History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
|TAT-1 Opening Ceremony, September 25, 1956|
Transatlantic Telephone Cable System 1 (TAT-1) was inaugurated on 25 September 1956 with a three-way telephone conversation between New York, Ottawa, and London. Many distinguished guests participated in this first official call over the new circuit, the first Atlantic cable of its generation.
In New York were Frederick Kappel, President of AT&T; Cleo F. Craig, Chairman of the Board of AT&T; Oliver Buckley, President of AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories; and George McConnaughey, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
In Ottawa were Douglas F. Bowie, President of the Canadian Overseas Telecommunications Corporation; T.W. Edie, President of the Bell Telephone Company; Livingston T. Merchant, U.S. Ambassador to Canada; Mr. Neil Pritchard, the Deputy United Kingdom High Commissioner to Canada; and the honourable George C. Mahler, the Minister of Transport for Canada.
In London were Dr. Charles Hill, the Postmaster General; and Sir Gordon Radley, Director General of the Post Office.
250 other guests listened with individual earphones to the first conversation, and the event was recorded by television cameras.
This program for the New York portion of the opening ceremony was evidently presented to C.J. Owen, an employee of AT&T's Long Lines division. Inside the back cover are dedications from some of his colleagues commemorating the end of the project, and bound in are three carbon copy pages with financial details of the cable; these are from the Completion Report of TAT-1 and are dated November 1958. The program provides some interesting information on the construction and laying of the cable.
Spanning the Atlantic has challenged mankind since the days of the Norsemen. Over the years such crossings have become frequent and taken various forms. In communications, for example, Cyrus Field conquered the ocean with his telegraph cable in 1858. Marconi transmitted successfully the first radio signal from shore to shore in 1901. In 1915 voices sent by radio from Arlington, Va., were heard in Paris. And in 1927, the year of Lindbergh's superb flight, radiotelephone service was introduced between the United States and England.
Since then the scope and volume of international telephone service have steadily grown. In anticipation of today's greater demand, scientists and engineers as early as the 1920's recognized the need for an under-ocean telephone cable that would make conversation across the sea more reliable. But the odds were tremendous. Amplifiers, fed by power from distant shores and capable of long life, would have to be laid at frequent intervals on the ocean floor. Such devices did not even exist. Yet, except for the war years, efforts went forward to solve this and many other problems related to voice communication by underseas cable.
In 1952, after a newly developed submarine telephone cable proved successful between Florida and Cuba, telephone men of the United States, Great Britain, and Canada consulted on the feasibility of a transatlantic telephone cable. The types of facilities to be used were reviewed for many months. In a contract dated November 27, 1953, the Bell System, the British Post Office (which is responsible for telephone service in the United Kingdom), and the Canadian Overseas Telecommunication Corporation undertook the international project.
Several types of facilities are used on the new route as it goes into service. Telephone calls eastward from the United States will be carried from Portland, Maine, to Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, over a new radio relay system, thence through a single cable across Cabot Strait to Clarenville, Newfoundland. From that point, calls will take a Great Circle route through the deep-sea cables which stretch some 1,950 nautical miles to Oban, Scotland. Land circuits complete connections to London and other points in England and Scotland.
The deep-sea section consists of twin cables — one for transmission east and the other west.
The new telephone cable will add 36 dependable talking circuits, unaffected by magnetic storms, across the Atlantic. About thirty of these channels will be employed for conversations between the United States and the United Kingdom. It is expected that some circuits in the cable will extend to France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and the Scandinavian countries. Thus, the underseas cable will link more and more peoples by reliable, direct means.
Presented on the following pages are some of the main facts about the design, manufacture and laying of the cable.
Both flexible and rigid repeaters, or amplifiers, are used in the cable system. Flexible repeaters of Bell Laboratories design are built into the twin cables on the deep-sea route between Clarenville and Oban. When the cables were laid, the flexible structure of these repeaters made it possible for them to pass along the ship's laying gear and into the water at normal speed. There are 51 such repeaters in each cable and they are expected to operate for more than 20 years without attention.
Each repeater unit is mounted in a series of lucite cylinders surrounded by finely machined overlapping steel rings and copper tube casing. The enclosure is then equipped with a system of watertight seals. The whole flexible structure makes a unit about 150 feet long and contains some 60 components, including three electron tubes. These repeater units were manufactured by Western Electric Company under the most carefully controlled conditions to insure technical perfection and long performance. Some 300 electron tubes are required to make conversation possible under the Atlantic. Tubes are powered from the opposite shore ends of the cable by apparatus designed to feed the correct amount of current to each repeater.
Rigid repeaters of British design are employed in the shallow water of the 300-mile Cabot Strait separating Newfoundland from the mainland. A single cable is used here and its repeaters transmit signals in both directions. These repeaters are spaced about 20 miles apart, while the flexible type are placed at about 40-mile intervals on the deep-sea run.
Manufacturing the Cable
The pair of cables laid under the North Atlantic to depths of as much as two and one-half miles represent a tremendous forward step in cable design and manufacture. The central conductor is enclosed in a layer of plastic insulation, spiraling copper return tapes and then covered with a series of protective tapes of several types. The whole is then armored, the amount of steel depending on the location of the cable beneath the ocean depths --- heavier armoring being placed where the cable might be damaged by ice floes, ships' anchors, trawler fishing, and similar hazards.
Manufacturing organizations on both sides of the Atlantic made the cable with the aid of new and ingenious equipment which would meet the remarkably close tolerances required. British and American teams worked for months to combine the latest manufacturing techniques with years of experience in cable-making.
On the High Seas
To ensure that the transatlantic cable would follow the best possible path from shore to shore, electric soundings were taken of the ocean bottom to measure variations in its subterranean contours.
Cable-laying was carried out under the direction of the Long Lines Department of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company which is responsible for Bell System operations in the provision of overseas telephone service.
The British vessel Monarch was selected for the cable-laying assignment. Laying of the first cable took place last year and the second was completed this past summer.
The cable diameter ranges from 11/4 to about 21/4 inches, except where repeaters make a bulge of about three inches.
The Monarch laid each cable in three sections, the ship ordinarily running at 6 knots per hour. In mid-ocean, where the sea was deepest, many miles of cable were suspended out behind the ship before it reached bottom, pulling with tremendous weight as it settled to the ocean floor.
Theme for History
The opening of service over the first transoceanic telephone cable makes another significant entry in the log of communications progress.
Historians may tell the story of this achievement in a variety of ways, but one theme will doubtless be common to all. This is the wholehearted cooperation of the many people on both sides of the Atlantic who combined their Will-to-do with knowledge and skill to carry through an incredibly complex undertaking.
The cable's service as an added means of linking voices between the Old World and the New will swiftly become an everyday occurrence. This in itself will be the most lasting tribute to all who made it possible.
The opening ceremony was broadcast by Canadian radio station CFCF of Montreal from the banquet hall of the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa. The approximately 53-minute broadcast was recorded on a set of three transcription discs, of which two survive and are in the archives of the Atlantic Cable website. These include much of the three-way telephone conversation between London, Ottawa, and New York.
A full transcript of the available material is on this page, and an extract of the first phone call, including the official opening of the cable in each country, is transcribed below. You can also listen to an MP3 audio file of the first phone call (1.8MB).
In January 1957 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) broadcast a television interview with COTC’s President, Douglas Bowie, who had participated in the TAT-1 opening ceremony just four months earlier. The interview included a demonstration of both telephone and telex calls on the new cable. Video of this interview may be viewed at the CBC archives website.
Mr. Bowie noted that just one of the 36 telephone circuits could be used to provide 22 telegraph/Telex channels; this was the beginning of the end for transatlantic telegraph cables, all of which were withdrawn from service by the mid 1960s.
Shortly after the conclusion of the ceremony, the cable was opened for public service. The New York Times reported that the first call was between a woolen merchant in Manhattan and a textile manufacturer in Yorkshire. The caller in New York had booked a radiotelephone call and expected to wait hours for his connection; he was surprised when the call was put through within ten minutes. [New York Times 26 September 1956]
The cost of a three-minute call between the USA and Britain was $12 during business hours, $9 on evenings and weekends. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator shows that $12 in 1956 would be the equivalent of $100 today.
TAT-1 remained in service until 1978 without a single technical failure, and was withdrawn from service only because many higher-capacity cables had by then been installed across the Atlantic. The only recorded fault was a three-day outage in the eastbound circuit in July 1959, caused by the cable being snagged and broken by a never-found fishing trawler in the relatively shallow water off the Scottish coast.
In 2006 the engineering achievement of TAT-1 was commemorated with the installation of a plaque at the Transatlantic Cable Monument site in Clarenville, Newfoundland, the site of the Canadian landing of the cable. The photograph below, from Tom Wills of AT&T, shows the plaque before it was sent to Newfoundland.
Last revised: 11 May, 2014