The Laying of the Atlantic Cable

A.D. 1866

Cyrus W. Field

Twenty-two years after the completion of the first telegraph line - between Washington and Baltimore, in 1844 - came the greatest triumph in the history of telegraphy. The first successful laying of an ocean telegraph, the Atlantic cable of 1866, marked the beginning of a new era in human intercourse, for the first achievement has been followed by others of like magnitude in various parts of the world. It is said that the first experiments for demonstrating the practicability of a submarine telegraph were made by Samuel F. B. Morse, under whose direction the Washington and Baltimore telegraph line was opened.

The successful demonstration of submarine telegraphy was made through the work of Cyrus W. Field and his associates. He was the son of David Dudley Field, who also had several other sons distinguished in American history. Cyrus W. Field was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1819. In 1853 he retired from business in New York with a fortune, and devoted himself to the enterprise that gave him his fame. About this time Peter Cooper, Moses Taylor, Marshall 0. Roberts, Chandler White, Robert W. Lowber, and David Dudley Field, brother of Cyrus, met at the residence of the last-named on "four successive evenings, and, - around a table covered with maps and charts and plans and estimates, considered a project to extend a line of telegraph from Nova Scotia to St. John's, in Newfoundland, thence to be carried across the ocean." The undertaking appeared to the projectors to be much less difficult than it actually proved. They thought it might be accomplished from New York to St. John's "in a few months," but it took two years and a half to lay this line. Few persons had any faith in the scheme, and the money for this great initial step was all furnished by Field and his friends mentioned above.

The development and carrying out of the enterprise to its transatlantic completion are here related in the words of its leading promoter, to whom the chief honors of this inestimable service to mankind are universally ascribed. The account was written in 1866. -ED

At first the Atlantic-cable project was wholly an American enterprise. It was begun, and for two years and a half was carried on, solely by American capital. Our brethren across the sea did not even know what we were doing away in the forests of Newfoundland. Our little company raised and expended over a million and a quarter of dollars before an Englishman paid a single pound sterling. Our only support outside was in the liberal character and steady friendship of the Government of Newfoundland, for which we were greatly indebted to Mr. E. M. Archibald, then Attorney-General of that colony. In preparing for an ocean cable, the first soundings across the Atlantic were made by American officers in American ships. Our scientific men - Morse, Henry, Bache, and Maury - had taken great interest in the subject. The United States ship Dolphin discovered the telegraphic plateau as early as 1853, and the United States ship Arctic sounded across from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1856, a year before Her Majesty's ship Cyclops, under command of Captain Dayman, went over the same course. This I state, not to take aught from the just praise of England, but simply to vindicate the truth of history.

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