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

The Commercial Cable Company
by Bill Glover

COMMERCIAL CABLE COMPANY

James Gordon Bennett, Jr.

The Commercial Cable Company was formed in 1883 by John Mackay, a mining magnate, and James Gordon Bennett, owner of the New York Herald (which he inherited from his father, also named James Gordon Bennett), to compete with the Western Union Atlantic service. Six Atlantic cables were laid for the company, the first in 1884 and the last in 1923.

The first two Atlantic cables were manufactured and laid by Siemens Brothers in 1884 using CS Faraday (1). Cable routes and lengths were as follows:- Dover Bay, Nova Scotia to Coney Island, New York 826 nm. Dover Bay - Waterville, Ireland 2399 nm and a second cable over the same route 2281 nm. From Waterville one cable, 330 nm long, ran to Weston super Mare, England, and the other, 514 nm in length, ran from Waterville to Le Havre, France. Once these cables were in operation they took a great deal of business away from Anglo American and Western Union.

1893 World's Fair Souvenir Cablegram
Ppinback logo button with celluloid calendar for 1898 on reverse.
Made by the Whitehead & Hoag Co., Newark NJ.

It was not until 1894 that a third Atlantic cable of 2161 nm was laid; again Siemens Brothers manufactured the cable and used CS Faraday (1) to lay it, the route being the same as that used for the 1884 cables.

Folder for CCC Map of Paris, undated, but the sign in the office window reads:
"Three Duplexed Cables to the United States, so the period is 1894-1900

In 1900 Siemens Brothers, again using CS Faraday (1), laid the first part of a fourth Atlantic cable for the company from Nova Scotia - Horta, Azores. A total of 1698 nm of cable was used in this expedition. The second leg of the cable from Horta to Waterville was laid in 1901 and once again the same manufacturer and cable ship was used. The length of the cable was 1204 nm. An additional cable was laid between Nova Scotia and New York by CS Silvertown, owned by the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Company, who also manufactured the cable. The Waterville - Weston super Mare cable was manufactured and laid by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company using CS Anglia.

The Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company undertook the manufacture of the fifth cable in 1905 using CS Anglia to lay the Waterville - Weston super Mare cable and the main cable across the Atlantic with CS Colonia and CS Cambria assisted by CS Mackay Bennett laying the Nova Scotia - New York cable.

Postcards showing the Waterville Cable Station

Waterville Married Quarters
Image courtesty of National Library of Ireland

The sixth and final cable was split between the two manufacturers, Siemens Brothers making and laying the New York - Canso, Nova Scotia, cable in 1923 using CS Faraday (2). The Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company undertook the manufacture and laying of the rest. This cable went via Horta, Azores, on to Waterville, Ireland, and then to Le Havre, France. The main cable was laid by CS Colonia and CS Stephan , while a chartered vessel, T. W. Stuart, was used to lay the shore ends at Horta, Waterville and Le Havre.

Atlantic Cables operated by the Commercial Cable Company

Year Route Manufacturer Cable Ships Notes
1884 Dover Bay, Nova Scotia - Waterville, Ireland - Weston super Mare: Waterville, Ireland - Le Havre, France Siemens Bros Faraday (1) System 6500 nm. Two cables were laid between Canada and Ireland. One was linked to the UK the other to France (See 1885 entries). In 1909 CS Mackay Bennett diverted one cable into Cuckold's Cove, near St Johns, Newfoundland, the work was completed on 14 July. In 1910 the second cable was diverted to the same place also by Mackay Bennett.
1884 Dover Bay, Nova Scotia - Duxbury, Mass: Dover Bay - Far Rockaway, Long Island Siemens Bros Faraday (1) Included with the above
1885 Waterville, Ireland - Weston super Mare, England Siemens Bros Faraday (1) 330 nm
1885 Waterville, Ireland - Le Havre, France Siemens Bros Faraday (1) 514 nm
1894 Dover Bay, Nova Scotia - Waterville, Ireland - Weston-super-Mare, England - Le Havre, France Siemens Bros. Faraday (1) System 2161 nm. In 1926 this cable and the 1905 cable were diverted into Quidi Vidi Harbour by CS John W. Mackay
1900 Canso, Nova Scotia - Horta, Azores (Main 4) Siemens Bros Faraday (1) System 1698 nm.
1900 Canso, Nova Scotia - New York (NY 4) Siemens Bros Silvertown  
1901 Horta, Azores - Waterville, Ireland (Main 4) Siemens Bros Anglia  
1901 Waterville, Ireland - Weston-super-Mare, England (SN 2) Siemens Bros Anglia  
1905 Canso, Nova Scotia - Waterville, Ireland - Weston super Mare, England Telcon Colonia - Anglia - Cambria - Mackay Bennett Colonia laid the Canadian end of the cable, and during the laying ran aground on Fox Island off Nova Scotia. To enable Colonia to be floated off the cable was transferred to the Mackay Bennet. Colonia then sailed to Halifax for repairs. Anglia laid the eastern end. In 1926 this cable and the 1894 cable were diverted into Quidi Vidi Harbour by CS John W. Mackay
1909 St. John's, Newfoundland - New York Telcon Colonia Provided a direct link to New York for the 1884 cable diverted in 1909
1910 St. John's, Newfoundland - New York Telcon Colonia Provided a direct link to New York for the 1884 cable diverted in 1910
1910 Waterville, Ireland - Weston super Mare, England ? ?  
1923 New York - Canso, Nova Scotia Siemens Bros Faraday (2)  
1923 Canso, Nova Scotia - Horta, Azores Telcon Colonia  
1923 Horta, Azores - Waterville, Ireland Telcon Colonia - T. W. Stuart T.W. Stuart laid the UK shore ends
1923 Waterville - Le Havre, France Telcon Colonia - T. W. Stuart - Stephan T.W. Stuart and Stephan laid the shore ends

Far Rockaway, New York, Cable Station

Postcard showing the cable station of the Commercial Cable Company at Grandview Avenue, Far Rockaway, Long Island, New York. Seven Atlantic cables ran into this office from the cable landing at Beach 16th Street.

The New York Times issue of 11 June 1911 reported that "The Lewis H. May Company has resold for Sidney J. Smith a plot of ten lots on the east side of Grandview Avenue, north of the Rue de St. Felix, Far Rockaway, to the Commercial Cable Company, which will erect a receiving station and will remove their present Atlantic cables from Coney Island to the Far Rockaway property."

In 1916 many of the street names in Far Rockaway were changed, and Grandview (sometimes given as Grand View) Avenue was renamed Beach 17th Street/Caffrey Avenue, and Rue de St. Felix was renamed Beach 14th Street/New Haven Avenue. The cable station address was then 1414 Caffrey Ave, between New Haven and Mott. The markers show the location of the cable station and the cable landing site.


View Larger Map

The map below shows the same area in 2001 - note the
proliferation of cables at the Beach 16th St. landing site

Image from NOAA's Office of Coast Survey
Historical Map & Chart Collection
http://historicalcharts.noaa.gov

According to the Rockaway Memories website, the building was sold at the end of the 1930s and was later used as a yeshiva, finally being demolished in 1985. The site is now vacant, and is planned to serve as a sitting area and entranceway to the 18th century Cornell Burial Ground at the rear of the lot, which in 1946 the Cornell Cemetery Corporation was reported as working on restoring.

The cable station site in April 2009. The house to the left of the station (visible in the 1916 postcard above) is still there, but all that remains of the station building is the low wall, the front steps, and the driveway entrance.

Postcards showing the Canso Cable Station at Hazel Hill

Commercial Cable Co., Hazel Hill, Canso, N.S.
Finest equipped Cable Office in the World

After the Anglo American telegraph concession in Newfoundland ran out in 1904, in 1905 CS Mackay Bennett diverted the two 1884 cables into Cuckold’s Cove, near St. John's.

In 1909 a cable was laid direct from St. John's to New York by CS Colonia, along with an extra link between Waterville and Weston super Mare.

A cable hut was built at Cuckold’s Cove and this was in use until 1916, when a new cable office was built at 111 Water Street, St. John's. The cable was extended from the Cove by a buried cable to Quidi Vidi Lake, across the lake by submarine cable and then a final buried cable from the lake to Water Street.

In 1926 CS John W Mackay diverted the 1894 and 1905 cables into Quidi Vidi Harbour and a regenerator station was built there to boost the signal on its final leg. Like the earlier cables these two were linked to Water Street by a combination of buried cables and a cable across Quidi Vidi Lake.

An undated CCC chart of St John's Harbour has this information:

Caption:

CS John W Mackay

Tracing showing shore ends at Quiddy Viddy, St. Johns after diversion.

Main 5. Laid August 6th 1926
Main 3. Laid August 17th 1926
Canso 1. Laid Sept. 7th 1926
Canso 2. Laid August 11th 1926

Cables marked on chart at Quiddy Viddy:

Main No. 5. 1905-1926. To Waterville
Main No. 3. 1894-1926. To Waterville
Canso No. 1. 1894-1926. To Canso
Canso No. 2. 1905-1926. To Canso

The dates above are the original laying date and the date of the diversion.

Cables marked on chart at Cuckold Cove:

Main No. 1 - 1884-1909. To Waterville
Main No. 2
New York No. 1
New York No. 2

CS John W Mackay at Quidi Vidi, St John's, Newfoundland

Christmas & New Year Greetings Telegram Form for December 1929 to January 1930.
Used to send standard messages, listed on the reverse, at reduced rates

The Commercial Cable Company eventually became one of the constituent companies of the American Cable & Radio Corporation. The genesis of AC&R was in February 1927, when All America Cables was acquired by the International Telephone and Telegraph Company (I.T. & T., later ITT). In 1938 the division name was changed to All America Cables and Radio, and with the Commercial Cable Company and Mackay Radio & Telegraph, all these entities became part of the American Cable and Radio Corporation, of which ITT was the major shareholder.

American Cable & Radio Corporation stock certificate

Souvenir ashtray, American
Cable & Radio System
Image courtesy of Mark Frankena

American Cable & Radio lighter with box
Images courtesy of Graham Mitchell

At the end of 1961 five of the above cables were still in operation; one of the original 1884 cables was no longer in use. The company applied to the Federal Communication Commission for permission to abandon all five cables. This was granted, leaving the company free of the burden of cable maintenance. By this time the American Cable & Radio Corporation already leased one circuit in both TAT 1 and TAT 2 and so had a greater capacity, as each telephone circuit was capable of carrying twenty two telegraph circuits.

Around the same time operational changes were made and from then on all telegraph circuits were leased by ITT World Communications Inc., although the Commercial Cable Company name was still in use on stationery and offices. The remaining cable ship, CS John W Mackay, was transferred to the Commercial Cable (Marine) Company Ltd., finally being scrapped in 1994.

COMMERCIAL CABLE COMPANY OF CUBA

In 1907 the Commercial Cable Company formed a subsidiary company, the Commercial Cable Company of Cuba. The company awarded a contract to the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Company to manufacture and lay a cable from New York to Havana. CS Silvertown laid the 1288 nm cable. On formation, All America Cables leased this cable as their main link between the USA and Cuba.

Deferred telegram from Toronto, Canada to Otley, Yorkshire, UK. The message had been telephoned to the addressee and the telegram was sent as confirmation. 1923 letter selling the Commercial Cable Company's service

CS MACKAY-BENNETT
(Official Number 89965)

Built 1884 by John Elder & Co., Govan, Glasgow

Length 270.00 ft. Breadth 40.00 ft. Depth 24.5 ft. Gross tonnage 1700

At the same time as the order for the first cables was placed with Siemens Brothers, an order was placed with John Elder & Company, Govan, Scotland, for a cable repair ship to maintain these cables. The vessel was launched in 1884 with the name CS Mackay-Bennett, and was normally based at Halifax, Nova Scotia.

In September and October 1899 a series of yacht races, known as the America's Cup, took place between the British challenger Shamrock, owned by Sir Thomas Lipton, and the American yacht Columbia.

The owner of the New York Herald and co-owner of Commercial arranged for Marconi to set up his wireless telegraph to report on the races. One set of equipment was put aboard CS Mackay-Bennett and was operated by T. Bowden, assistant telegraphist to Marconi. Another set was placed aboard the Puerto Rico Line vessel the Ponce, but part way through the series of races it had to be moved to the Grande Duchesse.

Marconi transmitted the signals to Bowden who in turn sent them to W.W. Bradfield who was in the New York Herald building. From here the reports were transmitted over the land telegraph and via Commercial's cables to the UK.

After the Titanic disaster CS Mackay-Bennett, at the time berthed in Halifax, was chartered to recover those who lost their lives. Those identified as first class passengers were placed in wooden coffins which were stored aft, while third class passengers and crew were wrapped in canvas and placed for’rd. In all 328 bodies were recovered, including one child; 119 of these were buried at sea, of which 60 were unidentified, and the remaining 209 were taken to Halifax.

The ship was taken out of service in 1922 and used as a cable storage hulk in Plymouth Sound. During WW2 she was sunk during the blitz on Plymouth, but was refloated, and remained there until 1965 when she was towed to Ghent, Belgium, for breaking up.

CS MARIE LOUISE MACKAY

Built 1922 by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd.

Length 234.00 ft. Breadth 34.2 ft. Depth 22.2ft. Gross tonnage 1378

Built as a replacement for CS Mackay Bennett to carry out cable maintenance work. Sold for scrap in 1961 to Belgian shipbreakers.

CS CABLE GUARDIAN

Built 1945 by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd.

Length 252.00 ft. Breadth 36.4 ft. Depth 22.3 ft. Gross tonnage 1538

One of four identical vessels built for the Royal Navy and Admiralty Cable Service, this one originally being named CS Bullhead. Sold to Cable & Wireless Ltd. in 1946 and renamed CS Electra (2). After purchase the vessel was refitted and then spent the next thirteen years in the West Indies on cable maintenance duties. Sold to the Commercial Cable Company in 1959 and renamed CS Cable Guardian. Sold for scrap to Scottish shipbreakers in 1964.

 

Other cable ships owned and operated by the company which are described elsewhere on the site:

CS GEORGE WARD

This vessel was named after the Vice President and General Manager of the company George G. Ward.

CS JOHN W. MACKAY

See main page for this ship.

CS CABLE RESTORER

See main page for this ship.

For more information on the Commercial Cable Company's cables at Weston-super-Mare, England, see John Crellin's site.

For the history of the other end of the cables, in Nova Scotia, see The Cable Story in Canso (archive copy, original site no longer accessible).

Read Walter Claypoole's reminiscences of working at the Far Rockaway station of the Commercial Cable Company.

See also this 1886 article from The Telegraphist on the Commercial Cable Company and CS Mackay-Bennett, this 1886 article on the Canso Cable Station, and this 1915 article on the making and laying of the CCC's cables.

For much information on Clarence H. Mackay, who became president of the Commercial Cable Company in 1902 after his father's death, see Bill McLoughlin's Mackay website.

See this page on Henry Ash, an amateur artist who made many sketches during Faraday's cable expeditions between 1879 and 1900.

The CCC's Coney Island cable station was used from 1884 until operations were transferred to Far Rockaway in 1912.

The CCC's Antwerp cable station is described and pictured on this page.

The CCC's Le Havre cable station is described and pictured on this page.

The Commercial Cable Rehabilitation Society was hoping to restore the Canso cable station, but the building was scheduled for demolition in Spring 2015

The Cable History Trail has information on the Waterville cable station in 2007.

Last revised: 11 October, 2016

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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.

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