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

Commercial Cable Company: Antwerp Station
by Jan Verhelst and Bill Burns

These photographs of the Commercial Cable Company’s station in Antwerp are courtesy of the collection of MAS | Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp, Belgium. The museum’s curator, Jef Vrelust, notes that the photographs are dated March 3rd 1928 and the photographer was Louis Claes. Evidence from city directories shows that the CCC moved to these premises in 1928, so perhaps the photographs were taken on the occasion of the opening of the new office.

An earlier photograph showing the CCC's 1927 premises, courtesy of the collection of the Felix Archief in Antwerp, is at the end of this page.

Thanks to site visitor Jan Verhelst for locating the photos and requesting permission from the museum and archive to reproduce them here, and for further research on the CCC in Antwerp.

As the photographic negatives from which these images are taken are of quite high resolution, several of the descriptions have links to individual detail enlargements.


Commercial Cable Company Antwerp Station

Office storefront. The street number to the left side of the door is 28, and the street address, found in archived city directories, was Rue du tanneur 28 (in French) or Huidevetterstraat 28 (in Dutch). The CCC is first listed at this address in 1928.

The signs in the office window offered the following services:

Transatlantic Cables
Cablegrams for the
United States
Canada
Central & South America
Cablegrams for the
West Indies
Cuba
Australia
etc.
 

Front office, where customers could fill out message forms.
The clock and calendar on the wall can also be seen in the next
photograph, looking over the counter into the operating area.

 

Fron office work area with three positions:
Desk with candlestick telephone
Typewriter and copy holder with Morse sounder resonator to its left
Paper tape transmitter with Morse sounder resonator to its right

 

Equipment bench:
Telegraph key and register
Siphon recorder
Line balancing apparatus
Keyboard perforator and paper tape transmitter

 

Battery room in the basement. Note the vaulted ceiling and ventilating fan.
These were most likely lead-acid cells, which could generate
flammable hydrogen during their charge/discharge cycle.

 

Power distribution panel:
Meters and main breakers
Battery fuses and charging switches
Power distribution plugboard

The Commercial Cable Company occupied a number of different premises in Antwerp over the years. Prior to 1921 all traffic was sent to the company’s main cable station at Le Havre in France and from there to London and the USA. In 1921 the company leased a cable direct from London to Antwerp.

The August 1st issue of Telegraph and Telephone Age, a New York trade paper, carried this story:

Cable Now to Antwerp

The Commercial Cable Company has announced an extension of its cables from London to Antwerp. This extension gives the company facilities for direct transmission of messages from New York to the Belgian city.

Clarence H. Mackay, president of the company, in making this announcement stated that within a fortnight he expected his company would establish direct connections with Amsterdam, Holland.

From Moodys Manual of Railroads and Corporation Securities, Issue of 1922:

The Mackay Companies.
Excerpts from Annual Report of Feb 15,1922:

The question of direct communication between the office of The Commercial Cable Co. in London and Antwerp, Belgium, was taken up during the year with the British and Belgian Governments, and as a result on July 22, 1921, a direct wire between London and Antwerp was leased to The Commercial Cable Co.. which has materially increased the speed of its Belgian service.

The Commercial Cable Co. Is also in negotiation with the Dutch Government for a direct wire from London, to either Amsterdam or Rotterdam, to improve the service to Holland, and expects to shortly conclude the negotiations.


Jan Verhelst’s recent photograph of Huidevetterstraat 28 shows many changes to the building after eighty years:

A photograph of Huidevetterstraat 28 in March 2012 by Jan Verhelst
The only features remaining from the 1920s photograph are the three
windows on the floor above and the drainpipe to the right of the store.

Jan Verhelst’s research in city directories has provided this comprehensive list of the Commercial Cable Company’s addresses in Antwerp between 1888 and 1931. Jan’s notes are below the table.

Year Company name Street Address - French Street Address - Dutch Telephone Number Representative Name
1888 Commercial Cable Company (Mackay Bennett Cables) Rue Pruynen 1 Pruynenstraat 1 - -
1890 Commercial Cable Company (Mackay Bennett Cables) Rue Pruynen 1 Pruynenstraat 1 -  
1892 Commercial Cable Co (Mackay Bennett Cables) 35 Marché Saint Jacques Sint- Jacobsmarkt 35 - -
1894/99/
1900
Commercial Cable Co (Mackay Bennett Cables) 37 Marché Saint Jacques Sint- Jacobsmarkt 37 - -
1902 Commercial Cable Co Longe rue Claires 19 Lange Sint Clara straat 19   A Lefèvre
1903/1904 Commercial Cable Co Rue Simons 54 Simonssttraat 54   A Lefèvre
1905 Commercial Cable Co Rue De Moy 16 De Moystraat 16    
1907/1908/
1909/1910
Commercial Cable Co Rue De Moy 16 De Moystraat 16 2982 Ch. Marsilly, ag. gen
1911 Commercial Cable Co Rue De Moy 20 De Moystraat 20 2982 Ch. Marsilly, ag. gen
1912/1914 Commercial Cable Co via Havre Rue Verdussen 23 Verdussenstraat 23 2982 Ch. Marsilly, ag. gen
1923/24/ Commercial Cable Co Rue du Compromis 18 Verbondstraat 18 10398 Ch.J. Marsilly, ag. gen
1927 Commercial Cable Co (The) “Via Commercial” Meir 18 Meir 18 303.98 F. Van Etsen
1928 Commercial Cable Co (The) “Via Commercial” Rue du tanneur 28 Huidevetterstraat 28   F. Van Etsen
1929 Commercial Cable Co (The) “Via Commercial” Rue du tanneur 28 Huidevetterstraat 28 239.57 (4 lignes) F. Van Etsen
1931 Commercial Cable Co (The) “Via Commercial” Rue du tanneur 28 Huidevetterstraat 28 239.57 (4 lignes) 313.26 (telegram) 303,98-283,71 (dir.) F. Van Etsen

The Commercial Cable Company was founded in 1883. The 1885 Antwerp City directory does not show an entry for the CCC, and the 1886/1887directories are not available (or do not exist?). The first appearance is in 1888

The 1920 and 1922 city directories do not show the CCC.

In 1927, the company is listed at Meir 18. This photograph shows the Commercial Cable Company's building at the left, evidently shared with several other businesses. To its right are the offices of the shipping company Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (French Line).

Meir 18, 16, and 14, circa 1927.
Image courtesy of Stadsarchief Antwerpen
Archive website: www.felixarchief.be

Until approximately 1930 street names in Antwerp were bilingual. The “upper class” used to speak French, and the French street names are needed to look up in the city directories of this period. The Dutch street names may be used to find a location on Google Maps today.

Source: Livre d’adresses de la ville et la province d’Anvers, issued by Frères Ratinckx, Grand Place, Anvers, consulted at the Antwerp city archives (‘Felixarchief”)

—Jan Verhelst

 


See also the page on some of the Commercial Cable Company’s other offices and the main Commercial Cable Company page.

The Commercial Cable Rehabilitation Society is working on restoring the Canso cable station.

Ivan Smith’s page on the Commercial Cable Trans Atlantic Park at Hazel Hill gives an excellent view of the current state of the site.

See also At an Atlantic Cable Station, an 1895 article on Hazel Hill

Last revised: 8 May, 2012

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You can help - if you have cable material, old or new, please contact me. Cable samples, instruments, documents, brochures, souvenir books, photographs, family stories, all are valuable to researchers and historians.

If you have any cable-related items that you could photograph, copy, scan, loan, or sell, please email me: billb@ftldesign.com

—Bill Burns, publisher and webmaster: Atlantic-Cable.com