A Brief History
On August 16, 1858, a date earlier than you may have thought, the advent of instant electronic communications between Europe and North America was inaugurated by President James Buchanan and Queen Victoria of the UK via the “Transatlantic Cable.”
Prior to radio, television, and satellite, electric communication was done via the telegraph wire, wire made of real metal that stretched from point to point. Cablemen had the job of laying 2,500 miles of copper wire covered in gutta percha, hemp, and tar that weighed an imposing one ton plus per mile!
The 1857 attempt failed, and the 1858 cable, successful at first, quickly failed in only a few weeks. The next effort was made in 1865, using the SS Great Eastern, the largest ship in the world at the time. Despite difficulties, by 1866, the job was done, and folks no longer had to wait weeks for information to transit the Atlantic via ship.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever sent or received a telegram? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Cowan, Mary Morton. Cyrus Field’s Big Dream: The Daring Effort to Lay the First Transatlantic Telegraph Cable. Calkins Creek, 2018.
Gordon, John Steele. A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable. Walker and Company, 2002.
The featured image in this article, a U.S. postage stamp issued to commemorate the Atlantic cable centenary, is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.
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