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

Back Reflection Articles
by Stewart Ash

The following articles on various aspects of submarine cable history appeared between March 2009 and November 2015 in a regular column titled “Back Reflection” for the on-line industry magazine SubTel Forum. The author, Stewart Ash, stood down as the magazine’s history correspondent at the end of that year, and in 2016 he reviewed and updated all 44 articles to include his latest research so that they could be republished here.

Stewart is an independent subsea telecommunications consultant with a career spanning over 45 years, and has written extensively on the history of the industry. After graduating in 1970 he joined STC as a terminal equipment development engineer, then in 1972 transferred to the installation and projects department. He was regularly promoted over the intervening years until in 1986, with the advent of fibre optics, he was asked to set up a new installation division to deal with this new product. 

In 1993 he moved to Cable & Wireless Marine (CWM), where he took on various business development and marketing roles, including that of account director for the parent company. When CWM was taken over by Global Crossing in 1999, Stewart became General Manager of the Engineering Division of Global Marine Systems Ltd (GMSL) and Chairman of the UJ Consortium. He left  GMSL in 2005 to set up his own consultancy and began detailed research into the history of submarine cables in 1999, when he was involved in the planning of GMSL’s 150th Anniversary celebrations. 

Stewart has also written numerous other articles on the history of the cable industry, co-authored From Elektron to ‘e’ Commerce, published in 2000, and wrote the chapter “The Development of Submarine Cables” for the book Submarine Cables: The Handbook of Law and Policy, published in 2014. His e-books, The Story of Telecommunications and its Association with Enderby House and The Eponymous Enderbys of Greenwich are available for free download on the Enderby Wharf page of this site.

More recently, Stewart’s biography of John Pender “The Cable King” was published in 2018, and is available at Amazon USA and Amazon UK.

Year Title SubTel Forum Issue
1850 The First Cable #53, Sep 2010
1857 The First Atlantic Telegraph #45, Jul 2009
1859 The 1859 Committee #43, Mar 2009
1867-1950 Havana – Key West Cables #46, Sep 2009
1869-1929 Other Atlantic Cables #70, May 2013
1869-1929 The Atlantic Price War #71, Jul 2013
1870-2010 Japanese Submarine Cables #48, 50, 51, Jan-May 2010
1891 La Vieille Dame de Calais
(Oldest Cable Factory)
#47, Nov 2009
1943-2012 The History of the Repeater #65, Sep 2012
1953-1968 Technology Convergence #78, 79, Sep-Nov 2014
1961-1967 Coaxial Commonwealth Cables #76, May 2014
1986 Genesis (UK-Belgium #5) #44, May 2009
2011 Happy Birthday EDFA #57, May 2011
  Submarine Cable Ploughing #52, Jul 2010
  John Pender: The Cable King #90, Nov 2016
  Lumps and Bumps (Equalizers) #66, Nov 2012

Last revised: 6 April, 2020

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