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

Cables Under The Ocean - 1892

New York Times; Jul 10, 1892




One day a few months ago Mr. Blaine, then Secretary of State appeared before a committee of the House of Representatives and made an argument against the granting of a concession to a French submarine cable company to land any of its cables on the shores of the United States. The premises on which Mr. Blaine based his arguments were that the Brazilian Government had promised to grant to the French Company the exclusive right to control all the cable business between Brazil and the United States, and that by the establishment of this monopoly the Mexican, Central and South American Cable Company - an American corporation desirous of running lines to Brazil - would be denied a participation in the business.

The Societe Francaise des Telegraphes Sous-Marins, as the French Cable Company is officially designated, already owns several lines in and about the West Indies, and, in order to bring into its control the Brazilian circuit, has within the last few months, effected a landing at the port of Vezon in Brazil, at the mouth of the Amazon River, whence the land lines of the country stretch to Para and to the southward, touching at all the principal towns and cities of the republic, as far down as Montevideo in the
Republic of Uruguay.

The run of the submarine cables so far laid down by the Societe Francaise is as follows: From Vezon to Cayenne, thence to Paramaraibo, both Guiana ports, thence to Martinique and Guadeloupe, French West India islands, thence to Porto Plata on the northern shore of San Domingo. From Porto Plata a land line crosses the country to the town of San Domingo, where the cable is again met leading direct to Curaçao, and thence to La Guayra, the main seaport of Venezuela, whence interior places are reached by land lines.

Returning to Porto Plata, it is found that the French cable goes by sea to St. Nicholas Mole, on the coast of Haiti, and thence to the capital of the Black Republic, Port au Prince. In addition to this short line to Port au Prince, the French cable extends across the bottom of the Windward Passage from St. Nicholas Mole and comes to land at Santiago de Cuba, the present terminus of the French system in American waters.

The importance of these lines of cable communication to the world at large will be better appreciated when it is known that all the places mentioned above owe their electrical connection - Guadeloupe and Martinique excepted - to the submarine cables laid down by the Societe Francaise; for no other cable company in these waters runs lines to the same places. It therefore follows that the French company must receive a certain amount of patronage. For example, to reach Haiti or Venezuela, a message must come overland in the United States to Point Rassa, in Florida, where the Western Union cable will take it to Havana by way of Key West. Thence it will cross Cuba to Cienfuegos, where the Cuban Submarine Telegraph Company will dispatch it to Santiago, from which place the French company will transmit it to its destination

There is another important cable system traversing the waters of the West Indies and connecting the United States with South America. This line, the property of the West India and Panama Telegraph Company of England, has its headquarters at Kingston, Jamaica, whence the cables radiate as follows: One line to Santiago de Cuba, and thence as before stated to the United States, and so to Europe. Another line runs from Kingston to the Virgin Island, St. Thomas, and then down through every one of the Windward group to Trinidad, and thence to the mainland at Georgetown, in British Guiana. Still another line radiates from Kingston direct to Colon, on the Isthmus of Panama, thence the way lies across the land to Panama, where the lines of the west coast of North and South America are met, thus bringing into communication all the many places along the west coast as far south as Valparaiso. And even at Valparaiso the continuity cannot be said to be broken, for there is a land line stretching from Santiago in Chile across the Andes and the pampas of Argentine into the City of Buenos Ayres, where a short cable is met that leads to Montivideo, and thence to the principal places along the east coast of Brazil.

The cable lines down the west coast of Central and South America are not the property of the Panama and West Indies Company. So much of the wires as run from Panama to Callao belong to the Central and South American Telegraph Company. From Callao in Peru down to Valparaiso in Chile there are two lines; one, known as the West Coast of South America Telegraph Company, is an English corporation, and the other is a new extension laid last year, belonging to the Central and South American Telegraph Company.

The former company operates a way cable only, whereas the latter company makes but a single stop between Callao and Valparaiso, at Iquique. Thus the Central and South American Company owns a complete cable way from Panama to Valparaiso. At the terminus at the southern end of the line connection is made with the trans-Andean land line, and so the east coast, as above told, is brought into the circuit. But the wires of the Central and South American Cable Company do not terminate at Panama on the north. Instead, they run up the west coast of Central America, making calls at the more important ports until Salinas Cruz is reached on the coast of Mexico.

At Salinas Cruz this Western American system crosses Southern Mexico by land wires to the port of Coatzacoalcos, on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. There a submarine cable is again laid, which leads to Galveston in Texas. This section of the long line of electrical cable system is operated under the auspices of the Mexican Telegraph Company. That is to say, the Mexican and the Central and South American Telegraph Companies are one and the same organization, and their headquarters are in New-York, so that the system belongs to the people of the United States.

Now, the American company is desirous of handling the South American east coast business, and so long as the French company is kept out of the United States it can do this. It probably would be able to hold its own even were the French wires brought to land on our shores, provided that the Brazilian and other South American nations made no invidious discrimination against the company; but with the French enjoying a monopoly, the far-reaching efforts of the United Status corporation, which has already negotiated for the ownership of the trans-Andean line, would fall.

Brazil, it might be interesting in this connection to know, is in direct communication with Europe by means of a double cable system belonging to the Brazilian Submarine Telegraph Company of London. The lines run from Pernambuco to St. Vincent, in the Cape de Verde group of islands, thence to Funchal, Madeira, and thence to Lisbon. From Lisbon cables are laid to England, also through the Straits of Gibraltar. Besides there are several land lines to bring Europe into the connection. Should the sender of a cable message from South America to the United States wish it to go via Europe, he can have it dispatched from the European end of the Brazilian line at Lisbon by cable to England, and thence across the North Atlantic Ocean. This route is frequently resorted to, for, until very recently, the only other route was by way of the trans-Andean wire to the west coast lines.

There are ten cables laid across the North Atlantic Ocean serving as connecting links between the New and the Old World. Two of the cables start from Brest, France, six from in and about Dingle Bay on the west coast of Ireland and two from Land's End, England. On this side of the water four of the cables come to land at Trinity Bay, Newfoundland; two at St. Pierre, Island of Miquelon, and four in Nova Scotia. From these main terminals short lengths of submarine cables stretch out so as :o reach two or three ports in the United States.

The names of the corporations operating those transatlantic lines are the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, the original organization which, under the skillful and determined leadership of Cyrus W. Field, laid, after many mishaps, the pioneer cable connecting the two worlds; the Direct United States Cable Company, the Compagnie Francaise du Telegraphe de Paris a New-York, the Western Union Company, and the Commercial Cable Company.

From Europe a great English company carries on the string of wires through the Mediterranean Sea, across the Suez Isthmus, down the Red Sea, and across the Indian Ocean to Bombay. This long line, with many bifurcations en route, is under the control of the Eastern Telegraph Company of England. Some of the branch lines of this system run down the cast coast of Africa and then back to the starting place in England. Another line makes a cord binding into one circuit all the coast places of the vast Indian Empire. Then, under the name of the Eastern Extension Company, the cables cross over from Calcutta to the Malay peninsula and come to land in Australia, where the shore wires carry messages all over that vast continent. Finally, the same company has a double line of cable stretched between Sydney and New-Zealand.

There are still other submarine cables belonging to the Eastern Company scarcely less important to the commercial world than those to Australia and India. They are the lines extending along the bottom of the China and Japan Seas and serve to bring into electrical connection all the places of the Orient. This system runs from Singapore and does not stop until the Chinese and Japanese cities are touched. Thence Vladivostock is reached over cables belonging to the Great Northern Company. This remote Russian post is also brought into touch with the West by means of a long overland wire that crosses Siberia and terminates at St. Petersburg.

The main directions of the principal cable lines of the world have only been briefly indicated, as a glance at any cable chart will at once show. It Is observable, too, in looking at the chart that the only body of water that is not crossed by a cable is the Pacific Ocean. There can be no doubt as to the need of a line bringing Japan and the Sandwich Islands into quick communication with the United States, and such a cable would be sure to succeed, for the business that now has to go over the eastern lines by the route above indicated - that is, via India and the Mediterranean - would find quicker and more accurate dispatch could it come direct to the United States and then cross over to Great Britain.

The laying of cables is expensive. The probable cost cannot be far from $1,000 a mile; this includes the making and the laying of the cables. Present experience gives from thirty to forty years as the probable length of life of a modern submarine cable, but much depends on the mode of preparing the outer strands of wire protection, especially the galvanizing. Then, too, the nature of the bottom of the sea, the rocks, &c., come into the question. There are instances where a cable has lasted only ten years.

It is found that there is in round numbers 135,000 miles of cables, all told. Of this length Great Britain owns nearly 91,000 miles, of which the English Government owns only 7,500 miles. In the list of ownership of cable lines France comes second with 20,000 miles, of which 5,000 belong to the Government. The United States stands third, our three companies controlling something over 10,000 miles of submerged telegraph wires. Germany's only cables are Government owned, and are less than 3,000 miles long. It is the same with Italy, but her length of lines is about half that of Germany. The only other country operating lines is Denmark, where a single private company works over 6,800 miles of wire.

To lay cables requires a specially-equipped steamer, and, as submerged wires are constantly suffering damage from some unavoidable cause, it is necessary to have always ready for service one of these cable ships. The telegraphic fleet is composed of no less than thirty-eight steamers, aggregating more than 60,000 tons. Twenty-six of these vessels are the property of the private lines of England. The Government lines control only two. The French lines are looked after by four ships, two of which are private property. There are no cable ships belonging to the United States. In case of damage, it is customary to hire an English vessel. The old ship Great Eastern used to be the most celebrated of cable ships. Since her demise the English steamer Silvertown, of 6,000 tons, is probably the best known. There is also a French cable ship of the same tonnage.

Cables are difficult to manufacture, requiring considerable complicated machinery. In general terms a cable consists of an inner core of copper wires surrounded by a mixture of soft rubber and jute fibre. This in turn is usually covered by four layers of prepared gutta percha. Then comes a winding in hemp or jute, well coated with a tarry preparation, and finally the whole is guarded against injury from the rough shocks of careless handling and uneven ocean beds and rocks, &c., by an outer layer of soft steel or iron strands.

There are two large cable factories in the world - one the Construction and Maintenance Company of England and the other the French Company at Calais. This last company is a part of the Telegraphs Sous-Marins Company, that has been making so earnest an effort to secure a landing on American shores.

Copyright © 2007 FTL Design

Last revised: 30 November, 2008

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