Escher.gif (426 bytes)

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

Proposed 1874 Japan Cable

This article was published in the New York Tribune issue of 7 September 1874; the cable was never laid. Thanks are due to S. Miura of Japan for providing this information.

—Bill Burns



WASHINGTON, Sept 6. – A second communication has been received from Commander Belknap of the US steamer Tuscarora, dated Ounalaska Island, July 31. This officer has been engaged in making soundings for the laying of a submarine cable between some point on  the Pacific Coast and China. He says that five days were spent in making a reconnaissance of a portion of the Bay of Glory of Russia, Tanaga Island, which seemed to be the best adapted for the shelter of shipping and for the landing of the proposed submarine cable. The results of the soundings show that the water deepens rapidly the moment the land is left, until a depth of 3,754 fathoms (22,524 feet) is found about 110 miles west by south from Cape Lopatka, where the bed of the ocean begins to rise, forming a ridge between the shores of Kamschatka Island and the Aleutians, the highest point of which is 1,777 fathoms (10,662 feet) below the surface. He states that he proposes to run a line south of this chain as far back as Tanaga before proceeding to finish up to the line to the point to the eastward, at which the soundings were discontinued last Fall.



USS. TUSCARORA, HAKODADI, JAPAN, June 24. On the 8th day of June we left Yokohama anchoring that night at Titiyama Bay, and upon the following morning at daylight the work of sounding was begun from the entrance to the bay. After rounding Cape King, a line of soundings was run parallel with and from five to ten miles from the coast, until Cape Cho-isi was reached, and from thence! the line gradually trended to the northward and eastward, following the great circle route to Cape Flattery. Everything was favourable with the exception of strong undercurrents until lat. 38o 11’ N., long. 144o 38’ E., was  reached, when to our great surprise no bottom was found at 4,643 fathoms (27,858 feet), at which depth the wire was carried away, undoubtedly by fouling the copper on the ship’s bottom. The ascertained depth was over five miles and a quarter; of course it is impossible to say how much greater the depth actually was. It was evident as this depth was found at only about 120 miles from the coast, the route was unpracticable, and to proceed further on it would be but a waste of time, and would unnecessarily risk the loss of more wire.

The route was abandoned and the ship was headed to the northward and westward  and sailed to lat. 38o 13’ N., long. 142o 07’ E., where only 411 fathoms (2466 feet) was obtained. Sailing thence, at a position lat. 38o 34’N., long. 142o 07’ E., the depth was found to be 1,358 fathoms (8148 feet). A new line was run nearly parallel to the coast, to Cape Kuro-saki, lat. 40o N., long. 141o 51’ E., and from that point to the northward and eastward. (See line on diagram marked “Route examined and found impracticable.”) This route is about 100 miles to the northward and westward of the proposed great circle route.


It will be seen by inspecting the diagram that on the line now tried, in lat. 42o 34’ N., long. 140o 07’ E., 4,340 (26,220 feet) depth was found, and that the depths ran about the same to lat. 44o 55’, long. 153o 26’ E, where there was 4,655 fathoms (27,930 feet) of water, the greatest depth yet found; so for a distance of nearly 300 miles there was a plateau of over four and a half, and at some points, five miles in depth. These results occasioned great astonishment, as the line is but about 100 miles from land, where comparatively speaking, shallow water was expected. It is of course impossible to say what depths would have been found had we followed the great circle route proposed; but it is natural to surmise that there are still greater ones. This route was likewise declared impracticable, and nothing remained to be done but to seek one nearer the land. The ship starting from the last station, lat. 44o 55’ N. long. 152o 26’ E., was headed to northward and westward until lat. 46o 21’ N., long. 151o 25’ E., was reached, a position about 30 miles due east from Cape Kastricum, which is on the northern end of Urup Island of the Kurile group. From this position a line was drawn skirting along the Kurile group and meeting the second line in lat. 41o 09’ N., long. 144o 01’ E. Thence we proceeded to this place to replenish our coal bunkers. By examining the chart it will be seen that the depths on this line are moderate and favourable to the end in view. It remains now to see what the continuation of it to the Aleutian islands may divulge.


To give some idea of the intense pressure at these great depths, which at about five miles beneath the surface, is over five tons to the square inch. I shall mention its actions on one of our thermometers. These thermometers are made especially with reference to deep sea operations, the glass stem and bulb being partially enclosed in ebony and then in a strong copper cylindrical case. One was sent down in 4,340 fathoms (26,040 feet) of water, and upon its return to the surface the ebony covering of one bulb was broken into pieces and the bulb itself and stem into small particles. Very interesting observations were made regarding the currents. It was especially remarkable how distinctly they were defined by temperatures. It was determined that the depth of the Japan stream was about 18 fathoms (108 feet) and that its set was to the northward and eastward. The depth of this stream, it will be remembered, was found to be the same off our Western coast. Below this depth there sets to the southward, following the contour of the land, a cold, polar current which extends to the surface as a counter current along the shores of the Kurile and Japan Islands, and is on the surface from 30 to 50 miles in width. On our western coast, in passing from the surface to the under currents, the changes of the thermometer were very gradual and comparatively, slight; here the temperatures fell over six degrees between 15 and 20 fathoms (90 – 120 feet) depths. Also, in passing from the Polar counter to the Japan stream the temperatures rose in one hour (during which time only about five miles of water was passed over) 10o, ie from 50o to 60o Fah.

The Japan stream on its northern and western borders, or rather on the line run by us, lost in a distance of about 800 miles from the Japan coast about 20o Fah., the temperature being from 60o to 65o at five miles from the coast, and in lat. 44o 55’ N., long. 152o 26’ E., 41o Fah. This great fall is e3asily comprehended when it is considered what influence cold air above it and a cold current of water of about 33o Fah. Only 18 fathoms (108 feet) beneath the surface must have on it. There were found to be but slight variations of temperature from 20 fathoms (120 feet) depth to the bottom no matter what was the depth.

Last revised: 26 October, 2012

Return to Atlantic Cable main page

Search all pages on the Atlantic Cable site:

Research Material Needed

The Atlantic Cable website is non-commercial, and its mission is to make available on line as much information as possible.

You can help - if you have cable material, old or new, please contact me. Cable samples, instruments, documents, brochures, souvenir books, photographs, family stories, all are valuable to researchers and historians.

If you have any cable-related items that you could photograph, copy, scan, loan, or sell, please email me: [email protected]

—Bill Burns, publisher and webmaster: