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

Commercial Cable Company 1886

Thanks to Jim Jones for supplying this article from The Telegraphist, 1886.


The New York Office of the Commmercial Cable Company, from which the Ocean Cable is operated.

Through the kindness of Mr. G. G. Ward, the general manager of the Commercial Cable Company, we shall be enabled in future numbers to give sketches of the stations belonging to that enterprising company, illustrated with well-executed drawings of the buildings and the repairing steamer Mackay Bennett. The Commercial Company work Sir William Thomson's siphon recorder between New York and Canso, a distance of some 900 miles. At this end the cable lands at Coney Island, whence it is brought underground through the streets of Brooklyn, over the famous East River Bridge, and finally up Wall­street to the principal office, a distance of twenty-one miles.

Our readers will not fail to realise the enormous advantages which this cable actually operated from the head office in the heart of the financial district of New York City over the other companies, who are compelled to transmit their traffic through long land lines before reaching the termini of the cables. Communication between Europe and this country would have been entirely interrupted for many hours on January 29th had it not been for the Mackay-Bennett direct New York cable via Coney Island. All the cables of the old lines were working slowly and unsatisfactorily. It would be impossible to estimate the extent of the inconvenience and loss which would have resulted to the financial and business world had communication been entirely closed during Stock Exchange and business hours. Mr. Ward informs us that Dr. Muirhead's system of duplexing is decidedly a genuine success.


THE Mackay-Bennett cable lands at Cape Ann, Mass., about two miles from the town of Rockport, and is carried underground to the Cable Station in the centre of the last-named place.

Rockport is situated some thirty miles by railway from Boston, and within four miles of Gloucester, a town of 30,000 inhabitants, and the principal shipping centre of New England. In Rockport are no less than seven churches. National and savings banks, a floe hotel, and other public buildings. By unanimous vote the town authorities have prohibited the sale of any kind of intoxicating liquor. The principal industries of the place are the quarrying of granite and the curing of fish. The population is about 5,000. A very pleasant summer resort adjoins, Pigeon Cove by name, where numerous elegant private residences have been erected, overlooking the ocean.

The Commercial Cable Company's Station
Norwood Avenue, Rockport, Mass.

The Rockport cable office in September 2013

The office of the Commercial Company is one of the most complete in existence. The operating-room is well lighted and pleasantly situated, and the Superintendent's office, testing-room, and workshop are all equally well arranged. The staff consists of a Superintendent, Mr. Robert Herne, late of the Direct Company at Rye Beach, and formerly in the Postal Telegraph staff in Ireland; an Assistant Superintendent; and six operators.

The Commercial Cable Company’s Boston Office
(in direct communication with the Ocean Cables)


The Commercial Cable Company's repairing steamer, Mackay-Bennett, of which we present an illustration, was built by the well-known firm of John Elder & Co., of Glasgow, was launched from the Fairfield shipyard in September, 1884, and was christened by Mrs. Mackay, wife of the popular millionaire president of the company.

The Cable Steamer "Mackay-Bennett"

The steamer is constructed of mild steel, the scantlings being throughout in excess of Lloyd's requirements for the highest class of three-decked ships, and has from the commencement been subjected to special survey. Her dimensions are:- Length all over, 270 ft.; length between perpendiculars, 250 ft.; breadth (extreme), 40 ft.; depth, moulded, 24 ft. 6 in.; and the gross tonnage is about 2,000 tons. She is built with an elliptic stern, and the stem is curved forward in the form of a cutwater, so as to prevent the cable fouling the forefoot, and also a short poop aft, and a long bridge-house amidships, and a topgallant forecastle.

A double bottom, built in the cellular system, divided into four water­tight compartments for water ballast, is fitted right fore and aft, and in addition to this, water ballast can be carried in the cable tank cones. The number of water-tight bulkheads is five, four of which extend to the upper, and one to the main deck. Large bilge keels are fitted to reduce the rolling of the vessel when laying cables in heavy weather. A rudder is fitted at each end of the ship, with means of locking the same from the upper deck when not required for manoeuvering.

The tanks for stowing the telegraph cable are three in number, two of them placed forward of the engine and boiler space, and one aft, and their collective capacity is 27,200 cubic feet. Paying-out and picking-up machinery is carried on the upper deck, and the cable led over pulleys sup­ported by strong iron girders projecting over the bow and stern. The vessel is schooner rigged, having double topsails on the fore­mast.

Accommodation for the captain is provided in a deckhouse forward of the poop, which house also contains the saloon entrance. The saloon is on the main deck aft, with state rooms on each side for cable engineers, electricians, or passengers, one state room being very large and handsomely fitted up in hard wood for the use of the owner. The ship's officers and engineers are berthed in side-houses under the bridge deck, and a continuation of the engine and boiler casing contains the galley and a large testing-room, fitted with batteries and appliances for testing cables. The crew's quarters are in the topgallant fore­castle, and the firemen's on the main deck forward. Twelve special hands for working the cable are berthed in two rooms on the main deck, one on each side of the main cable tank, and the remainder of this deck is used for workshops and cable store-rooms.

Small cones for the stowing of light cables, grapnels, and picking-up gear are placed in the lower deck and in the hold. On the forward and aft bridge deck is placed a house containing two chart rooms for the use of captain and officers, and on the flying bridge there is a small steering-house. The steamer is fitted with a powerful capstan, windlass, and two horizontal steam-winches. The steering gear for the forward rudder is a hand-screw gear, and the aft one a combined hand and steam or steam gear. An efficient system of telegraphs is provided for manoeuvering the ship as well as for the working of cable machinery.

The vessel is fitted with two sets of compound inverted cylinder engines, each with two cylinders, one high-pressure cylinder 25 in. in diameter, and one low-pressure cylinder 50 in. in diameter, with a stroke of 3 ft. The high-pressure cylinder has a valve of the equilibrium-piston type, and the low­pressure cylinder has an ordinary double-ported slide valve. These valves are worked by the usual double eccentric and link motion. The reversing of each set is effected by one of Messrs. Brown Bros.' steam and hydraulic reversing engines. The surface condensers are placed at the back of each engine, the water being supplied by one of Messrs. W.H. Allen & Co.'s centrifugal pumps. The air, feed and bilge pumps are worked by levers connected with the piston-rod cross-heads of the low-pressure engine. The steam is supplied to the engines by two cylindrical single-ended multitubular boilers. Each boiler is fitted with four of Fox's patent corrugated furnaces. They are made entirely of steel, and constructed for a working pressure of 100 lb. per square inch.

The ship is fitted up entirely with electric light, and powerful lamps for night work. She is commanded by Captain Lugar, late chief officer of the Faraday, and of the Anglo-American Cable Steamer Minia, with Mr. H. Kingsford as the electrician.

See also Bill Glover's article on the Commercial Cable Company
and the page on the CCC Cable Station in Canso

The Sandy Bay Historical Society in Rockport has a permanent display on the 1884 Atlantic Cable.

Last revised: 1 September, 2013

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