Atlantic Telegraph Cable

Cyrus West Field

Born in 1819, Cyrus West Field began work at age fifteen as an office boy for A. T. Stewart & Co., New York City's first department store. By age twenty, he was a partner in a paper manufacturing company, and at thirty-three he retired from business a wealthy man.
In 1854 Field began the quest to lay a telegraphic cable across the Atlantic Ocean. After several failed attempts, in August 1858 Field arranged for Queen Victoria to send the first transatlantic message to President James Buchanan, and New York erupted in celebrations, lauding Field, telegraph inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, modern technology, and American ingenuity in general. But the cable broke after just three weeks, and Field did not complete his project until 1866.

Cable-laying vessels HMS "Agamemnon" and USSF "Niagara"

The cable-laying vessels were the converted warships HMS Agamemnon and USSF Niagara.
The cable was started at the white strand near Ballycarbery Castle County Kerry, the southwest coast of Ireland, on August 5, 1857.
The cable broke on the first day, but was grappled and repaired; it broke again over the 'telegraph plateau, nearly 3,200 m (2 statute miles) deep,
and the operation was abandoned for the year.

The following summer the Agamemnon and Niagara, after experiments in the Bay of Biscay, tried again.
The vessels were to meet in the middle of the Atlantic, where the two halves of the cable were to be spliced together, and while the Agamemnon paid out eastwards
to Valentia Island the Niagara was to pay out westward to Newfoundland.
On June 26, the middle splice was made and the cable was dropped.Again the cable broke, the first time after less than 5.5 km (three nautical miles),
again after some 100 km (54 nautical miles) and for a third time when about 370 km (200 nautical miles) of cable had run out of each vessel.
The expedition returned to Queenstown and set out again on July 17 with little enthusiasm among the crews. The middle splice was finished on July 29, 1858.
The cable ran easily this time.
The Niagara arrived in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland on August 4 and the next morning the shore end was landed.
The Agamemnon made an equally successful run. On August 5, the Agamemnon arrived at Valentia Island, and the shore end was landed at Knightstown and then laid
to the nearby cable house.

Messages & Telegrams

The first clear message from Newfoundland came through on the 13th August and
the first from Ireland went through on the 16th August, it read:

Europe and America are united by telegraphy.
Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, goodwill towards men.

Then the following telegrams were sent:

To the President of the United States, Washington

The Queen desires to congratulate the President upon the successful completion of this great international work,
in which the Queen has taken the greatest interest. The Queen is convinced that the President will join with her in fervently hoping that the electric cable,
which now already connects Great Britain with the United States, will prove an additional link between the two nations,
whose friendship is founded upon their common interest and reciprocal esteem. The Queen has much pleasure in thus directly communicating with the President, and in renewing to him her best wishes for the prosperity of the United States.

Washington City, August 16,1885.

The President of the United States to Her Majesty Victoria, Queen of Great Britain. The President cordially reciprocates the congratulations of Her Majesty the Queen on the success of the great international enterprise accomplished by the skill, science, and indomitable energy of the two countries. It is a triumph more glorious, because far more useful to mankind than was ever won by a conqueror on the field of battle. May the Atlantic Telegraph, under the blessing of heaven, prove to be a bond of perpetual peace and friendship between the kindred nations, and an instrument destined by Divine Providence to diffuse religion, civilisation, liberty, and law throughout the world. In this view will not all the nations of Christendom spontaneously unite in the declaration that it shall be for ever neutral,and that its communication shall be held sacred in passing to the place of their destination, even in the midst of hostilities?

In all 732 messages were sent before the cable finally failed on the 20th October 1858.

Failure of the cable

When the cable was handed to the chief electrician of the Atlantic Telegraph Company,Edward Orange Wildman Whitehouse, it was in good working order.
Mr Whitehouse believed that it was essential to use a very high current to succeed in transmitting signals,so a series of induction coils
with a potential of 2,000 volts were used.
This was to bring about the eventual failure of the cable.

Atlantic cable souvenir and certificate by Tiffany

News of the cable's (apparent) success in 1858 was greeted in the U.S. with widespread public rejoicing.
The New York jeweler Tiffany bought up leftover cable and sold sections of it as umbrella handles and canes.
Most popular were four-inch sections with a brass band marked "Tiffany."
Accompanied by a certificate signed by Cyrus Field, they sold for 50 cents each.