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

1855 Crimea Cable

From Scientific American, Volume 10, Issue 36, May 19, 1855

European Sub-Marine Telegraph

If the British have displayed great inferiority in military management in the present war with Russia, it cannot he denied but that the national spirit for engineering enterprise has not failed to show itself in the most favorable light. Thus in the Crimea Uncle John has carried his railroads with him, and the locomotive is used there to wheel up shot, shell, and other implements of war. To think of a railroad being built in a few weeks, by John Bull, in the possessions of the great Emperor of Russia, as an auxiliary of a modern campaign, is something so strange and different from war, as heretofore practiced, that we cannot but give great credit to the spirit that planned and executed the work.

In connection with this, the last news from Europe brought the intelligence that an electric telegraph line had been completed from Balaklava to London, and that Lord Raglan sent to and received messages daily from England. From the camp in the Crimea, to the War Office in London, the Commander in Chief now reports direct the state of the seige every few minutes. Two weeks ago, such information could not be conveyed in as many days as it now takes seconds; and last year not in as many weeks. A telegraph submarine cable, 301 miles long, is laid in the bed of the Black Sea, stretching from the monastery of St. George, in the Crimea, to Kalerga, on the Bulgarian shore, from which communication is had by land lines, and other submarine lines, to England. This is an important triumph of modern engineering enterprise and skill which deserves our admiration. English telegraph engineers deserve great credit for the boldness and enterprise they have exhibited in laying down so many ocean lines. They have made the ocean a highway of thought; their government speaks to its soldiers thousands of miles away, through the waves of St. George's Channel, those of the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea.

In a few years more, unless our telegraph engineers move a little faster than they have done, we are afraid that John Bull will take some of the starch out of their collars, by building an ocean telegraph which will unite our country with Europe. Mr. Shaffner, when he was in Europe, it was reported, obtained grants from the Emperor of Russia and the Kings of Denmark and Sweden, to run telegraph lines through their dominions, as part of an ocean line between Europe and our continent, all of which grants, we apprehend, will be of no use whatever, unless something be done quickly to make use of them; for assuredly Uncle John has the advantage of route from Ireland to Newfoundland, and we rather think he will not neglect it. We are a people famous for acting while others are talking. Look out, American telegraphic engineers, that John Bull does not steal away our good name by the construction of the first Atlantic ocean telegraph line.


From Taliaferro Preston Shaffner's "The Telegraph Manual" (1859)

Fig. 1.

THE BLACK SEA SUBMARINE TELEGRAPHS

The most remarkable submarine telegraph was that laid by Messrs. Newall & Co. between Varna and Balaclava, one hundred and fifty miles across the Black sea, during the late war, by which, with another two hundred miles long through the sea from Varna to Constantinople, the whole continent was placed in telegraphic communication with the Crimea and the capital of Turkey. These lines, however, were laid for government service. The line between Varna and. Constantinople consisted of one copper wire thickly insulated with gutta-percha and covered with an armor of iron wires. Its weight was about two hundred tons. The line between Varna and Balaclava was a No. 16 copper wire, covered with three thin coatings of gutta-percha, being about the size of one of the insulated wires seen in fig. 1. Near the shore protecting wires were placed around it. This line was laid by Messrs. Newall & Co. for £22,000. It worked with the most complete success. This was certainly the boldest and yet most triumphant feat in submarine telegraphy. It has not its parallel in all history. It is wonderful to reflect upon this extraordinary enterprise, successfully submerged and practically worked across the most restless and turbulent sea upon the face of the earth. While above the storm raged, strewing the ocean's surface with wrecks, the tiny strand, unaffected by the tempest's blast, quietly lay in the depths below, traversed by the electric fluid, giving note of the progress of that war of empires upon the seagirt battle-field of the Crimea. Imagination pales before such achievements of daring and scientific effort.


See also Walter Peterson's detailed description of the laying of this cable.

Last revised: 28 October, 2011

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