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

Speeding up our Deep Sea Cables, 1925
Scene List

Introduction: The first motion picture film about the cable industry was made as early as 1917, and other short films followed. Almost all of the ones made before WWII are now lost, and are known only from entries in rental library catalogs and the occasional published review. The main bibliography page has a listing of all known titles.

One surviving document is reproduced here by kind permission of the AT&T Archives and History Center. It is the detailed scene list of Speeding up our Deep Sea Cables, a Western Electric Picture produced by Charles W. Barrell and released in 1925. The two-reel 35mm film showed the laying of the first high-speed cable between Rockaway Beach, New York, and the Azores in October 1924.

Barrell also produced Business in Great Waters for Western Electric in 1930, a two-reel sound film about the laying of the high speed ocean telegraph of 1928 between Newfoundland and the Azores, as well as other short films on technical subjects. See this scholarly paper on Western Electric's film division, Electrical Research Products, Incorporated, of which Barrell was the director.

—Bill Burns


October 25, 1928


Western Electric


Produced by
Charles W. Barrell

Photography by
Walter Pritchard

Animation by
Western Electric Company

3. Since the Atlantic cable was successfully laid in 1866, the most important improvement in submarine telegraph construction has been the new high speed cable, opened for service between New York and the Azores Islands, October 1924.

4. This cable embodies the first practical application of the new magnetic metal, “permalloy,” discovered and developed by Western Electric engineers.

5. Permalloy, the most magnetic material known, is composed of iron and nickel. Used as a tape, 6/1000 of an inch thick and 1/8 inch wide, it surrounds the cable conductor with a magnetic field, enabling it to carry signals without distortion five times faster than heretofore.

6. Newcomb Carlton, President of the Western Union Telegraph Company, who backed his faith in the permalloy cable experiment with a $4,000,000 order – and won.

7. Unswerving faith and persistence in the face of apparent defeat characterized the man who promoted the first Atlantic cables. This indomitable pioneer was Cyrus Field of New York.

8. Associated with Field were such famous Americans as Peter Cooper, Prof. S.F.B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, Moses Taylor and David Dudley Field. (From a painting in the New York Chamber of Commerce.)

9. Model of the “Great Eastern,” the huge steamship that laid the Atlantic cable of 1866. Even today she would rank among the leviathans.

10. Inside the English factory during the construction of Field’s Atlantic cable.

11. A modern angle on the English works where the new permalloy cable was made.

12. Loading the “Great Eastern” with cable in 1866. An old frigate was used for lighterage purposes, as the big paddle-wheeler drew too much water to venture up the Thames to Greenwich.

13. Fifty-eight years later. Loading the “Colonia,” modern successor to the “Great Eastern” with the permalloy cable direct from the works.

14. One of the cable tanks on the “Great Eastern.”

15. How the permalloy cable was stowed in one of the “Colonia’s” cable tanks.

16. Swinging down New York Bay on the Western Union Cable Ship “Clowry” to meet the “Colonia,” coming in from England.

17. All’s well on board, including the $4,000,000 cargo of cable.

18. Largest cable ship afloat, with a gross tonnage of 8,000 and a normal speed of 14 knots, the “Colonia” has a storage capacity of over 4,000 sea miles of cable.

19. By way of contrast, the “Great Eastern” as an artist of 1866 observed her.

20. Cable tank of the “Clowry,” ready to receive the land end of the New York-Azores cable.

21. “Heave, ho!” sings the crew of the “Colonia,” as they haul out the heavily armored shore section.

22. Coiling the shore link aboard the small ship, which will lay it.

23. Daybreak, some thirty-six hours later, finds the “Clowry” riding the heavy swells off Rockaway Beach.

24. Mr. Bullock, Navigating Officer of the “Colonia,” takes bearings aboard the “Clowry.”

25. – while his lieutenant, Mr. Muir, “shoots the sun” to verify the ship’s position.

26. On the beach, the cable engineers prepare for a busy day.

27. Sighting the proposed ship-to-shore line.

28. Digging the cable trench from low water mark.

29. After an animated conversation between experts ashore and afloat –

30. Mr. Muir heads for the beach with a coil of three-inch rope.

31. The ship’s end of the rope is attached to the cable.

32. Some life-guards on a spiderlike catamaran finally succeed in bringing the cable rope ashore.

33. Hand power soon gives way to gasoline –

34. – while Cable Chief watches the “Clowry’s” preparations for paying out the cable from a distance.

35. Casks fastened to the cable at regular intervals float it ashore without strain.

36. Edward M. Field, the son of Cyrus W. Field, sees the new epoch-making ocean telegraph come ashore.

37. The reception party also included Commander Emilie Axerio, Italian Consul –

38. Dr. F.B. Jewett, Vice President of the Western Electric organization which designed the new cable –

39. – and many others, equally interested.

40. Forced through a conduit, the land end goes to the permanent cable station some blocks from the beach.

41. Before the “Clowry” gets under weigh, the cable must be hauled from the storage tank by hand.

42. Once the land end is secure, it’s up anchors and away, with the cable wriggling and splashing astern.





Western Electric

45. Three miles out the cable end is chained to a buoy.

46. All hands stand by to drop the buoy.

47. Here she goes!

48. A bobbing seamark for the “Colonia” when she comes to pick up the cable.

49. Turning back again to 1866, this is how the launching of a buoy from the “Great Eastern” was accomplished.

50. Sunrise on the Atlantic coast – with the “Colonia” waiting for flood tide –

51. – to pick up the shore-end cable buoy.

52. But the water remains too shallow for the big ship to venture in.

53. So the “Colonia’s” Navigation Officer “borrows” the “Clowry” to take depth soundings around the buoy.

54. “Half-and-six fathom!”

55. As the hours pass, the sea grows restless.

56. Then, as the light fails, the big ship backs down on the cable-end –

57. – and a boat’s crew comes off to pick up the buoy.

58. Cable and buoy both safely aboard after some rounds at catch-as-catch-can among the curling white-caps, the “Colonia’s” splicing crew show their stuff.

59. The raw ends are stripped down to the conductor cores –

60. – filed and soldered.

61. – and the joints neatly polished –

62. The gutta-percha insulation is applied in carefully worked layers.

63. A skilled craftsman makes a first class actor.

64. Bill doesn’t approve of American gum. Gutta-percha chewing is strictly business with him.

65. Here they are – two of the world’s best cable splicers.

66. Just another contrast from the past. Two of the “Great Eastern” cable splicers at work some sixty years ago.

67. Replacing outer layer.

68. It’s taken five minutes to show the splicing. To do it took five hours.

69. With night coming on, the “Colonia” heads east for the Azores –

70. – paying out cable at ten miles an hour.

71. Profile map of the ocean between the cable station at Hammel on Rockaway Beach, New York, and the Azores Islands, as it might have looked during the laying of the permalloy cable.


2200 miles
Hammel, N.Y.                                          Azores
Greatest Depth
16,800 ft.

73. Edge of Continental Shelf.

74. Western Union Cable Station, Rockaway Beach, where engineers are in constant touch with the ship through the cable.

75. Receiving a message from the “Colonia” at sea.

76. Electrical impulses coming over the cable from the ship are made visible in ink by the siphon recorder, invented by Lord Kelvin.

77. Night and day, the “Colonia’s” progress is recorded upon this delicately adjusted scale through the cable as it is laid.

78. Harbor of Fayal in the Azores, where the eastern end of the cable was landed.

79. The cost of deep-sea cables makes it vitally necessary to get as much work out of them as possible. With a capacity of over 1,500 letters a minute, the permalloy cable requires specially designed sending and receiving apparatus.

80. A test message coming in from Fayal.

81. A specially designed amplifier receives the cabled signals, increases their strength, and passes them on to the recording instrument.

82. If the ocean were pumped dry, we could see many cable lines running through the valleys and over the mountains that are now buried in brine.

83. Note: This animated map shows cables running from Hammel, N.Y. to the Azores Island, Malaga, Rome and Emden, Germany.

84. The new permalloy cable provides the most direct route to the Azores and Europe.

85. Note: Same as No. 85/

86. Five times faster than any other ocean telegraph, this Western Union cable brings the Old World and the New into closer touch than our forefathers ever dreamed.




Last revised: 22 December, 2018

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