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

1904 German Atlantic Cable

Introduction: Around the turn of the 19th century, Germany laid two Atlantic cables via the Azores. The first cable was laid in 1900 and is described in detail here, and the second cable on the same route, opened for service in 1904, is featured on this page.

—Bill Burns

Deutsche Atlantische Telegraphen Gesellschaft Logo

In 1899, Felten and Guilleaume set up the Deutsche Atlantische Telegraphen Gesellschaft (German Atlantic Telegraph Company) to lay a cable, Greetsiel - Borkum - Azores - New York. The Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company was contracted to manufacture the cable, with Felten and Guilleaume supplying the core and armouring.

CS Anglia and CS Britannia (2) were used to lay the cable with CS Britannia (2) carrying out a survey of the route between Borkum and the Azores prior to the actual laying. The section between Germany and the Azores opened for business on 26 May 1900 and the complete cable on 28 August 1900. The New York landing point was at the Coney Island cable house of the Commercial Cable Company, with which the German company was associated.

A second cable was laid over the same route during 1903-4. The cable was manufactured in Germany by Norddeutsche Seekabelwerke and laid by the company’s cableship CS Stephan with CS Von Podbielski assisting. The Emden - Azores section and the New York shore end were laid in the summer and autumn of 1903, and the New York - Azores main section in the early part of 1904. The cable opened for traffic on 1 June 1904.

This souvenir of the 1903-04 project features a section of Type B cable mounted on a heavy bronze base. It was discovered in Germany in July 2022 by site visitor Stephan Erdmann, and subsequently hand-carried by him to the USA for delivery to the Atlantic Cable archive. The base and both ends of the cable mount are inscribed with details of the company and the project, which are transcribed below.

The base has a plaque with German and American flags and the inscription:
Deutsch-Atlantische Telegraphengesselschaft, Köln am Rhein
[ German Atlantic Telegraph Company, Cologne on Rhein]

The baseplate, which measures 5" x 2.5", is inscribed:

Nach Amerika kabelt "via Emden - Azoren"
[Cables to America "via Emden - Azores"]

Nach dem Süden, Osten, Fernen Osten, Kap, Australien u.s.w. "via Emden-Vigo"
[To the South, East, Far East, Cape, Australia, etc. "via Emden-Vigo"]

The mounted cable section is marked Type B, designating the intermediate cable between the heavy shore end and the more lightly armoured deep-sea section. The two endcaps are hand engraved with further details:

Type B der Strecke Borkum - Fayal - New York
[Type B of the line Borkum - Fayal - New York]

Norddeutsche Seekabelwerke, A.G.
Nordenham a.d. Weser [an der Weser]

The conductor is of the 12 small copper wires around 1 large wire design, insulated with gutta percha and surrounded by teredo tape, a protection against marine borers (Teredo Navalis) invented by Henry Clifford at Telcon in 1879. The cable has twelve armouring wires and an overall diameter of 25mm (~1").

Some time after the 1903-04 cable had been laid, Norddeutsche commissioned a series of six postcards from the prolific German publisher Peter Luhn, featuring illustrations of their 1903 cable laying operations, together with historic views of HMS Agamemnon and CS Great Eastern.

Although the scenes on the cards are dated 1903, these postcards have a divided back (shown below), with a vertical line separating the message and address sections. Helmfried Luers, author of the Peter Luhn article linked in the previous paragraph, notes that divided back postcards were not introduced in Germany until March 1905, so these cards must have been published after that, most likely in 1907/8.

Peter Luhn postcard Serie 3 No. 4
Kabellegung durch den Kabeldampfer "Stephan" Mai 1903.
[Cable laying using the cable steamship "Stephan" May 1903]


Peter Luhn postcard Serie 3 No. 5
Landung des zweiten deutsch-atlantischen Kabels Fayal (Azores) 1903
[Landing of the second German-Atlantic cable Fayal (Azores) 1903]


Reverse of both postcards

Overprinted in red ink in English, presumably for the American market:

Kindly hand cablegrams for Germany, the German Colonies, Holland and elsewhere to the COMMERCIAL CABLE-POSTAL TELEGRAPH offices, the EXCLUSIVE connection in the United States of the GERMAN ATLANTIC CABLE COMPANY.

The reverse of the postcard also has the DATG logo shown at the top of this page, with "Adler Linie / Eagle Line", and the note "Telegramme nach Amerika bezeichne man "Via Emden-Azoren" [Telegrams to America designated "Via Emden-Azores"].

The archive of the German telecommunications museum Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation has all six postcards in its collection. A detailed list of the postcards, with links to the catalogue entries and postcard images at the museum, is on the CS Stephan page.

At the end of World War I both of the German cables were handed over to France and Great Britain as war reparations. They were divided up as follows:

1900 Borkum - Azores. Diverted into Porthcurno in 1917 by CS Colonia and operated by the GPO until 1929, then handed over to Cable & Wireless.

1900 Azores - New York taken over by the French PTT.

1903 Azores - New York. Diverted into Halifax, Nova Scotia, by CS Colonia in 1917 and operated by the GPO until 1929, then handed over to Cable & Wireless

1903 Borkum - Azores. Diverted into Brest for use by the French PTT.

Last revised: 6 September, 2023

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: Atlantic-Cable.com