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

The Central & South American Telegraph Company
by Bill Glover


In 1875 James Scrymser left the International Ocean Telegraph Company to form two new telegraph companies. The second of these was the Central and South American Telegraph Company which came into being in 1881.

The India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Company Ltd was awarded a contract to manufacture and lay a cable from Mexico to Peru. The route was: Tehuantepec, Mexico – La Libertad, El Salvador – San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua – Puntarenas, Costa Rica – Balboa, Panama – Buenaventura, Colombia – Santa Elena, Ecuador – Payta, Peru – Chorillos, Peru. An article in the New York Times in December 1881 noted the importance of the system to the United States.

The cable was laid in 1881 and 1882 by CS Silvertown, CS International, and CS Dacia, with CS Retriever (1) performing survey and repair work. A connection was made to the Mexican Telegraph Company system via a land line across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to Coatzacoalcos and then a cable to Vera Cruz. The whole system opened for service in 1882.

Central & South American Telegraph Company
1882 system map and rate card

In May 1883 a fault developed in the section between Santa Elena and Payta (Paita), and engineer George West mounted an expedition to make repairs.

1914 message form

In 1890 an extension to the system took place with the laying of a cable Chorillos - Iquique - Valparaiso. The same company manufactured and laid the cable using CS Silvertown. In the same year the company purchased a land line giving them connections to Santiago, Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

In 1891 the company took delivery of CS Relay (see below) and used it to lay cables from Tehuantepec to San Jose, Guatemala and San Jose to La Libertad. Two years after this CS Silvertown duplicated the cable from Tehuantepec to Chorillos this time with landings at San Juan and Santa Elena only.

Cover of an 1893 book showing the company's routes in the Americas together with land connections in the USA and onbound cable circuits to Europe

In 1906 Siemens Bros were awarded a contract to manufacture and lay a cable from Valparaiso to Chorillos with a landing at Iqique with CS Faraday (1) carrying out the laying. The following year Telcon manufactured and laid a cable from New York to Cuba and then Panama using CS Colonia.

1911 postcard showing the Fisherman's Point
Cable Office in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

This cable was duplicated in 1915 with the same company and cable ship carrying out the work.

CS Stephan laid a cable manufactured by Norddeutsche Seekabelwerke between Balboa, Panama and Santa Elena, Ecuador in 1913. This was the final cable laid under this name; in 1920 the company changed its name to All America Cables.

1913 postcard showing the Central & South
American Telegraph Company cable office
on Front Street in Colon, Panama.
The sign says: "Cables Via New York & Via Galveston"



Built in 1890 by R. Thompson and Son, Sunderland

Length 240.0 ft. Breadth 32.2 ft. Depth 14.2 ft. Gross tonnage 1198

Built for the Central and South American Telegraph Company and used primarily for repair work, but did on occasions lay short cables.

CS Relay circa 1893.
See also this 1898 article:
Submarine Cable Laying

Transferred to All America Cables in February 1920 and remained in service until 1932 when sold to the Dutch East Indies Exploring Company, Nevada. Sold to a Chinese company in 1937 and renamed Elli. Wrecked in 1940 but salvaged and renamed Bjornefjell. Changed hands again in 1947 and was then renamed Bota. Finally renamed Finn in 1948, keeping this name until scrapped in 1952.


1891 Tehuantepec, Mexico - San Jose, Guatemala - La Libertad, El Salvador

GUARDIAN (see also the main page for this ship)

Built in 1907 by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. Newcastle upon Tyne.

Built for the Central and South American Telegraph Company and used primarily for repair. Transferred to All America Cables in February 1920 and based on the west coast of South America on cable maintenance. Sold to the United Fruit Company in 1940 but retained the name Guardian. Sold in 1946 to the Caribbean Atlantic Shipping Corporation and renamed Ceibar. Sold again in 1948 this time to Ships and Vessels Ltd., Israel, again with a name change to Theodore Herzel. Sold for scrap in 1951.

For an interesting family history connected with the Barranco, Peru, office of the Central & South American Telegraph Company, see the story of Charles Henry Baker.

Last revised: 16 May, 2018

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