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

Cable Anniversary
Speech by David Dudley Field, 1879
Introduction: This transcription of the remarks of Cyrus Field's brother, David Dudley Field, at the 25th anniversary reception, is from the book Speeches, Arguments, and Miscellaneous Papers of David Dudley Field, edited by A.P. Sprague and published by D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1884.
--Bill Burns

Cable Anniversary

Remarks at a reception given by Mr. Cyrus W. Field, on the 10th of March, 1879, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the organization of the first company ever formed for laying an ocean-cable. The host made a short address of welcome, and, at its close, turned to his brother, saying that he, "as the counsel and adviser of the company through all these years, had had occasion to speak for it many times and in many places," and requested him to add a few remarks. The latter responded to the request as follows:

David Dudley Field cigar box label.
Copyright 1894 Schumacher & Ettlinger, N.Y.

"Then" and "now" are the words which best indicate the current of thought of one who was an actor in the transaction we are commemorating and the events which followed it. Then, as we have been told, there was not a submarine telegraph in the world, excepting three from England to the adjacent Continent, none of which lay more than fifty fathoms deep ; now, there are cables at the bottom of every ocean, except the Pacific. Then, whatever took place in Ireland, the nearest land, could be known to us only after eight or ten days ; now, we read at our breakfast tables news of what has happened a few hours before in Ireland and in England, in France and Spain, in Constantinople and Cairo, in Delhi and Melbourne. When I look at this ceiling and these walls, all unchanged, and think of the group, small in number but great in heart, that then gathered around this table, and of what they set on foot, I feel that the achievements of our days have surpassed the marvels of fable and romance. Peter Cooper has written his name on walls of stone and iron ; Moses Taylor has heaped up "riches and honor"; Marshall O. Roberts has plowed either ocean with his swift ships ; and yet nothing that these men have done has wrought half so much for the world as that which they began that night. The part which my brother took you all know. Of the other two, one, Mr. Chandler White, my friend of many years, fell by the wayside, long before the end of the tedious journey which the others had before them. Mr. Wilson G. Hunt took his place, and journeyed with them resolutely to the end. No one knows better than I the obstacles which these gentlemen had to overcome, the disappointments to suffer, the delays to sustain, the obloquy to withstand; and no one can bear stronger testimony than I can to their patience, their perseverance, their courage, and the deserved honor of their final triumph. The flag, American and English wrought into one, which hangs over these windows, is the sign of their constancy in defeat, as of their victory. That united flag floated at the mast-head of the Niagara in the disastrous expedition of 1857, and the partially successful one of 1858; it was run up again at the fore of the Great Eastern, for the voyage, when she failed in 1865; and was kept streaming in the wind, until it floated over a victorious ship and a great work accomplished.

Though we then knew something of what we were doing, we did not know all. Events have outrun the imagination. Little did I dream that, within twenty years, I should stand beneath the Southern Cross and send from Australasia a message to my northern home, which, almost while I stood, passed over half the globe, darting with the speed of thought across the nearly two thousand miles of Australian desert,. through the Arafura Sea, past the "Isles of Ternate and Tidore," across the Bay of Bengal and the of Sea of Arabia, along the Red Sea coast, under the Mediterranean and Biscay's sleepless bay, and finally beneath our own Atlantic to this island city, "situate at the entry of the sea."

Seeing that so much has been accomplished in the quarter-century past, what may we not expect in the quarter-century to come? The completion of the world-encircling girdle, by forging the remaining link between the Occident and the Orient, is but a part of what you may witness. There will be new instruments for handling the electric current, as there are new places to reach. Then, when every part of the earth shall be visited each day by the electric spark, with its messages from the peoples of many lands, we may hope to see that better understanding among all the sons of men which is sure to teach them that the ways of peace are the ways of prosperity and honor.

Last revised: 10 October, 2012

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