Talk:Transatlantic telegraph cable

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Don't use words like "Anglophobe" unless you're prepared to prove it. RickK 06:53, Feb 11, 2005 (UTC)

The burden of proof is on those advocating a change. It doesn't violate neutral point of view if there is no opposing point of view. Gene Nygaard 06:57, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
The senators would almost certainly not describe themselves as anglophobes. So yes, they may be lying for the sake of political correctness, but maybe they honestly don't have an irrational fear of the English. Such a word, since it sounds bad, is almost certainly POV. If you have the full, NPOV story behind it ("some senators were in priciple opposed to cooperation with the English because ____"), that would be a useful addition, but a single word will often communicate more than is intended. PaulStansifer 00:37, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Anglophobia among Americans of the period was quite understandable, given British opposition to "Manifest Destiny" and the Mexican war, and the fact that the two countries had nearly gone to war over Oregon barely a decade earlier. Bastie 21:07, 28 November 2005 (UTC)

for possible inclusion[edit] 00:29, 27 Mar 2005 (UTC): The following is from William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin but belongs elsewhere, perhaps merged with the text here:

After William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone had introduced their working telegraph in 1839, the idea of a submarine line across the Atlantic Ocean began --Stangbat 20:31, 27 October 2006 (UTC)to be thought of as a possible triumph of the future. Samuel Morse proclaimed his faith in it as early as the year 1840, and in 1842 he submerged a wire, insulated with tarred hemp and india rubber, in the water of New York harbour, and telegraphed through it. The following autumn Wheatstone performed a similar experiment in Swansea Bay. A good insulator to cover the wire and prevent the electricity from leaking into the water was requisite for the success of a long submarine line. India rubber had been tried by Jacobi, the Russian electrician, as far back as 1811.
Luckily another gum which could be melted by heat, and readily applied to the wire, made its appearance. Gutta-percha, the adhesive juice of the Isonandra Gutta tree, was introduced to Europe in 1842 by Dr. Montgomerie, a Scotch surveyor in the service of the British East India Company. Twenty years before he had seen whips made of it in Singapore, and believed that it would be useful in the fabrication of surgical apparatus. Faraday and Wheatstone soon discovered its merits as an insulator, and in 1845 the latter suggested that it should be employed to cover the wire which it was proposed to lay from Dover to Calais. It was tried on a wire laid across the Rhine between Deutz and Cologne. In 1849 Mr. C. V. Walker, electrician to the South Eastern Railway Company, submerged a wire coated with it, or, as it is technically called, a gutta-percha core, along the coast off Dover.
The following year, John Watkins Brett laid the first line across the English Channel. It was simply a copper wire coated with gutta-percha, without any other protection. The experiment served to keep alive the concession, and the next year, on November 13, 1851, a protected core or true cable was laid from a Government hulk, the Blazer, which was towed across the Channel. Next year Great Britain and Ireland were linked together. In May, 1853, England was joined to Holland by a cable across the North Sea, from Orfordness to the Hague. It was laid by the Monarch, a paddle steamer which had been fitted for the work.
I have moved all this to underwater telegraph cable. Cutler 16:41, July 27, 2005 (UTC)

Something missing[edit]

In the opening Introduction there is a sentence that needs fixing as it has no point to make, reference The Queen of England spoke to the President James Buchanan of the United States.

This information is not correct. The first meassge sent across the cable was, "Glory to God in the highest; on earth, peace and good will toward men." It is written on the monument pictured on the page. [unsigned]

Needle in the haystack or cable lost in the ocean, which is easier?[edit]

On August 9 the Great Eastern put to sea again in order to grapple the lost cable of 1865, and complete it to Newfoundland. [3] Arriving in mid-ocean after thirty casts of the grapnel, she hooked and raised it to surface, then spliced it to a fresh cable in her hold, and paid out to Heart's Content, Newfoundland, where she arrived on Saturday, September 7. There were now two working telegraph lines.'

Could someone please care to explain how did they found the lost cable in the middle of open ocean [[without help of GPS or radio beacons? Sextant navigation deviates many miles from actual position. [unsigned]

Away from the mid-Atlantic ridge the seafloor is very smooth, so dragging a hook through the mud in a north-south direction will eventually allow you to snag the cable. No precision navigation required. Bastie 02:29, 30 November 2005 (UTC)

Section cleanup tag added[edit]

In reading through the first section of this article, I feel like I'm getting a collection of factoids that serve no purpose in the introduction. In addition, the sentences don't read very well, and the section overall doesn't do a very good job of introducing the topic. Stack 17:03, 5 August 2005 (UTC)

This project was done in reality, yes? (updated May 2009)[edit]

"The Transatlantic cable would bridge the North American continent with that of Europe, and speed up communication between the two from a matter of days by ship, to a matter of minutes by telegraph. "

This sentence makes it sound like a theoretical concept never implemented. What about:

"The Transatlantic cable bridged the North American continent with that of Europe, and speed up communication between the two from a matter of days by ship, to a matter of minutes by telegraph. "

Just did it - Jedi of redwall 00:10, 16 January 2006 (UTC)

Supplementary note on the above:
For those interested in the history of telecommunications, prior to the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable it was not unusual for Europe and North America to be out of touch for several weeks at a time due to severe winter weather and gales which made ocean crossings too risky for mail ships; thus the impetus and governmental support for a cable to connect the continents and provide reliable (albeit expensive) communications.
"American Heritage Invention & Technology Magazine" has published a number of high quality articles on this subject, such as this one: THE CABLE UNDER THE SEA, plus another more recent one, possibly in 2008. --HarryZilber (talk) 07:03, 4 May 2009 (UTC)

Communication speeds - date question[edit]

This section currently reads, Initially...[t]he reception was very bad and only a few words per minute could be sent. By 1858 there were hundreds of under-sea cables linking every part of the civilised globe. The methods of sending messages had been vastly improved, and message sending could be automated so that up to 120 words a minute could be transmitted. London had become the world centre in telecommunications. etc.

According to the rest of the article, 1858 was the date of the first, rudimentary cable. Did all these improvements really happen in the same year or has someone made a typo in the year here? DopefishJustin 20:52, 20 March 2006 (UTC)

Failure of first cable[edit]

Didn't the first cable fail because Whitehouse put 2000 volts through it? If this is the case, the article makes it sound like it was from natural causes. Doormatty 01:08, 23 March 2006 (UTC)

  • The signal started getting weaker and weaker after a short period of time, so Whitehouse tried to put more voltage through it in order to increase the signal strength. Eventually it broke in the middle of the ocean. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:27, 15 November 2011 (UTC)


The factoid about relays is interesting, but seems akwardly placed at the end of the Communication Speeds section. Perhaps a new section discussing the cable's technology would be a better place for information such as this. However, until such information is written, what is the best option? Leave it alone? --Stangbat 20:31, 27 October 2006 (UTC)

I would also like to know more about the relays. The article simply says that they are possible, but then no further information is given. [unsigned]

Me, too. More details please, how strong was the voltage .. or what was the protocol during those times? When was a line busy? Were there timeslots etc. etc. a fascinating topic. :) --Playmuc (talk) 11:35, 6 August 2012 (UTC)

The cable today[edit]

Wouldn't be a bad idea to add a small section about what happened to the cables in the 20th century. Are they still there in the ocean? Still usable? I couldn't find anything relevant on Google. --V. Szabolcs 22:08, 19 January 2007 (UTC)

It's hard to get definite facts but I have seen cables still in place at Waterville (photographs on my site at and I did see one at Cape Cod (but no evidence !). See also Tom Perera's site - he dives for cables around North America. Ex employees of the Commercial Cable Company I have spoken to all assume they were salvaged. Johnrcrellin 09:34, 20 January 2007 (UTC)

Was the Transatlantic cable suspended in water?[edit]

Was the cabel laid across the ocean bed, or were floatation devices used to keep the cabel afloat at a certain depth? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:56, 24 October 2007 (UTC)

Definitely resting on the ocean floor. Johnrcrellin 07:35, 25 October 2007 (UTC)

How was the 1858 cable destroyed?[edit]

In the summary, it states that the cable failed when high voltage was applied in the hopes of increasing message speed. However, in the text, it says the insulation failed. Which is right? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:49, 10 January 2008 (UTC)

The insulation was destroyed by the too high voltage. The way I have read it Whitehouse believed in a brute force approach - keep trying more voltage to get a better signal - against Thompson (later Lord Kelvin) who realised it was better to use sensitive reception equipment and keep the voltage down. The Bern Dibner reference has chapter and verse... Johnrcrellin (talk) 09:18, 11 January 2008 (UTC)

Thanks for the help. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:40, 29 January 2008 (UTC)


Mention how thick the cable was. Jidanni (talk) 02:22, 4 April 2008 (UTC)

Tangible effects[edit]

Much more needs to be written about what brought this into being, and what its effects were. Why did people finance it? How did people pay for its use? Who used it, for what? When were more cables laid? I added a little to the end of the introduction. NittyG (talk) 04:30, 4 December 2008 (UTC)

Change to this article's name?[edit]

It appears that the article is currently misnamed since there were, in fact, a number of transatlantic telegraph cables for a lengthy time before technology changed both their design and descriptive names (eg: submarine communications cable). The current name, Transatlantic telegraph cable, is misleading.

To me it would appear that "First transatlantic telegraph cable" would be a better name for this page, since the article is almost exclusively concerned with the historical attempts at laying the first successful (functional) cable across the Atlantic, which was the equivalent 'moonshot' of that era. Comments, yea or nea please..... --HarryZilber (talk) 07:03, 4 May 2009 (UTC)

Dead Whale[edit]

Does anyone have information about the cable that was found to have a dead sperm whale tangled up in it? CFLeon (talk) 07:32, 21 March 2011 (UTC)

Nails and the the loss of the 1865 cable[edit]

I note that the article reports on the laying of the 1865 and 1866 cable with citations and some detail. However according to Arthur C Clarke, the events recorded in the article occured but not in the way stated (hence the dubious tag to direct here). The 'sabotage' of the cable with 'nails' was in part responsible for the loss of the 1865 cable (for it was this cable that was affected not the 1866 cable).

The Great Eastern was converted for cable laying by installing the cable paying out mechanism at the stern of the ship. The mechanism for pulling the cable back in was located at the bow of the ship (with hindsight, a rather short sighted decision but presumably taken so that the ship could steam ahead regardless of whether paying out or pulling in cable). While the cable was being laid, its electrical properties were being constantly monitored in case of trouble. It was while the cable was being laid that a short suddenly developed and the ship had to stop.

In order to investigate the cause it was necessary to cut the cable and then pull it back in until the problem was found. The cable was cut, but it then had to be manouvered around 692 feet (211 metres) of ship (including a paddle wheel casing) to the pulling in gear at the bow, a time consuming task. As the cable was pulled in, it was found that the insulation had been punctured by, what was at the time, believed to be a nail. The damaged piece of cable was cut away and the end had to be manouvered back to the stern so that it could be spliced back onto the remaining cable and laying recommenced.

Once again after some hours a short was detected and the whole exercise repeated during which another 'nail' was found piercing the insulation. It was at this point that sabotage was suspected and the captain posted his notice about what he intended to do with the offender. Also, an armed guard was posted on the cable hold. Cable laying continued and yet another short was detected and the whole cutting and manouvering to the bow and back exercise was repeated. The guard reported that no unauthorised person had been near the cable.

A closer investigation revealed that the 'nail' turned out to be a piece of the steel wire that wrapped the cable. It was found that the weight of the cable had damaged the wire wrapping of the underlying cable which had penetrated the insulation of the upper layers. The insulation breach would not become apparent until that part of the cable was immersed in the water. Cable laying continued.

Once again after some time, yet another short was detected. The whole business of cutting the cable and manouvering to the front of the ship to pull it back in had to be taken once more. Unfortunately, on this occassion, the Atlantic Ocean had developed a bit of a swell, and while manouvering the cable to the bow, the cable slapped the side of the ship and broke, the end falling into the water.

For the 1866 cable, the steel wrapping was modified to make it less brittle. The Great Eastern was also modified to move the pulling in mechanism to the stern of the ship. It proved not to be needed as the cable was laid without incident. The remainder of the 1865 cable was then reloaded along with grappling gear (with suitably strong line) and the Great Eastern embarked to fish the end of the 1865 cable from the depths of the Atlantic. That she succeeded in finding it is quite remarkable though it did take some weeks to actually recover it. The remainder of the 1865 cable was laid without incident. (talk) 17:19, 11 November 2011 (UTC)

If you have a citeable source for this (e.g. a publication by AC Clarke) then I would suggest that it trumps the citation given as I personally regard a website from an enthusiastic amateur with suspicion. (talk) 17:09, 14 November 2011 (UTC)

Great engineering cock-ups[edit]

The 1857 cable figured in a series on great cock-ups in engineereing. It seems that since the 1857 cable was to be laid by two ships (there being no ship available at the time that could hold the entire cable) advantage was taken to save time in manufacturing the cable, to contract the job to two cable manufacturers, each producing half the cable. The Atlantic Telegraph Company went to a lot of trouble to ensure that the cables were the same specifying criteria such as the composition of the core; the number of conductors; the twists per yard; the insulation material; the thickness of each layer; the number of layers; the number of steel wires around the outside; the number of twists per yard.

It was only when HMS Agamemnon and the USS Niagara met in mid Atlantic to splice the two cable ends together was it discovered that one thing was missing from the above list (did anyone spot it?).

The specification failed to specify the direction of twist and it was found that the two cable halves were mirror images of one another. The laying proceeded regardless, but the tendency of that part of cable to untwist as it descended to the ocean floor was cited as a factor in its eventual failure. (talk) 17:19, 11 November 2011 (UTC)

I had read something similar, but it was in a paper about projects where someone had overlooked the obvious. If you have a cite then it should be added to the article. (talk) 17:11, 14 November 2011 (UTC)
According to Gillian Cookson's book the mistake was discovered 'as the cable neared completion', by which I think she means while the two sections were being manufactured, respectively, at Newalls in Birkenhead and Glass, Elliot in Greenwich. Pterre (talk) 14:00, 7 January 2012 (UTC)

Monument Photo[edit]

As I generally don't like to add my own photos to articles, I'll stick a link to a photo of a relevant monument here. The text may be of interest to the article. --Robthepiper (talk) 06:37, 2 September 2012 (UTC)

Reduction in message transmission time[edit]

Let's take a time-out to agree on what time reduction the cable achieved, so we don't start having a Groundhog Day revert party. I believe the text should refer to the time reductions created with the later cables which certainly transmitted short messages in a matter of minutes, as compared to the first cable which quickly went brain-dead and took hours for some messages. Remember that messages on these cables were astoundingly expensive, the equivalent of about $1,700 of today's dollars for a dozen words or so (don't bite me on the dollar amount -I'm just going by memory here). That huge cost meant that many messages were brief of course, probably using the minimum 10 word rate, and thus supporting the use of the wording "....matter of minutes". HarryZilber (talk) 00:35, 22 January 2013 (UTC)

Further, from the article's section on communication speeds: "...The 1866 cable could transmit eight words a minute[17] – 80 times faster than the 1858 cable." Since many messages used the 10 word minimum rate we have some extra support to the wording "...a matter of minutes". Time spent wandering about the city looking for the telegraph office or waiting in line there is not considered in this article, of course! HarryZilber (talk) 22:01, 22 January 2013 (UTC)

48000 km * 0.98 tons/km = 1600 tons ?[edit]

"The weight of the new cable was 35.75 long hundredweight (4000 lb) per nautical mile (980 kg/km), or nearly twice the weight of the old. The Haymills site successfully manufactured 30,000 miles (48,000 km) of wire (1,600 tons), made by 250 workers over eleven months."

So how can 48000 km of wire weigh 1600 tons? Is there something wrong or am I missing something here?

  • I don't know for sure, but I'm fairly certain that the 48,000 km is referring to the individual wires that make up the cable together. I'm not so sure whether it means the seven copper communication wires (7×73 kg/km, 510 kg/km total), or the eighteen protective high-tensile steel wires; the former would be more relevant, but the latter are specified as being made at Hay Mills/Haymills (I'm assuming the two are equivalent). Also, 48,000 km would only give almost 2,700 km length when eighteen strands are used, ignoring the shortening by the twist; the distance covered is about 3,000 km, but they might have been manufacturing for just one half of the cable. --J. Randall Owens (talk)
  • Why the hell does it suddenly, without explanation, and in only one place, use "long hundredweight" as a measurement?????? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:05, 27 May 2015 (UTC)

Dubious 'first' message[edit]

The page currently makes a pretty blanket statement that the 'first message' sent over the cable was:

“Europe and America are united by telegraphy. Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”. (On 13 August 1858)

However it appears possible this was only the first 'official' message, not the first message sent over the cable. The cited source is what looks like a decent, but self-published, website here, and which is actually quoting "in 1974, a double-page full-color advertisement appeared in the July 23rd issue of the Antique Trader". Other on-line sources like Wired (magazine) [1], The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) [2] and [3] support this, or variations of it, but may be sourced back to Wikipedia.

According to a Salford University web page by Professor [Nigel Linge], here:

"The first complete message sent along the cable from Newfoundland to Valentia was on 12th August 1858 at 5:35pm. It read, “Laws, Whitehouse received five minutes signal. Coil signals too weak to relay. Try drive slow and regular. I have put intermediate pulley. Reply by coils” "

So it seems we need to specify it was the first official message not the first.

I note that this issue also gets a slight mention earlier on this talk page.

Comments, especially better sources, please? --220 of Borg 04:37, 12 June 2014 (UTC)

I've removed the dubious tag and added another source. Engineers transmissions of the "testing, testing, one two three" type clearly don't count as actual messages, nobody cares about them. Besides the source I added, there is also Historical Encyclopedia of Natural and Mathematical Sciences which describes it as the first cablegram. Test messages hardly rise to the status of being a cablegram. Nobody cares about them. SpinningSpark 20:21, 28 October 2015 (UTC)

I know this is only the Talk page but I find the use - twice - of "Nobody cares about them" very offensive! I certainly do and am much less interested in pompous messages sent by people who probably didn't even understand what was being achieved. It's just another example of the belittling that politicians and many others indulge of the people who actually take society forward. Having said that the text on the main page is currently about right on this section! Johnrcrellin (talk) 15:10, 29 October 2015 (UTC)

Didn't realise I said it twice! Interesting that you think I am a politician, I've worked as an electrical engineer all my life and I doubt that anyone could be persuaded to vote for me. SpinningSpark 15:38, 29 October 2015 (UTC)