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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

1858 New York Celebration

1858 New York Celebration

After the first messages were transmitted over the Atlantic Cable in August 1858 between Valentia, Ireland, and Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, September 1st was declared as the official day of celebration in New York City.

The day began with services at Trinity Church, which was filled to overflowing. At noon Cyrus Field and the ships’ officers landed at Castle Garden and received a national salute. A procession formed and extended from the Battery to the Crystal Palace at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, where many addresses were made.

The Atlantic Telegraph Jubilee, New York.
View of the Procession in its progress up Broadway’
Photograph by William England,
sold by the London Stereoscopic Co.
Detail of stereoview.

Stereoscopic view courtesy of and copyright © 2007
Page and Bryan Ginns, www.stereographica.com

“NEW YORK has seldom seen a more complete holiday,” to quote the words of an American paper, “than that on the 1st of September, 1858, in celebration of the successful laying of the Atlantic cable. The enthusiasm of an entire nation was expressed in this jubilee of its metropolis, and the era of a closer connection with Europe was well ushered in by a day of genuine rejoicing and gaiety.”

It would, however, be impossible here to give a detailed account of the festivities, as set forth in the same journal. But to continue the quotation:—"The procession was undoubtedly the most brilliant and successful ever made in New York. Its length must have exceeded four miles; and had its ranks remained intact, the head would have reached the Crystal Palace before the rear ranks moved from the Battery. During the four hours, however, which were occupied in the passage of the leading files to the palace, many of the less important divisions filed off by the side streets. It is estimated that the procession was composed of 15,420 individuals, including the leading societies and companies of New York.”

The accompanying photograph was taken instantaneously during the passing of the procession up the Broadway, the entire line of march through this great thoroughfare being “profusely decorated with flags of every nation, festooned upon the stores and houses, or drawn across the street, while paintings innumerable. to become transparencies at night, adorned the majority of the buildings,” At night the illuminations, fireworks, torch-light processions, etc., etc., were on an unparalleled scale of magnificence.

The daytime festivities were followed by a firemen’s torchlight parade and fireworks displays::

“The firemen’s torch-light parade concluded the day’s festivities. It was exceedingly beautiful, and as the long line moved through Broadway surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd on every side, and lighted by thousands of torches, candles, and colored lanterns, one might easily have imagined himself in a fairyland. It was long after midnight before the great assemblage dispersed, and even then the streets did not resume their wonted aspect. . . . The fact is, that an avalanche of people descended upon us, and New York was crushed for once; but we do not lay Atlantic cables every day”.

The Special Committee appointed for the purpose of making suitable arrangements for the celebration incident to the laying of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable made its report in 1859, but the report was not published until 1863 as: Detailed Report of the Proceedings had in Commemoration of the Successful Laying of the Atlantic Cable, by order of the Common Council of the City of New York, by Charles T. McClenachan [New York 1863, Edmund Jones & Co, Corporation Printers, No. 26 John Street].

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Detail of the front cover

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The Seal of New York City

The Seal of New York City is shown on the back cover of the book. Appropriately, the sailor on the left holds a sounding line. Also note the cable in the eagle’s talons, not found on the standard version of the seal.

The Committee spent $25,000 on the event, not including the value of all the donated materials and services.

As a prelude to the main celebration:

“the City Hall and the public buildings of New York were brilliantly illuminated, and a magnificent display of fireworks, presented by Mr. J. Edge, Jr., was exhibited in front of the City Hall on the evening of the 17th August.
“It was the subject of much regret that, early on the ensuing morning, the dome of the City Hall was consumed by fire, doubtless, by sparks from the fireworks having entered under some defect in the metal covering of the roof.”

Writing on the following day, 18th August 1858, a visitor to New York noted in a letter to his uncle:

“We have been having a great time here, celebrating the success of the Atlantic Cable, cannon, flags, shouts, extra-papers, & extra-policemen, fireworks, crowds, processions, music, illuminations, transparencies, &c., &c., and ended by nearly burning down the City Hall, in our delight, it having caught from the fireworks, and lost its cupola, and part of its upper story.”

The following lithographs of the 1858 festivities are by Sarony, Major & Knapp, 449 Broadway, N.Y., and were published in the 1861 edition of the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York. [New York: D.T. Valentine, 1861]

The descriptive text is from the Report of the Proceedings and is in this serif font. My notes are in this font.

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The Niagara, Valorous, Gorgon &
Agamemnon Laying the Cable at Mid-Ocean

“On the 29th of July (1858) the two great ships took their places a short distance from each other. A strong hawser fastened them together. The end of the cable which the Niagara bore was carried to the Agamemnon and there spliced to the end of hers; it was then lowered into the sea, and the ships moved, each towards its own country, at first creeping slowly till the cable had sunk far down, and then faster, to a speed of five or six miles an hour.”

(from David Dudley Field’s oration at the Crystal Palace).

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Landing of the Shore End
at Trinity Bay, Aug 4th 1858

“At length, on the morning of the 4th of August (1858), under as bright a sky as ever smiled on a great achievement, the headlands of Trinity Bay rose above the sea directly before them.
“Then there came out to meet them, and be their pilot into their desired haven, another English ship—the Porcupine—whose Captain, Otter, had so carefully surveyed and so closely watched, that he had not only found all the channels, but had stationed boats to mark the narrowest, and that the ships might be seen far off, had sent sailors to an island of the bay, on which was a high and wooded hill, ordering them to watch day and night, and as soon as the fleet hove into sight to set the wood on fire. The fire was kindled, and the burning hill was at once bonfire and signal for the victorious ships. The bay was so deep that the head of it was not reached till after midnight. There, at five o’clock of the morning of the 5th of August, the end of that mysterious wire was taken ashore; and as soon as it was secured in its appointed station, the brave sailor and humble Christian who commanded the Niagara, in the open air, in the early daylight, while all the gentlemen and seamen bowed their heads reverently, gave thanks to the Almighty for the good voyage ended.”

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Section of the Atlantic Cable Carried
by Adams & Co’s Express Wagon
in the Procession of the 1st Sept.

Note: Sarony’s caption for this lithograph is in error, as the Report states that:

“the Adams’ Express Company car was drawn by twelve horses and followed the crew of the Niagara; it carried a Hughes telegraph instrument and a banner inscribed ‘American Telegraph Company’.”

Despite the caption, the lithograph above actually shows the cable pyramid and six horses of the American Express car as described in the Report:

“The other portion of the procession that came in for a very particular manifestation of enthusiasm was the large coil of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable, which was neatly wound around a pyramid on a car drawn by six horses, gaily caparisoned with flags and plumes. This important part of the display was confided to the care of the brave sailors of the Niagara, and the handsome team by which it was drawn was furnished by the American Express Company.
“Behind this car came the crew of the United States ship Niagara, bearing before them a model of their splendid ship. These hearty fellows were vehemently applauded.”

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The Oration at Crystal Palace
Sept. 1st 1858

“It had been arranged that the procession should arrive at the Palace at four o’clock, or as near to that hour as might be practicable. In anticipation of this, the doors were thrown open at two, and immediately the building began to fill. Those to whom green tickets had been given entered by the main door, on Sixth avenue; those who obtained white tickets were admitted through the side entrance, on Fortieth street, and had access to the galleries in the vicinity of the platform, which was erected in the nave, and extended backwards from the centre to the eastern window. The platform proper occupied but half of this space. Midway between the fountain (which is directly beneath the dome, and but a few feet from the front of the platform,) and the eastern end of the nave, commenced the first of a tier of seats which, rising by regular gradations from the stand, terminated at the farther wall and on a level with the galleries.
“The entire platform was handsomely carpeted, and both the platform and the gallery, improvised for the orchestra, were draped with the ‘Red, White and Blue.’ Above were suspended the English and American colors, and from the front of the north-western gallery depended a large green banner, bordered with golden shamrocks and displaying in the centre an Irish harp—‘the sunburst of Erin.’ Beyond these, the Palace was destitute of any attempt at decoration.”

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View of City Hall, Sept. 1st 1858

“From all the flagstaffs on the Hall gay banners and streamers were flying. Surmounting the centre of the roof was a painting representing the national bird with wings outspread, standing on a starred and striped shield, as if just lighted there, with the lion and the American standard under his right pinion, and the English standard and unicorn under his left. Under this was the name of FRANKLIN in large letters, one one side, the coat of arms of the State of New York, and on the other the coat of arms of the City of London.
“On the west side were banners with the following:
   ‘FIELD, WOODHOUSE, DAYMAN, COOPER, HUDSON.’
“And on the east:
   ‘PREEDY, GURNEY, ALDHAM, EVERETT, MORSE.’
“Facing Broadway were the following:
   ‘MAURY, WHITEHOUSE.’
“And facing Centre street:
   ‘BRIGHT, BERRYMAN.’
“The east gate of the Park, was surmounted by an immense banner, formed like an arch, bearing on one side the words:
   ‘THE PATH OF FRANKLIN LED TO A FIELD OF ENTERPRISE.’
“At one end of the inscription appeared an old-fashioned printing press, at the other, a telegraphic apparatus.
“On the other side were displayed the words:
   ‘PEACE HATH HER VICTORIES
     NOT LESS RENOWNED THAN WAR.’
“Similar arches were erected at the western and southern gates.”

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The Fireman’s Procession Passing
the Washington Monument, Union
Square, Evening Sept 1st 1858

At 10 o’clock the head of the procession started.
Down Forty-second street to Sixth avenue they marched, receiving the city authorities and their guests, who accompanied the procession in carriages. Thence, headed by deputations of policemen from the Tenth and Thirteenth Precincts, commanded by Sergeant Waterbury, they marched down Sixth avenue, then down Broadway; from Broadway, at Union Square, they made a detour, and marched round the equestrian statue of Washington, then returned to Broadway, down which they marched to the City Hall park, and passed through the eastern entrance. At one o’clock they were dismissed. The passage of the procession through Broadway was a scene of unrivaled splendor. The sidewalks were crowded with the populace. The balconies, the windows, the house-tops, were filled with people. Almost every house was illuminated, and the decorations that we have already described as being visible during the day, shone with heightened effect and redoubled lustre. The street was clear as noonday, and while the brilliant pageant was passing, afforded a spectacle of popular rejoicing such as has been rarely, if ever, witnessed on this continent.”

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View of Liliendahl’s Final Piece,
Sept. 1st 1858

Note: The Report spells this pyrotechnician’s name variously as Gust. A “Lillienthal” and “Lilliendahl” .

“All the day, from the moment the sun marked early breakfast-time until he set in a cloudless West, workmen were putting up curious sticks and odd cross-bars along the front of the dilapidated City Hall. These sticks and bars were the foundations of a cable and two ships, with all the accompaniments necessary to give the telegraph a fiery salute. At nightfall the work was finished, or rather so far finished that it was ready to be begun when eight o’clock came.
“The emblematic piece, which ended the show, was magnificent. It was an allegorical representation, founded on the Cable—giving thanks for the Cable—illustrating and illuminating the Cable. The piece occupied the entire front of the City Hall—wings and all. Its total length was one hundred and eighty feet. At either end was a full rigged ship, one the Niagara, the other the Agamemnon. Each vessel was twenty feet from stem to stern; and the height the same up to the peak of the mainmast. An entablature, one hundred and twenty feet long, stretched along the front of the Hall, from wing to wing. This entablature was supported by six pillars, twenty feet in height. Three of these pillars were on either side of a rotating Maltese cross. Along the face of the structure ran, in letters of fire, this inscription:
‘THE LAST NAVAL ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN COLUMBIA AND BRITANNIA—A TIE.’
“Over this was old Father Neptune, reclining in his shell in mid-ocean, his trident over his shoulder, and one hand uplifted, holding a lighted cord—the Cable. The Cable ran east to “our Eagle,” went west to “their Lion”—a surly fellow, with his paw, holding fast his end of the cord. Behind the eagle stood a herald, trumpeting fame; behind the lion stood another herald, trumpeting more fame. Over all this show sprung an arch, bearing, in letters of gold, these words:
‘GOD HAD BEEN WITH US: TO HIM BE ALL THE GLORY’
“The Cable springing from mid-ocean, the ships that payed out the Cable, the pious telegraph sent over the wires to announce the great result, the double-barreled pun in the first inscription, the grand demonstration that wound up the whole—elicited continuous shouts of approbation. The entire populace—and how many tens of thousands there were packed into the park, we don’t like to venture to peril our veracity by saying—gave a universal verdict on this occasion, that the Cable was a great event.”

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View of Hadfield’s Last Piece
on the Evening of Sept 3d 1858

Note: The Report records this banquet and fireworks display as taking place on Thursday September 2nd, 1858, not September 3rd as Sarony has it.

“Whilst the guests at the dinner table were indulging in the multifarious luxuries which the larder of the ‘Metropolitan’ affords, the populace were feasting their eyes on a display of fireworks at the City Hall. This exhibition was prepared under the superintendence, and at the cost, of Mr. John W. Hadfield, and was witnessed by an immense throng which crowded the park, and every place adjoining, from which anything of the exhibition could be seen.”

Mr. Hadfield presented 21 events on his fireworks program. Here’s the description of the finale, illustrated above:

“Grand finale. The laying of the Atlantic Cable. In this piece some new principles were attempted for the first time in the pyrotechnic art; the open portion representing the Niagara and the Agamemnon in the centre, with the tenders Gorgon and Valorous ahead; on the extreme ends of the piece were two light houses connected by a line of rolling waters, on which the ships slowly moved towards their destination; on arriving at which the centre was suddenly transformed into a magnificent temple of science, in all the splendor of the dazzling colors, assisted by all the mechanical contrivances of which the art is capable. Canopied by an arc of stars which rested on revolving columns, upon whose base were recorded the names of Franklin, Morse and Field, appeared a group of figures representing Science uniting Columbia and Britannia. Over these was an entablature with the motto: ‘The electric flash shall belt the earth.’ The crowning portion showed the American coat of arms, in which was entwined the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.
“In order to do honor more fully to this great success of science over time and space, it was found desirable to employ electricity, thus creating an actual as well as an imaginary current through the entire length of the piece.
“The whole concluded with batteries of candles, flights of rockets and bomb shells, filling the air to a great distance with colored stars, gold rain, fiery meteors, serpents, &c.
“And so, in the City of New York, were terminated the public rejoicings in honor of the successful submersion of the Transatlantic Cable.”


Napoleon Sarony, Lithographer and Photographer

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CDV of Cyrus Field, photographed
by Sarony, 680 Broadway.

Napoleon Sarony was born in Quebec in 1821. He moved to New York around 1836 and studied with Archibald Robinson. He worked for Nathaniel Currier before starting a business with James P. Major in 1843. In 1845 James Major was replaced by Henry B. Major in Sarony & Major. Sarony’s next corporate incarnation was known as Sarony, Major & Knapp in which he was joined by Richard Major and Joseph F. Knapp from 1857 to 1867. He withdrew from the firm around 1867 to establish a studio of photography. Sarony later spent six years in Europe, where he visited lithographers in Berlin and Paris. He eventually returned to New York and set up another photographic studio. He died in 1896.

Information on Sarony from University of Pennsylvania: Annenberg Rare Book & Manuscript Library


The Illustrated London News had its own account of the events:

FETES AT NEW YORK TO COMMEMORATE THE LAYING
OF THE ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH CABLE.

[September 25, 1858.]

Of the fete at New York on the 17th inst., we have the following particulars from the gentleman who supplied us with the sketch of the City Hall as it was illuminated on the night of the 17th, and which is engraved here:-

The publication of her Majesty’s message to the President of the United States on the morning of August 17, carrying with it, as it did, the assurance that the telegraphic wires were really capable of transmitting despatches, caused an outburst of enthusiasm in the Atlantic States which might almost be characterised by the American qualificative “universal.” Wherever the news penetrated there was a public jubilee. In Boston, Portland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other places, bells were rung, salutes fired, illuminations spontaneously undertaken; but in New York the most thorough and systematic display of popular joy took place. A little after daybreak on the morning of the 17th the celebration was commenced by the discharge of cannon in the park; and as the sun rose above the heights of Long Island his rays fell upon an assemblage of cities—New York, Brooklyn, Jersey City, Hoboken, Williamsburgh,—decked in flags and resounding with the merry peal of a thousand bells. But the principal feature of the celebration was the illumination of the city at night, together with the display of fireworks provided by the municipality. Not only that unparallelled thoroughfare, Broadway, was illuminated and decorated for two or three miles of its length, but the lesser streets were also brilliant in many-coloured fires. Wall-street—the centre of American commerce and finance—glittered strangely under the quiet sky. Nassau-street, crowded with newspaper-offices, was a thoroughfare of light. Bonfires blazed in every direction. Transparencies were displayed upon every hotel and many private dwellings. Epigrammatic and laudatory mottoes glowed upon the fronts of granite and marble stores. The City Hall, which stretches its white façade half across the narrow, triangular park, was lit up as never before; every pane in its innumerable windows bore a light. The watcher in the illuminated clock-tower looked down (for the last time, as it proved) on a throng such as the park, used as it is to vast assemblages, has never before contained. The heavy foliage of the lime and elm trees with which it is studded was scarcely denser than the crowd assembled in expectation of the pyrotechnic display. The night was moonless, and a cloudy sky favoured the occasion, so that by eight o’clock the signal rockets were sent up, accompanied by fire-balloons. Streams of fiery particles and globules of variegated flame shot up far into the heavens, as if to announce to the lightning its final triumph in submission. Roman candles rose and fell in perpetual ebullition; erratic rockets hissed and surged upwards in contending streams; serpents, cometlike, darted through the air; and at length the great flame-structures erected upon the wings of the City Hall were fired. The illumination paled before their rippling lustre; and cheer after cheer arose from the immense assemblage as the designs became developed in succession. Among the most elaborate pieces was one representing a British and an American vessel, with the union-jack and the stars and stripes at each side, surmounted by the inscription-"All Honour to Cyrus W. Field! Franklin, Morse, and Field.” (Mr. Field is a gentleman, a resident of New York, who has been very active in the telegraphic enterprise, and Professor Morse was one of the first to elaborate the idea of electro-telegraphic communication.) Other pyrotechnics presented similar devices and allusions, during the continuance of which the National Anthem of Great Britain, together with ‘Hail Columbia!” and “St. Patrick’s Day,’ was played by an attendant band. With a further discharge of rockets the display was concluded, and by half-past nine the spectators had dispersed.

It unfortunately happened that some sparks fell upon the woodwork of the clock-tower of the City Hall, and flames burst out there about midnight, which finally consumed the tower, and largely damaged the building itself. As the central fire-alarm was located on this spot, the intelligence could not be communicated instantly, as usual, to the engine-houses, and the delay which ensued proved fatal to the structure. The scene, however, was magnificent. The statue of Justice, a familiar sight to all New Yorkers, stood wrapt for a length of time in the flames of the grand illumination, and serenely endured the fiery glow for more than an hour, until at length she was observed to totter and fall into the flames. Many valuable paintings, and some relics of General Washington, were injured by the water; but the city and judicial records were, fortunately, not endangered. Fifty thousand dollars are required to repair the injury caused by this disaster.


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The 1858 cable

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Letter of authentication for the Tiffany cable samples, signed by Cyrus Field

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Souvenir cable piece
sold by Tiffany & Co.

The Crystal Palace in Reservoir Square, New York
(now the site of Bryant Park and the New York Public Library).

The Crystal Palace was opened on July 24, 1853, and
destroyed by fire on October 5th, 1858, shortly
after its use for the Atlantic Cable celebration.

New York Crystal Palace, Frontispiece to New York Crystal Palace: illustrated description of the building by Geo. Carstensen & Chs. Gildemeister, architects of the building ; with an oil-color exterior view, and six large plates containing plans, elevations, sections, and details, from the working drawings of the architects (New York: Riker, Thorne & co., 1854)

Another view of the Crystal Palace, from an 1853 N. Currier print


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TransAtlantic 150 Celebration
New York, September 8th 2008

In collaboration with the Atlantic Cable Website, cable company Hibernia Atlantic hosted a celebration of the laying of the first Atlantic cable, which was completed on August 5th, 1858. The original celebration in New York was held on September 1st, 1858; the modern celebration was held 150 years and one week later, on September 8th, 2008.

This invitation-only black tie event was held at the Library of the New-York Historical Society for honored guests and dignitaries.

For more information on the event please visit Hibernia's TransAtlantic 150 web page [archive copy].

Cyrus West Field IV, honored guest and speaker at the TransAtlantic 150 Celebration, stands next to a reproduction of the Daniel Huntington painting of the Atlantic Cable Projectors.
Cy's great great grandfather, Cyrus West Field, is the figure in the academic robe at the right of the painting.

Image of the painting courtesy of the New York State Museum, History H-2003.41.3; The New York Chamber of Commerce Portrait Collection. The original canvas is 87" by 108¼"

Video interview with Bill Burns and David Bart at the 150th Anniversary Celebration:

Last revised: 27 September, 2014

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