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

1879 French Atlantic Cable

In 1879 the second French Atlantic cable was laid. Its owner was La Compagnie Française du Télégraphe de Paris à New-York, which contracted with the English company of Siemens Brothers to manufacture and lay the cable.

Stock certificate with coupons (some clipped)
Reverse of certificate with terms and conditions (in French)

The cable was laid by Siemens' cableship Faraday (1), built in 1874 as the first ship designed specifically for laying cable.

The cable stretched 2,242 nautical miles across the Atlantic from Deolen (about 17km west of Brest) to St. Pierre and 827 nautical miles from there to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The cable was landed at Cape Cod on 17 November 1879.

In 1898 a third French Atlantic Cable, the first direct cable from France to the USA, was laid between Deolen (Brest) and Orleans by CS Fran├žois Arago. In September 2017 this cable was recognized by the IEEE as an engineering milestone, and historic markers were installed at Deolen in 2017 and Cape Cod a year later.

These photographs of the marker at Deolen are courtesy of Wolfgang Schildbach, and photos from Orleans may be seen at the link immediately above:

After the main run of the 1879 cable had been completed, a spur was laid between St. Pierre and Nova Scotia. According to the New York Times for 6 December 1879:

The new French Atlantic cable was landed at Big Lorraine, two miles east of Louisburg, Cape Breton, at noon to-day.

Shown here are three sections of the cable, types A, B, and C. The weight of the armoring increases with each type; type A would have been used for the deep sea run of the cable while the heavier armoring was used nearer shore.

Note: The type A and type C cable samples were the property of Walter Seehausen, who was born on July 19, 1878, and lived in Detmold, Germany. He served as an officer with the German Cavalry in the First World War, and was Postmaster General of the Westfalian area of Germany from 1926-1950. It's not known how Mr. Seehausen acquired the cable samples, but they were passed down in the family, and thanks are due to his granddaughter, Tina Montgomery, for making the cables available to the Atlantic Cable website.

Type A
18 armoring wires
11/8" (2.85cm) diameter
No. 8105

Type B
17 armoring wires
1 1/16" (2.7cm) diameter
No. 8107

Type C
15 armoring wires
1" (2.54cm) diameter
No. 8109

All three types use the standard Siemens Atlantic cable design of a large central conductor surrounded by a number of other wires of smaller diameter (in the 1879 cable ten smaller wires surround the central conductor). This conductor arrangement was originated by Siemens in 1874 for a cable they manufactured and laid for the Direct United States Cable Company from Ireland to Nova Scotia, and subsequently used by Siemens for many years.

The advantage of using this design (rather than the usual stranded conductor with all wires the same size) is that for given weights of conductor and insulating material, the area of the circle circumscribing the conductor is smaller, and the thickness of the enveloping dielectric consequently greater. The result is that the resistance remains the same, but the inductive capacity is smaller. The speed of working the cable is proportionately increased, resulting in a higher volume of traffic and increased revenue.

Type B Cable Sample

Presentation sample of the type B 1879 cable, 5" long, 1" diameter.

Top Cap: "Compagnie Française du Télégraphe de Paris à New York"

Bottom Cap: "Siemens Frères à Londres B No. 8107"

Type A Cable Inscriptions

The Type A cable sample is inscribed:

"Siemens Brothers London
Transatlantic Cable of 1879
No. 8105 A

Picked up 8th August 1879
Lat 49° 18' 40" N, Long 14° 45' W
Depth 2500 Faths.

Another identical Type A sample was picked up
on the same date and is inscribed in French:

Relevé le 8 Août 1879
Lat 49° 18' 40" N, Long 17° 5' 23" O [Ouest]
Profoundeur 4572 Mètres [2500 fathoms].

For more information on the French Atlantic Cable Company
see the main page for the 1879 French Atlantic Cable Station.

Last revised: 27 August, 2019

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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.

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