her brother sent a cable."  This line of dialog was spoken by
Oscar Muldoon (Edmund O'Brien) in The Barefoot Contessa,
a 1954 movie written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz,
with stars Humphrey Bogart (as Harry Dawes), Ava Gardner
(as Maria Vargas), and Edmond O'Brien (as Oscar).

Here, "cable" means "telegram".

The online Free Dictionary defines "cablegram" (noun)
as "A telegram sent by submarine cable."
This definition is too restrictive.  In ordinary conversation,
people using "cablegram", to mean a written message
sent by electric telegraph, could not know what method of
transmission was used — the message could have been
sent across the ocean by underwater cable or by radio
(wireless telegraph), with neither the sender nor the
recipient knowing or caring which method was used.
To restrict the use of the term "cablegram" to "a telegram
sent by submarine cable" (thus excluding a wireless
message) is an impossible requirement.  There is also
the case where a "cablegram" (telegraph message)
might be sent to its destination without crossing water
(example: New York to San Francisco) — this dictionary
expects people to refrain from using this term in such a
situation, an expectation that ignores the practical
reality that most people, probably including the editors
of this dictionary, don't know that much detail about
the internal workings of telecommunications systems.

Another online dictionary, WordNet defines "cable" or
"cablegram" as "an overseas telegram (a telegram sent
abroad)".  In this definition, where does a telegram sent
from New York to Brazil fit?  Is this "overseas"?
"Overseas" or "abroad" are often used as a synonyms
for "foreign". From New York, Brazil is definitely foreign,
but is it "overseas" or "abroad"?  Is such a fine distinction
likely to be implemented in ordinary conversation?

The Wayback Machine has copies of this webpage from the early days:
TransAtlantic Telegraph Companies

Archived: 1999 February 9

Archived: 1999 April 20

Archived: 1999 September 22

Archived: 2000 February 8

Archived: 2000 August 15

Archived: 2001 April 9

Archived: 2001 October 21

Archived: 2002 February 21

Archived: 2002 August 02

Archived: 2001 September 01

Archived: 2002 November 22

Archived: 2002 December 06

Archived: 2003 May 02

Archived: 2003 August 16

Archived: 2003 December 31

Archived: 2004 April 01

Archived: 2004 June 11

Archived: 2004 October 12

Archived: 2005 March 09

Archived: 2005 August 25

Archived: 2005 November 02

Archived: 2005 November 19

Archived: 2006 February 13

Archived: 2006 May 28

  Hits per calendar month
       2015 Jun    219
       2015 May     84
       2015 Apr    127
       2015 Mar    123
       2015 Feb    165
       2015 Jan    184

       2014 Dec    209
       2014 Nov    960
       2014 Oct   1049
       2014 Sep     94
       2014 Aug    135
       2014 Jul    114
       2014 Jun     92
       2014 May    159
       2014 Apr     69
       2014 Mar     85
       2014 Feb     64
       2014 Jan     79

       2013 Dec     81
       2013 Nov     81
       2013 Oct     77
       2013 Sep     93
       2013 Aug     66
       2013 Jul     86
       2013 Jun     90
       2013 May    117
       2013 Apr     58
       2013 Mar     68
       2013 Feb     68
       2013 Jan    104

       2012 Dec    121
       2012 Nov    250
       2012 Oct    215
       2012 Sep     76
       2012 Aug     53
       2012 Jul    217
       2012 Jun     78
       2012 May    212
       2012 Apr    161
       2012 Mar    149
       2012 Feb    159
       2012 Jan     94

       2011 Dec     99
       2011 Nov    169
       2011 Oct     72
       2011 Sep     80
       2011 Aug     68
       2011 Jul     63
       2011 Jun     56
       2011 May    123
       2011 Apr     99

Go To:   History of Telegraph and Telephone Companies in Nova Scotia

Go to:   Ode to the Code ...Morse Code is officially retired...
Go to:   Farewell to Morse Code
Go To:   The Duke of Kent's Signal Stations by S.G. Roscoe
Go To:   Transportation and Communications Links between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in 1849
Go To:   History of Electric Power Companies in Nova Scotia

Go To:   History of Railway Companies in Nova Scotia

Go To:   Nova Scotia History, Chapter One

Go To:   Nova Scotia Historical Biographies

Photographs of War Memorials, Historic Monuments and Plaques in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Quotations

Go To:   Home Page

Valid HTML 4.01 webpage
W3C HTML Validation Service
Valid CSS webpage
W3C CSS Validation Service
This site works with any browser.

First uploaded to the WWW:   1998 May 21
Script upgraded to HTML 4.01:   2002 September 15
Moved to new hosting service:   2011 April 15
Latest update:   2015 July 09