ASK OCE  June, 14, 2006 — Vol. 1, Issue 9

 

 

Just as satellites enabled our age of instantaneous global communications, the transatlantic cable linking the United States to Europe, which was completed successfully in 1866, was a quantum leap forward in shrinking geographic distances during the late nineteenth century.

The cable, also known as a submarine communications cable, was modeled on the first undersea telegraph cable laid between England and France in1850. Construction on the first transatlantic project began in 1857 and finished in 1858. Contact between England and the United States was established, with Queen Victoria sending President James Buchanan the first message across the Atlantic on August 16, 1858. Within a few weeks, however, the cable suffered rapid deterioration due to the high voltages being used to transmit, and it ceased working by that September.

In 1865, a second attempt was made that took advantage of several technological developments that had occurred in the interim. Great Eastern, the largest ship of its time, laid the cable, which snapped after more than one thousand miles. The crew made strenuous efforts to locate and repair the broken cable, but ultimately the mission was aborted.

On July 14, 1866, Great Eastern set out again, averaging 120 miles a day. The cable was successfully pulled ashore on July 27, 1866. The first message transmitted was, “A treaty of peace has been signed between Austria and Prussia.”

Great Eastern then returned to the spot where the 1865 cable had broken, retrieved it, spliced it to a new length, and successfully transported it to the shore of Nova Scotia. By September 1866, there were two transoceanic cables in operation.

Read more about the first transatlantic cable.

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