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

Other Atlantic Telegraph Cables
by Stewart Ash

Other Atlantic Telegraph Cables

Aficionados of the history of our industry will probably be familiar with the famous story of the Atlantic Telegraph. This traditionally covers the period from the initial attempts in 1857-58 to the finally successful 1865 and 1866 cables. However, this was by no means the end of the story.

In 1866, the two working transatlantic telegraph cables were owned and operated by the Anglo-American Telegraph company, which had bought out the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company in 1864. It had a working relationship with the Atlantic Telegraph Company up until the two companies merged in 1873. For a few years they enjoyed a monopoly over trans-Atlantic telegraphy and with it a virtual license to print money.

In France, thoughts quickly turned to direct communication with the USA. Frédéric Emile Baron d’Erlanger (1832-1911) and Paul Julius Freiherr von Reuter (1816-99), backed by British finance, launched a new company, the French Atlantic Telegraph Company (La Société du Câble Translantique Française), in 1869. This company laid a cable between Brest and St Pierre (a French territory off of Newfoundland), with an extension to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The cable was manufactured and installed by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Telcon). In 1873, this French Company was Anglo-American’s only competition and was quickly acquired by them. At the time of the take-over, the French Company already had another trans-Atlantic cable on order from Telcon, intended for Brest to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Anglo-American diverted this to run from Heart’s Content to Valentia, and Telcon laid it in 1873. This left a residue from the original order of approximately 1,000nm of cable and so a further order for 976nm was placed with Telcon and a new Newfoundland-Valentia cable was laid in 1874.

In 1873, John Pender (1816-96), with significant support from Siemens Brothers, set up The Direct United States Cable Company with the intention of directly linking the UK and the USA. However, it soon became clear that, with the available technology, the transmission speed would be too slow to compete with the existing cables and so the direct route was abandoned. An intermediate landing was essential and so in 1874 Telcon’s ship the Faraday, on its maiden voyage, laid the cable from Rye Beach, USA to Tor Bay, Nova Scotia and on to Ballinskelligs in Ireland. John Pender and Carl (Charles) William Siemens (1823-83) had a significant financial investment in this company, which was originally intended to compete with the Anglo-American group, of which Pender was then the chairman. However, as the direct route proved impractical, the Direct Company very quickly came to a revenue sharing arrangement with Anglo-American.

In 1879, a French financier, Monsieur Augustin Thomas Pouyer-Quertier (1820-91), was behind the formation of La Compagnie Française due Télégraphe de Paris à New York. A trans-Atlantic cable was ordered from Siemens Brothers and was laid between Brest and St Pierre with extensions from St Pierre to Cape Cod and Brest to Cornwall. The company came to be known as the P-Q Company, after its founder. Shortly after the cable went into commercial service, P-Q negotiated a commercial arrangement with Anglo-American. Their agreement was for the pooling of all earnings, the income from the pool to be divided in proportion to the respective contributions. This was similar to the deal agreed with the Direct Company earlier.

Sir John Pender

Carl William Siemens

In 1881, Jason ‘Jay’ Gould (1836-1892) set up the American Telegraph and Cable Company that installed a Siemens Brothers manufactured, trans-Atlantic cable between Nova Scotia and Sennen Cove in Cornwall. A second Siemens Brothers trans-Atlantic cable was laid for the company in 1882.

Jason ‘Jay’ Gould

The Western Union Telegraph Company was the pioneer of land telegraphy in the USA and it entered submarine telegraphy when it acquired a majority share-holding in the International Ocean Telegraph Company, in 1873. In 1881, Western Union entered the trans-Atlantic cable market when it made an agreement to lease the American Telegraph and Cable Company’s cables. Weston Union very quickly established a close working relationship with Anglo-American, a co-operation which was destined to survive for some decades.

By 1882, there were four companies operating telegraph cables across the Atlantic, but because of the agreements in place between them, they were all effectively under the control of Anglo-American and Western Union. This meant that there was no competition and consequently pricing was high, and very similar, on all routes.

John W Mackay

James Gordon Bennett

On 28 September 1883, a co-partnership was entered into between John William Mackay (1831-1902), an American mining magnate, born in Dublin, who had made his fortune in Gold and Silver mines; first in California and then Nevada; James Gordon Bennett (1841-1918), proprietor of the New York Herald, and Arthur Edmund Denis Dillon (1812-92), 16th Viscount of Costello Gallen, in County Mayo, Ireland. On 3 November 1883, the partners accepted a proposal from Siemens Brothers for two transatlantic cables. On the 10th December 1883, the Commercial Cable Company (CCC) was incorporated in New York, and took over the rights of the Siemens Brothers contracts. A new and significant player had entered the arena.

As a newspaper owner, Bennett recognized the importance of telegraph in obtaining news from Europe and was perturbed by the high cost of obtaining it over the existing cables. Consequently, the CCC was set up with the dual intention of providing the New York Herald with preferential rates, and to compete with the Anglo-American / Western Union cartel. The main links were from Waterville to Nova Scotia, with an extension on the American side to New York, and on the European side, extensions to Weston-super-Mare and Le Havre. The main trans-oceanic cables opened for traffic on Christmas Eve 1884, with the extensions being in place by 1885. The aggressive pricing of the CCC immediately captured a lot of traffic from the incumbent carriers. This initial success was to start a price war that would rage for several years. But that is another story, and for that you will have to wait until the next edition.

In 1887, the western landing of the Direct United States Company cable was diverted from Tor Bay to Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1910, its routing was again altered to include a landing at Harbour Grace in Newfoundland. The eastern landing was moved from Ballinskelligs in Ireland to Mousehole in Cornwall in 1922 and finally, this landing was moved to Porthcurno in 1929.


Article text copyright © 2016 Stewart Ash


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Last revised: 22 February, 2017

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