Cyrus West Field

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This article is about the American businessman. For the oil rig, please see Cyrus field.
Cyrus West Field
Born (1819-11-30)November 30, 1819
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died July 12, 1892(1892-07-12) (aged 72)
Irvington, New York, U.S.
Occupation businessman, financier, telecommunications pioneer
Spouse(s) Mary Bryan Stone
(m. December 2, 1840)
Children Four sons, three daughters
Parent(s) David Dudley Field, Submit Dickinson (1782-1861)
Relatives Frederick Vanderbilt Field (descendant)
Cyrus West Field.svg

Cyrus West Field (November 30, 1819 – July 12, 1892) was an American businessman and financier who, along with other entrepreneurs, created the Atlantic Telegraph Company and laid the first telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean in 1858.

Life and career[edit]


Field was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts to David Dudley Field, a clergyman and Submit Dickinson, daughter of Revolutionary War Captain Noah Dickinson from Somers, Connecticut. The eighth of ten children, he was the brother of David Dudley Field II, Henry Martyn Field, and Stephen Johnson Field, the 38th United States Supreme Court Justice. When he was 15 years old, he moved to New York City, where he worked as an errand boy in the largest dry goods emporium in the city,[1] but after three years he returned to Stockbridge. He moved to New York City again around 1840.

Field went into paper manufacturing as Cyrus W. Field and Company in New York, servicing the burgeoning penny press and the need for stocks and bonds, and became one of the city's richest men. Profits permitted him to retire at the age 34 with a fortune of $250,000, and buy a home in Gramercy Park.[1] In the 1850s he financed the expeditions of Frederic Edwin Church that led the painter into the Andes Mountains seeking new landscapes for his art. By commissioning some of Church's most well known paintings, Field hoped to lure investors into South America to support his ventures there.

Field then turned his attention to the telegraphy. Together with Peter Cooper, Abram Stevens Hewitt, Moses Taylor and Samuel F.B. Morse, in 1854 he laid a 400-mile telegraph line connecting St. John's, Newfoundland with Nova Scotia, where telegraph lines from the U.S. terminated. The next year they formed the American Telegraph Company and began buying up other companies, rationalizing them into a consolidated system that ran from Maine to the Gulf Coast; the system was second only to Western Union's.[1]

In 1857, after securing financing in England and backing from the American and British governments, the Atlantic Telegraph Company began laying the first telegraph cable, utilizing a shallow submarine plateau that ran between Ireland and Newfoundland.[1] The cable was officially opened on August 16, 1858, when Queen Victoria sent President James Buchanan a message in Morse code. Although the jubilation at the feat was widespread,[1] the cable itself was short-lived: it broke down three weeks afterward, and was not reconnected until 1866.[1][2]

During the Panic of 1857, Field's paper business suspended, and he was kept from going under by his neighbor in Gramercy Park, Peter Cooper.[3]

On August 26, 1858, Field returned to a triumphant homecoming at Great Barrington, Massachusetts, saluting this Massachusetts boy made good. "This has been a great day here," trumpeted The New York Times. "The occasion was the reception of the welcome of Cyrus W. Field, Esq., the world-renowned parent of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable scheme, which has been so successfully completed."[4]

Field's activities brought him into contact with a number of prominent persons on both sides of the Atlantic – including William Ewart Gladstone, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister). Field's communications with Gladstone would become important in the middle of the American Civil War, when three letters he received from Gladstone between November 27, 1862 and December 9, 1862 caused a furor,[5] because Gladstone appeared to express support of the secessionist southern states in forming the Confederate States of America.[6]

In 1866, Field laid a new, more durable trans-Atlantic cable, using Brunel's SS Great Eastern, at the time the largest ocean-going ship in the world, which provided almost instant communication across the Atlantic. On his return to Newfoundland, he grappled the cable he had attempted to lay the previous year and which had parted in mid-ocean, reattached it to new wire, thus allowing for a second, backup wire for communication.

In December 1884, the Canadian Pacific Railway named the community of Field, British Columbia, Canada in his honor. Bad investments left Field bankrupt at the end of his life.

Field and his wife Mary Bryan Stone had seven children. Cyrus Field Road, in Irvington, New York, where he died, is named after him. Ardsley, New York was named after Field's family.

Field and his wife are buried in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in the Stockbridge Cemetery in Berkshire County. His headstone reads: CYRUS WEST FIELD To whose courage, energy and perseverance the world owes The Atlantic Telegraph.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Burrows, Edwin G. & Wallace, Mike (1999). Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195116348.  p.675-676
  2. ^ History of the Atlantic Cable and Submarine Telegraphy. (2011-08-07). Retrieved on 2011-09-01.
  3. ^ Burrows, Edwin G. & Wallace, Mike (1999). Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195116348.  p.845
  4. ^ Latest by Telegraph, Ovation to Cyrus W. Field. New York Times. Aug. 23, 1858. Retrieved on 2011-09-01.
  5. ^ Widener Library manuscripts
  6. ^ Stewart Mitchell, Horatio Seymour of New York (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass., 1938) p. 254.
  • Gordon, John Steele. A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable, Harper Perennial, 2003.

External links[edit]