Monday, October 5, 2009

The Transatlantic Telegraph Cable

So this morning while I was taking a shower an odd question came to me.  I found myself thinking about how easily we today communicate all over the world, and wondered when we were first able to communicate continent to continent, specifically across the Atlantic Ocean, without news having to be relayed person to person.  In other words, since the telegraph was the first step towards our modern communication era, when was the first Transatlantic telegraph cable laid, and must that not have been a serious undertaking?  So after watching the Packers lose against the dreaded Vikings, I came home and decided to do some light research, just enough to quell my curiosity.

As this is not a paper for school, I hope that you will accept Wikipedia as my main source.  My apologies, my college history professors would be appalled.

Now if you had to take a guess, what year would you guess the continents of North America and Europe were connected by telegraph?  I would've put my guess at around 1900.  I was positive that there was connection by World War I at the latest, as the famed Zimmerman Telegram from Germany to Mexico is often cited as a major reason that the U.S. entered that war.  So I knew that the cable had been laid before World War I, but had no idea how early before.

The correct year?  1866.  Well, that is the year that it was finally achieved for lasting use.  Attempts began in 1857 and the first telegraph (a message between Queen Victoria and President James Buchanan) was sent between the continents in 1858, though that wire broke less than a month later.  I find it fascinating that at that early of a date, when the world had yet to move past the steam engine, humans were able to lay a cable down the entire width of the Atlantic Ocean, connecting Newfoundland and Ireland.  Apparently ships started on either end with their part of the cable, and then met in the middle of the Atlantic, fusing the cable together before letting it drop to the ocean floor.  It seems that they had a few mistrials, as the cable broke multiple times.  The whole process is described on wikipedia quite well. 

The first transatlantic telegraph communication was followed in 1901 by the first transatlantic radio transmission, done by Mr. Guglielmo Marconi.  The first transatlantic telephone cable was laid in 1955, the first transatlantic communications satellite was launched in 1962, and the first fiber-optic cable in 1988.

Just take a moment to think about that, as you use the Internet to access websites from Asia, Skype to talk to friends overseas, or switch out SIM cards effortlessly on cell phones while traveling in other countries to maintain contact with friends and family around the world.  Communication has come a long way, and we take our connected world for granted.  The next time you pick up a phone, think about the first transatlantic cable, laid in the middle of the 19th-century.

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