History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
The French Cable Station Museum
Note: The French Cable Station Museum website has a history of the station, details of the exhibits, and information for visitors.
France laid its first submarine cable across the Atlantic in 1869, from the cove of Petit Minou (about 10km west of Brest on the French mainland) to Saint-Pierre et Miquelon (off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada), with an extension to Duxbury, Massachusetts. After four years this enterprise was absorbed by the Anglo-American Telegraph Company. See Bill Glover's detailed history of the French cable companies.
In 1879 a new French cable was laid. Its owner was La Compagnie Française du Télégraphe de Paris à New York, which contracted with the English company of Siemens Brothers to manufacture and lay the cable. The order was placed in March 1879, and Siemens began laying it in June, using their cableship Faraday (1), built in 1874 as the first ship designed specifically for laying cable. The cable stretched 2,242 nautical miles across the Atlantic from Deolen (about 17km west of Brest) to St. Pierre and 827 nautical miles from there to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, landing at a custom-built station near the Nauset Light Beach lighthouse at North Eastham which was used for the next twelve years.
The North Eastham station was somewhat isolated and difficult to access in the winter, so in 1891 a new station was built at Orleans, near the town's commercial district. A cable from the old station at Nauset was laid across Nauset Marsh to the foot of Town Cove at Orleans and then to the new cable station house. Maintaining the large, old station merely as a connection point proved too costly, and, as a result, the Nauset station house was sold in 1893. At the same time, a small hut that measured about ten by fifteen feet was constructed near the old station as a connecting point for the cable. That hut currently forms part of the structure known as the French Cable Hut.
The 1879 Cable
These 1897 maps show the route of the 1879 cable:
The New York Times reported the landing of the cable on November 17th:
The 1879 cable remained in operation until the 1930s.
The 1897/98 Cable
Beginning in 1897, a third French Atlantic Cable, the first direct cable from France to the USA, was made and laid by La Société Industrielle des Téléphones between Deolen (Brest) and Orleans using the company's own CS François Arago as the lead ship, together with the chartered British ships CS Dacia and CS Silvertown.
At 3,173 nautical miles Le Direct was the longest single-span cable laid up to that time. See the Engineering Milestone link below for the detailed history of this cable.
The Orleans station operated until it was closed for security reasons during World War II. It was returned to operation in 1952, and finally closed in November 1959. Fortunately the building and its equipment were preserved, and the station opened as a museum in 1972.
In September 2017, the 1898 cable was recognized by the IEEE as an Engineering Milestone. The IEEE historic markers were installed at Deolen in September 2017 and at Orleans on 6 September 2018.
These photographs of the marker at Deolen are courtesy of Wolfgang Schildbach:
After the Milestone Ceremony at Orleans on the afternoon of Thursday September 6th 2018, Joe Manas, President of the Board of Directors of the Museum, made this report in a message to Members and Friends of the Museum:
The photographs below are by Bill Burns, who was a guest at the ceremony:
The French Cable Station Museum website.
Cape Cod Times feature article on the museum in 1999.
The Cape Cod National Seashore has a page on the French Transatlantic Cable
See also the detail page for the 1879 cable
This article, published in the Boston Globe on 23 October 1892, gives an interesting insight into life at the then recently opened Orleans Cable Station.
Cable Station color photograph from the cover of the Museum Tour Book, 1988
Black and white photographs by Martin
Stupich, September 1987, from American Memory, Library of Congress,
Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record,
Last revised: 28 July, 2020