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

La Compagnie Française des Câbles Télégraphiques
by Bill Glover


Formed in 1895 by the merger of the two existing French companies, La Société Française de Télégraphes Sous-Marin and La Compagnie Française du Télégraphe de Paris à New York.

The existing cable system consisted of cables in the West Indies and cables across the Atlantic. In between, foreign cables had to be used for transmitting messages. To get around this and the objections of the US Government, a new company, the US-Haiti Telegraph Company, was set up in 1896. The share capital was wholly owned by Câbles Télégraphiques but the directors were American, John W. Mackay being one of them. Despite opposition from Western Union the scheme was allowed to go ahead. The company contracted La Société Générale des Téléphones to manufacture and lay the 1400 nm of cable. CS François Arago and CS Seine were chartered to carry out the work. It was laid in two sections, New York - Coney Island, owned by the Commercial Cable Company, and Coney Island - Cap Haitien, Haiti, owned by the US-Haiti Telegraph Company.

In 1897 CS Pouyer-Quertier laid another 59 nm long cable from Willemstad to La Vela de Coro, Venezuela, and a further cable from La Vela de Coro to Maracaibo, Venezuela, a distance of 226 nm. Following the laying of these cables, CS Pouyer-Quertier remained in the Antilles as repair ship. In 1900 further coastal cables were laid: La Guaira - Carrenero - Puerto La Cruz - Cumanà - Carúpano, Venezuela.

Cablegram to America - French Line via P.Q.
Compagnie Française des Câbles Télégraphiques
Image courtesy of John Pate, W1XQ

In 1897 CS François Arago began laying a new Atlantic cable. This was manufactured by La Société Générale des Téléphones and ran direct from Brest, France to Cape Cod, USA, a total distance of 3173 nm. The cable ship had to make four trips in all spread over 1897-8 to complete the laying. At the time this was the longest submarine telegraph cable ever laid. After completing the Atlantic cable, CS François Arago then laid a cable 324 nm long from Cape Cod to New York. This was also manufactured by La Société Générale des Téléphones.

Sample case for the 1897-98 Brest-Cape Cod cable
Image courtesy of and copyright © 2008 François de Nerville

In September 2017 the 1898 French Atlantic cable was recognized by the IEEE as an Engineering Milestone. The IEEE historic marker was installed at Deolen in September 2017, and at Orleans in September 2018.

In 1915 the Coro - Maracaibo and Port au Prince - Cuba cables were abandoned and in 1926 the Caribbean cables and assets of the company were sold to All America Cables who absorbed the existing system within their own.

Following the end of World War II the French PTT took over the cables, and the company became part of La Compagnie de Câbles Sous-Marin et de Radio, generally known as France Cable and Radio.



Built in 1875 by Forges et Chantiers de la Mediterranée, Le Havre as Portena.

Length 323.8 ft. Breadth 34.8 ft Depth 26.2 ft. Gross tonnage 2078

CS Contre Amiral Caubet

Purchased in 1896 for cable work, refitted and renamed. Johnson and Phillips supplied all the cable machinery. Based at Le Havre throughout her cable career. Sold out of the cable world in 1915 to a New York firm and renamed Vigo.


Built in 1913 Forges et Chantiers de Grayville.

Length 289.2 ft. Breadth 41.1 ft. Depth 23.7 ft. Gross tonnage 2316

Built as a repair ship for work in the Atlantic. Strengthened for working in ice. Johnson and Phillips supplied the cable machinery which consisted of a double combined paying out-picking up machine. For paying out aft a paying out machine was fitted on the aft port side. Three cable tanks were fitted, two forward and one aft. Total capacity of the three was 885 tons of cable. Provision for the storage of 125 tons of ropes, grapnels, buoys, etc. was provided, as well as 110 tons of fresh water and bunkering for 780 tons of coal.

The vessel was sold to All America Cables in 1929 and operated under the same name. Following the end of World War II it returned to the French PTT, and the name was changed to Pierre Picard.

Last revised: 5 May, 2024

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