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

Atlantic Cables - Index: 1857-58, 1865-66

Introduction: After the success of the first submarine cables in the early 1850s, the laying of short cables became routine, but longer cables presented more problems. It was, of course, of considerable financial and political interest to span the Atlantic Ocean, and the attempts in 1857, 1858, and 1865, and the eventual success in 1866, attracted much attention.

This section of the Atlantic Cable website provides a convenient central directory of the large amount of material on these cables.

—Bill Burns

Manufacturer’s sample case for the 1858, 1865, and 1866 Atlantic Cables


1852-1856: The Beginning

Prince Edward Island Cable - the first link, 1852

The Atlantic Cable Projectors - where it all began: 1854-1895

The New York, Newfoundland & London Telegraph Company - 1854

St. John's, Newfoundland, as a Port of Call for Transatlantic Steamers - February 1856 pamphlet promoting use of the soon-to-be-completed telegraph line between Newfoundland and New York

The Atlantic Telegraph - Cyrus Field’s November 1856 prospectus for the company

1857-1858 Cables

Professor Hall’s Floating Stations - an unsuccessful 1857 proposal

Cabot Strait Cable and 1857-58 Atlantic Cables by Bill Glover

On Submarine Electric Telegraphs - paper given by Frederick R. Window in January 1857 to the Institution of Civil Engineers, including comments on the problems of long submarine lines

The Atlantic Telegraph - report published in the USA by Cyrus Field in June 1857 to answer questions on the upcoming cable

Reports and Opinions in Reference to the Selection of the Best Point for Laying the Cable. July, 1857

The landing of the Irish shore end of the 1857 cable

A song by James Clerk Maxwell on the failure of the 1857 cable

Atlantic Telegraph Company: Ordinary General Meeting, February 1858 - Report of the Directors to the Ordinary General Meeting of Shareholders

On Submerging Telegraphic Cables - report on a paper read at the Institution of Civil Engineers on 16 February 1858, by Mr. J.A. Longridge, M. Inst. C.E., and Mr. C.H. Brooks.

On the Practical Operations connected with the Paying-Out and Repairing of Submarine Telegraph Cables - paper presented on 23 February 1858 to the Institution of Civil Engineers by Frederick C. Webb.

On the Submergence of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable - lecture given in March 1858 to the United Service Institution

Henry M. Field’s account of meeting the Telegraph Squadron in June 1858

Private Journal of Geo. R. Johnson - an account of the 1858 Atlantic cable expedition by the Second Assistant Engineer of USS Niagara

The 1858 cable expedition as reported in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, New York

The 1858 cable station in Newfoundland and the landing of the cable. Includes previously unpublished paintings made at the time.

My Connection with the Atlantic Telegraph by James Burn Russell. Transcription of sections of the manuscript journal of William Thomson’s assistant, who accompanied Thomson on the 1858 cable expeditions. An important source document, previously unpublished.

Leaves from the Journal of an Amateur Telegrapher by James Burn Russell. Published articles based on the experiences described in the journal above.

The New York Chamber of Commerce Tiffany gold medals - and Richard Williamson’s story

David Dudley Field’s speech on September 1st 1858 at the Crystal Palace celebration of the laying of the cable

The Telegraph Jubilee - celebrations in New York City and around the country on August 18th

The 1858 Cable Celebration in New York City - September 1st and 2nd

1858 Atlantic Cable souvenir advertisements

The 1858 Atlantic Cable Grand National Ball in Clyde, New York

Messages Carried by the 1858 Atlantic Telegraph Cable

Mr. Henley’s Gigantic Magneto-electric Machines

William Thomson on the 1858 cable and instruments

The First Atlantic Telegraph Cable, by John Mullaly - a 1907 recap of his original writings

Wildman Whitehouse and the 1857-58 Atlantic cables - a comprehensive history of the life and work of the Electrician of the 1857-58 Atlantic Cables

William Thomson and the 1857-58 Atlantic Cables - another point of view

George Saward’s The Trans-Atlantic Submarine Telegraph

Atlantic Telegraph Company: Extraordinary General Meeting, December 1858 - report of a special meeting of the almost bankrupt company which attempted to present an optimistic view to the shareholders

London Pickpocket: "Folks call this Telegraph a Great Hinvention! I say it’s mean! It don’t give a Cove a fair chance! They’ll know all about him in Hamerica afore he gets there!"
[Harper’s Weekly, May 16, 1857]

The first Atlantic submarine telegraph cable

Inside the Vault @ the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences - Matthew Connell, Curator of Computing and Mathematics talks about the ‘first Atlantic submarine telegraph cable’ from the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Collection. Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Collection, Object numbers: H1748, B2158, B1296, 92/1987


The Maths Behind the Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable - a short article by Liam Morris on William Thomson’s mathematical analysis of the first Atlantic cable

Was the Atlantic Cable A Humbug! - an argument waged in the pages of the Boston Courier as to whether the 1858 cable actually carried the reported messages [1859]

The Atlantic and South Atlantic Telegraphs - Frederick R. Window’s anonymous pamphlet on the shortcomings of the 1858 cable, and a proposed South Atlantic route [1859]

Index to the Report of the Joint Committee Appointed by the Lords of the Privy Council for Trade and the Atlantic Telegraph Company to Inquire into the Construction of Submarine Telegraph Cables [1861]

Bridging the Gap – News Telegraphs 1863-1870 by Steven Roberts

The Northern Line – The Arctic Cables by Steven Roberts

Tal Shaffner

Henry O'Rielly and the Russo-American Telegraph

Cyrus Field at the New-York Chamber of Commerce - 1863

Cyrus Field’s Banquet - London, April 1864

1865-1866 Cables

Making the 1865 Atlantic Cable - a visit to the factory at Greenwich

Choosing the Site for the Shore End - descriptions of the activities at Valentia in June 1865

Laying the Shore End - a description of the scene at Valentia in July 1865

William Russell’s Manuscript Diary of the 1865 expedition

William Russell & Robert Dudley’s book: The Atlantic Telegraph - includes scans of the cover, title page, tinted lithographs, and original artwork from the book recording the events of the 1865 Great Eastern cable expedition.

De Profundis by William H Russell; an article summarizing the events of 1865

John C. Deane’s Diary of the 1865 expedition.

The 1865 cable expedition as reported in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, New York

Original letter from Sir Daniel Gooch describing the loss of the cable on the 1865 Great Eastern expedition

Henry O'Neil’s accounts of the 1865 and 1866 cable expeditions

Portraits on the Voyage - photographs and sketches of some of the key figures of 1865

The Manufacture of the 1865 and 1866 Atlantic Cables

Letter from Sir Robert Peel to John C. Deane, later Secretary of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, concerning the loss of the 1865 cable

Atlantic Telegraph Cable - address of Professor William Thomson to the Royal Society of Edinburgh on the 1865 cable

The Anglo-American Telegraph Company - formed to lay the 1866 cable, the company remained in business for over a hundred years

Description of the Paying-Out and Picking-Up Machinery in 1866, by George Elliot of Glass, Elliot

Shipboard Publishing and Printing on Great Eastern in 1865 and 1866

From Sheerness to Valentia - reports on the first part of the 1866 Great Eastern expedition by the Special Correspondent of the Daily News (London).

John C. Deane’s Manuscript Diary of the 1866 expedition. Includes the recovery and completion of the lost 1865 cable

Affairs at Hearts Content: August 1866 - New York Times correspondent’s report from Newfoundland after the successful conclusion of the 1866 expedition

Detailed description of the Recovery of the Cable in 1866, from Henry M. Field’s book

On the Atlantic Telegraph - 1867 lecture by Cromwell F. Varley on the theory behind long submarine cables

The Cables and Iceberg - 1867 damage to the 1866 Atlantic cable by an iceberg at the mouth of Trinity Bay, Newfoundland

On The Causes Of Failure Of Deep-Sea Cables - 1884 article by James Graves

Sample Case: Atlantic Cables of 1858, 1865, 1866

Engineering Facts and Figures for 1866 - an overview of technical details of the 1858, 1865, and 1866 Atlantic cables

Submarine Telegraphy - December 1866 article by cable engineer Fleeming Jenkin with a detailed technical analysis of the design, manufacture, laying, and testing of the Atlantic cables of 1858, 1865, and 1866

Edward Bright: Description of the Manufacture, Laying and Working of the Cables of 1865 and 1866; with an Explanation of the Means Employed for Recovering the Lost Cable of 1865.

Bern Dibner’s book The Atlantic Cable, published in 1958, provides an excellent overview of the 1857 -1866 Atlantic cables, and is available on line at the Smithsonian Institution’s website.

A 2016 article by Nigel Linge and Bill Burns, “The Cable that Wired the World” (PDF), gives an illustrated overview of the Atlantic Cable project on the 150th anniversary of its successful completion.

Timeline of Atlantic Cables

Atlantic Cables and Connections 1856-2022

Atlantic Cable Broadsides

Posters for the Public - a record of how the cable captured the imagination in Britain and America

Cable Maps

Cable Route Maps - includes maps of the early Atlantic cables


Cable Bibliography - details of published works on subsea cables, beginning in the 1850s, as well as films and videos from the 1920s to date

Cable Signalling Speeds

Comparision of transmission speeds from early to modern cables

Salient Features In Cable Design Since 1850 - a timeline of cable technical developments from 1850 to 1959 by Submarine Cables Ltd.

Collage of Atlantic Cable Documents

Historical document collage - but all are reproductions

Last revised: 20 September, 2022

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Research Material Needed

The Atlantic Cable website is non-commercial, and its mission is to make available on line as much information as possible.

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.

If you have any cable-related items that you could photograph, copy, scan, loan, or sell, please email me: [email protected]

—Bill Burns, publisher and webmaster: