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

1923 - Electrical Communications
by John J. Carty, AT&T

Introduction: At the time of this speech by John J. Carty to the Chamber of Commerce of the United States on 8 May 1923, telegraphic communication between America and Europe had been working virtually uninterrupted for almost 57 years. Carty describes the establishment of experimental radio telephone service across the Atlantic, which would be introduced to public service on 7 January 1927 (at a cost of $75 for a 3-minute call). This radio telephone service was itself superseded in 1956, less than 30 years later, by submarine telephone cables.

In 1962 Telstar pioneered satellite communications across the Atlantic, and in 1965 COMSAT's first commercial satellite, Early Bird, was launched, providing 150 telephone circuits. It was thought that satellites would finally make cables obsolete, but the development of optical fibers and the opening of TAT-8 across the Atlantic in 1988 marked the beginning of a new era for submarine cables, which now carry the vast majority of worldwide traffic. Satellites are used mainly for direct broadcasting, connections to remote areas, and as backup in the event of catastrophic cable failure.

-- Bill Burns






John J. Carty

Vice President, American Telephone
and Telegraph Company




Chamber of Commerce
of the
United States



In introducing Mr. Carty to the Group Meeting of the Transportation and Communications Department, Chairman Gray said: -

J.J. Carty
Image courtesy of
NYPL Digital Gallery

"Gentlemen, the next speaker has an address to make upon the subject of Electrical Communications. This speaker, General John J. Carty, is the Vice President of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. He has been in charge of the research and development work of the Bell System for the past twenty years. During the war, in addition to organizing fourteen battalions from the personnel of the Bell System for service in the Signal Corps, he served on the Staff of the Chief Signal Officer of the American Expeditionary Forces, and was largely responsible for the design of the communication circuits of the Service of Supply in France.

"During the war he had, on behalf of the army, the responsibility for maintaining the trans-Atlantic communications between the American Armies in France and the Government at Washington. The cutting of these communications was threatened by the enemy. Two cables were actually cut by the enemy but at no time were the electrical communications severed.

"After the Armistice was signed, General Carty served as Officer in Charge of Communications for the American Committee to Negotiate Peace. He is a Past President of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and is connected with many scientific societies. General Carty has served as Chairman of the Communications Committee of the International Chamber of Commerce for two years, and is a member of the Committee on Transportation and Communication of the United States Chamber of Commerce."

Electrical Communications


Vice President, American Telephone and Telegraph Company, New York.

Something more than two years ago, on behalf of the Committee of the International Chamber, I prepared a report upon World Electrical Communications. When I was asked to address this meeting I thought it would be well if at this date I did a similar duty as a member of the Committee of this Chamber. So I have prepared today something that might be called a brief estimate of the situation regarding electrical communications, having particular reference to communications with countries outside of the United States.

Inasmuch as commerce is becoming more and more dependent upon the rapid and trustworthy interchange of information, it is natural that the members of this Chamber should take a lively interest in the subject of electrical communications. A comprehensive survey of the growth of electrical communications systems and of the improvements which have been made in the art of radio and of wire transmission, would carry me far beyond the time allotted for this discussion. I shall be compelled, therefore, to restrict myself to making a brief statement of certain outstanding factors of the situation.

The radio telegraph has now taken its place beside the submarine cable as a means of transoceanic telegraph communication. The radio telegraph finds its best field across large bodies of water such as the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, where the only wire communication possible is by means of submarine cables which work very inefficiently, even the best of them, as compared to land cables of the same length. Across the ocean, the relative advantages of the telegraph cable and the radio telegraph are difficult to appraise. Each has advantages over the other, and each has its disadvantages, and each is carrying its share of the international telegraph traffic of the world. While the radio telegraph does not function as successfully over large areas of land as over corresponding areas of water, the telegraph cable over land is vastly more efficient than is the deep-sea submarine cable of equal length. The submarine cable consists of one conductor, whereas the long-distance land cable, although 3 inches or less in diameter, may contain hundreds of conductors. Such a land cable can be made to carry thousands of telegraph messages at one time, as compared with only two messages carried at one time by the long deep-sea submarine cable. Peculiar interest, therefore, at this time attaches to transoceanic radio telegraph and submarine telegraph extensions and improvements.

The Radio Corporation of America has in the United States five high-power radio telegraph stations employed in transoceanic telegraph service. One of these is on the Pacific coast, and the remaining four are on the Atlantic Coast. A sixth high-power station is in the Hawaiian Islands. By means of these six stations, nine communications channels are being employed for simultaneous transmission of messages.

Between the Atlantic coast stations, messages are exchanged with high-power stations in Great Britain, Norway, Germany and France. Two high-power stations have been erected in Holland and Italy. Testing is now going on between the United States and these stations, and it is expected on the completion of the tests to establish direct service with these stations. In Poland and Sweden, high-power stations are in process of erection, and when completed, direct service from the United States will be established with these stations also. A station is being completed in Argentina, and it is expected that direct communications between the United States and that country will be established in August of this year. Financial commitments have been made for the erection of high-power radio telegraph stations in Brazil, and they should come into operation within the next year, thus providing direct service between the United States and Brazil.

From the station on the Pacific coast, messages are sent and received with Hawaii, from which station they are re-transmitted by radio to a high-power station in Japan. If negotiations now in progress are successful, a high-power station will be erected in China, capable of direct service with Hawaii and the United States.

The United Fruit Company, through the Tropical Radio Company, operates in the United States four radio telegraph stations which are capable not only of establishing communications with the ships in its service, but also with certain countries in Central America. In Central America itself, the United Fruit Company operates radio telegraph stations in Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, and Colombia. All of these Central American stations are at the present time having installed in them the most modern wireless telegraph apparatus known in the art, and within the next year these stations will in operation form a comprehensive and efficient communications system capable of maintaining communications with the United States on the one hand, and the South American republics on the other.

In 1920, there was operating in the United States but one transoceanic commercial radio telegraph station. Since that date, not only have the power and efficiency of that one station been enlarged, but the number has been increased so that the United States has become the greatest center of radio communication in the world, operating as many high-power commercial stations as all other countries combined. This is a record of scientific achievement and business enterprise of which all Americans have reason to feel proud.

In radio telephony, also, great advances have been made. In 1915, the engineers of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company succeeded in transmitting speech by the radio telephone from Arlington, Va., to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and in the same year they talked from Arlington to the Hawaiian Islands. While the speech transmitted was limited to short sentences, it was sufficient to secure for American scientists the record of being the first to transmit speech by telephone without wires across the Atlantic, and across the continent, and far out into the Pacific.

Further work in this direction was much interrupted by the war, and by post-war conditions. Nevertheless, so great were the improvements made that, on January 14th of this year [1923], articulate speech was, for the first time transmitted from New York to London. The radio apparatus and system used in this New York-London transmission of speech was made possible by cooperation between the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and the Radio Corporation of America and is the result of research and experimental work in the laboratories of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and in the laboratories of the Radio Corporation of America and its associated companies. These experiments were carried out according to a pre-arranged program which was followed to the minute. The talking was continued for two hours, and the voices of all the speakers at New York were plainly heard in London by as many as 60 observers. The speech was audible throughout a large room, the voices of the speakers were recognized, and everything they said was as plainly heard as you are now hearing me. These experiments were carried out at night, for in the daytime the transmission is very imperfect. They were also carried out in the winter because in the summer the static disturbances overwhelm the voice currents. Further experiments are now being made with a view to determining how many hours of the day and during what periods of the year it will be possible to talk. Until these experiments are completed it will be impossible to say at what time, to what extent, under what circumstances, and at what rates, commercial service can be rendered. In these experiments, speech was transmitted in one direction only, that is, from New York to London. Apparatus is not yet available in European countries so that speech could be transmitted back to the United States.

At the present time the public are much interested in the radio telephone because it is used in broadcasting, that is, the sending out from a central station of speeches, phonograph records, musical performances, and the like, to be heard by incredible numbers who are equipping themselves with radio telephone receiving apparatus adapted to this class of service. These broadcast messages, as well as all radio messages, are carried by the ether, which may be likened to a universal party line consisting of a single conductor which must be used in common by all the world. Although ingenious methods have been devised whereby the number of simultaneous radio messages carried by this party-line, the ether, may be largely increased, even then it can at best carry only a small fraction of the total telephone traffic.

In addition to this limitation on the number of conversations which may be carried simultaneously, the radio telephone is peculiarly subject to atmospheric electrical disturbances, more so than the telegraph. At times these disturbances are violent, particularly where high amplification is required as in transoceanic radio. In such cases they interfere with conversation for hours and even days at a time. They are more prevalent in the summer than in the winter season, and in the tropics than in the higher latitudes. Unless we overcome this most formidable problem presented by the atmospheric disturbances, even this relatively limited use of the radio telephone will be still further restricted. This problem of atmospheric disturbance has baffled the scientists of all the world, and some are beginning to think that it is something like the problem of overcoming the weather.

Aside from these static difficulties, there is the interference problem caused by the increasing number of sending stations which produce such great confusion in the ether, and which has already been referred to. This problem is receiving the attention of many of the governments of the world, and more particularly of our own. It is a problem of national and international regulation by law. Some idea of the situation may be gained from a public statement by Secretary Hoover, made after the appointment of a board of Government experts to consider the whole subject. In the course of this statement, Secretary Hoover said:

"I think that it will be agreed at the outset that the use of the radio telephone for communication between single individuals as in the case of the ordinary telephone is a perfectly hopeless notion. Obviously, if ten million telephone subscribers are crying through the air for their mates they will never make a junction; the ether will be filled with frantic chaos, with no communication of any kind possible."

Thus the characteristics of radio messages causing them to spread out over large areas, enabling the radio telephone to be of inestimable service in certain fields, is one of the factors which stands in the way of its general use as a substitute for wires. Scientists long ago demonstrated that wires are nothing more nor less than pathways for guiding or directing the electric waves in the ether between any desired points, however numerous they may be or wherever they may be situated. By means of these wire guides, millions upon millions of messages may be carried simultaneously without interference with each other.

It has often been said that had the course of scientific development been reversed so that radio transmission preceded transmission by wire, the discovery that wires can be used to guide the ether waves would be considered one of the marvels of science. By their use, the otherwise uncontrolled ether waves are caused to follow any predetermined pathway, flashing hundreds of thousands of messages to and fro under our city streets without the slightest interference, each message following its allotted course, whether up through the intricate structure of a thirty-story office building, or out across the plains, under rivers and over mountains, even to the far side of the continent, there to be received by him, and him alone, for whom it is intended.

The natural characteristics of radio and wire transmission are, therefore, fundamentally different. Each, due to its unique capabilities, is performing a service for which the other is unsuited, and each is supplementing the other to the end that there may be provided all the facilities necessary to extend throughout the whole world a comprehensive system of electrical communications. For the large amounts of traffic on land, both telegraph and telephone, which must be handled with certainty and a minimum of cost, the use of wires is necessary. But as an agency for communicating over wide stretches of water, with moving conveyances generally, for numerous maritime and military purposes and for the broadcasting of information, and in other situations where wires are not available, radio telephony is capable of rendering services of unique importance.

While great and gratifying improvements have been made and are being made in the radio art, equally great and equally gratifying improvements have been made and are being made in the art of transmitting both telephone and telegraph messages by wire. The problem of telephoning over long distances over wires strung upon poles for many years baffled the efforts of scientists, but at length it became possible to talk with the greatest success from New York to San Francisco. Recent improvements in open-wire transmission have demonstrated that if the land could be found upon which to erect the wires on poles, it would be possible to talk in this manner all around the world. The problem of talking and telegraphing through cables, however, is vastly more difficult than talking through open wires strung upon poles. In transmission through cables, scientific obstacles of incalculable complexity and difficulty are encountered.

Nevertheless, recent improvements have been made by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, as a result of which that company is constructing a cable from New York to Chicago. This cable will soon be completed from New York to Cleveland, and when it gets to Chicago, it will be possible to talk through it as well as one can talk from one part of New York City to another.

Since this cable project has been undertaken, still further improvements in cable transmission have been made, so that methods are now known whereby it will be possible to talk by cable all the way from New York to San Francisco, and give results as good as those obtained in talking from one part of New York to another. Through such a cable, telegraph messages may also be sent. Such a cable might contain as many as 300 pairs of wires. If this cable were devoted exclusively to telegraph circuits, it could be made to handle 15,000 messages at one time. For telegraphing or telephoning through cables on land, therefore, the electrical problems have been solved. The problem of talking or telegraphing through deep-sea submarine cables still remains a difficult one. The matter of talking through a cable across the Atlantic presents difficulties for which no solution is yet in sight, so that for this class of service the radio telephone offers the most immediate solution.

The sending of telegraph messages through submarine cables is a well established art, but the transmission is slow and attended by peculiar difficulties not encountered in land transmission. Nevertheless, many of the advances which have been made in telephone transmission have indicated methods whereby the speed of ocean telegraph cabling may possibly be greatly increased. In the laboratories of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and Western Electric Company, experiments have been conducted for many years which give the greatest promise of greatly increasing the speed of ocean cables. Experimental lengths have been made and tested in tanks, and the results obtained have been so gratifying that there is good reason to believe, by the new methods which have been discovered, the speed of ocean cables made in accordance with the new discoveries can be increased so as to carry from four to five times as much traffic as the best ocean cable now in service.

These experiments have attracted the attention of cable manufacturers and cable companies throughout the world. The Western Electric Company has now a land cable factory at Chicago capable of turning out 200,000,000 feet of wire for cables per week, and it is now erecting at Kearney in New Jersey a second plant of this kind of about the same capacity. This new plant will be at tidewater, and if circumstances justify, will undertake the manufacture there of deep-sea ocean cables, thus providing for the first time within the United States for supplying these ocean cables to American companies.

The Western Union Telegraph Company has ordered a section of about 130 miles of the new type of cable which is to be laid down and tested. Upon the success of this test depends the character of numerous cable projects which are contemplated by that company. The same is true of other companies who are awaiting with the deepest interest the outcome of this great experiment.

One of the immediate projects contemplated by the Western Union Company is a cable which will give direct services from the United States to southern Europe. In connection with the European cable companies and South American cable companies, the Western Union reaches the principal countries of the western hemisphere and of Europe and Asia. Until this experiment is completed some time during the present year, it will not be possible to announce the further plans for extensions and improvements in its cable service which are contemplated by the Western Union Telegraph Company. This is because these plans depend in such large measure upon the character of the cable which may be rendered available by improvements in the art.

Mr. Clarence H. Mackay, President of the Commercial Cable Company, which is associated with the Postal Telegraph Company, has sent to me a statement concerning some of the projects of this company. Time permits me to give but a few extracts from Mr. Mackay's very interesting communication. He says:

"It gives me great pleasure to announce to the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, through your committee, that the Commercial Cable Company has contracted for and expects to have in operation not later than August 1st of this year, a new cable in the Atlantic Ocean which will substantially increase the direct communication facilities between New York and London.

"This cable will extend from New York, via Nova Scotia, to the Azores. At the Azores it will connect with a cable belonging to this company already laid and which will in turn connect with a new cable to be laid this summer from Ireland to England. Still another cable will be laid from the Azores to the continent of Europe in the near future.

"I am happy to state further that the new cable now in process of construction will have a transmitting capacity which is nearly twice the maximum speed of the fastest cable ever previously laid in the North Atlantic. This new cable will be the equivalent in carrying capacity and service of at least any two of the submarine cables now connecting this country with Europe. Our new cable with its greatly increased carrying capacity will not only be in the nature of insurance against any temporary interruption to other cables from natural or accidental causes, but will also provide new and very substantially increased facilities for the handling of traffic requirements, facilities which I believe are needed and will become more and more needed in ever expanding ratio.

"The Commercial Cable Company, as doubtless you are aware, entered into a contract some time ago with the German Atlantic Cable Company for the laying of a new cable between this country and Germany. Because of the unsettled conditions in Germany, this matter has been somewhat delayed. We are confident that the project will be carried to completion within a reasonable time.

"The development of the cable situation in the Pacific has been halted by the prospect of a new high-dower cable and also by unsettled conditions in China. Meanwhile, the Pacific is carrying its traffic satisfactorily.

"In other respects the international communications situation has been improved measurably since the close of the war. The termination of hostilities found the cable systems of the world in a dilapidated condition. Years of wear and tear had to be made good, and cable factories and cable laying and repair ships released from the pressure of war needs were able to resume their normal industry, with the result that the existing cable systems have been restored. The Commercial Cable Company had, and still has, an extensive program mapped out, but this, as in the case of some other programs of cable expansion, was somewhat retarded by the startling announcement that a new type of cable, capable of many times the carrying capacity of the old type, was being developed. The Commercial Cable Company, seeing no prospect of obtaining cable of this new type for at least two years, has determined to go ahead with its program. This company, since the close of the war, has been able to add considerably to its British and French connections. It has established itself in Holland and Belgium by wires leased from the British, Dutch, and Belgian governments."

In conclusion, Mr. Mackay says that he wishes to assure his fellow members of the Chamber of Commerce that his company will leave nothing undone to supply American interests and the world generally with the utmost in electrical communication facilities.

Similar statements are made to the Chamber by the All America Cable Company, and by the Western Union Telegraph Company, which latter company is undertaking such an expansive and daring experiment with the new type of cable.

All America Cables, Inc., have been the pioneers in the development of communications, by submarine cable, between the United States, Mexico, and Central and South America. Since its initial installation of cables from Galveston, Texas, to Mexico, in 1882, under the name of the Mexican Telegraph Company, its system has expanded until it now provides direct communication with Mexico and all of Central and South America with the exception of Honduras, Venezuela, the Guianas, and Paraguay. The cables link New York with Cuba, radiating from this point to Porto Rico as well as to Panama and Central and South America, while Galveston and New Orleans serve as other outlets and inlets for the communications of American commercial organizations with their interests in Mexico.

In 1920 the company extended its lines from Argentina to Uruguay and Brazil. This greatly extended the facilities for communication with those important countries and resulted in many economies and more favorable conditions of rates and of service.

In the past two years the lines of the company have been extended to Santiago de Cuba, Ponce and San Juan, Porto Rico; Port Limon and San Jose, Costa Rica; Tampico, Mexico; Trujillo, Peru, and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The need for a direct line of communication from New Orleans had long been realized, and in 1922 this city was added to the list of terminal stations of that company. The total mileage of this company is now 21,730 nautical miles.

In 1922, the company signed an agreement with the Mackay Companies under which the points reached by the Mackay system were placed in direct contact with the All America cable system and vice versa. This agreement has proved a great benefit to the public. The company contemplates many new extensions consistent with its policy of expansion and improvement of facilities, which it is believed will greatly amplify the network of communications from the United States to the Latin American republics as well as improve intercommunication between points in Latin America. These improvements depend to some extent upon improvements in cable construction and upon the establishment of improved traffic and governmental relations in all of the foreign countries in which they are established.

This, gentlemen, is a very brief estimate of the situation, and I can say to you that having been in the communication business for more than forty years there never was a period when the art of electrical communication was moving along more rapidly, never a period when the organizations responsible for these communications were more enterprising and more able and more intelligent and more successful in extending communications throughout the world.

Those of us who remember the deplorable conditions of electrical communications from the United States to the rest of the world which existed prior to and during the war must have a feeling of great gratification that in such a short time America has made such very rapid advances. It has been said that this is the Golden Age of Electrical Communications, and I think that is true. I think we can go further and say that this Golden Age is only beginning. But the progress of this country has been so rapid that within the last few years America has taken the foremost position in the art and practice and administration of electrical communication. That should be and is a source of pride and satisfaction to me as a Communication Engineer, and I know that it will be a source of pride and satisfaction to all of the members of the Chamber and to all of our citizens.

Text courtesy of New York Public Library, Myers Collection at SIBL

Last revised: 22 December, 2019

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