One of my favorite Wired articles ever is Neal Stephenson's insanely long, but wonderfully entertaining account of laying fiber optic cable
across oceans from back in 1997. If you've never read it, set aside a few hours and dig in. While he mentions, briefly, the first transatlantic cable laid in 1858 -- and suggests reading other accounts of what happened -- he doesn't go into much detail as to what happened. However, Shocklee
points us to a (much shorter!) Wired UK piece about the laying of the first transatlantic cable
. If you'd like to know the basics, it's basically two boats meet in the middle of the ocean, with each taking half the cable, and they then (slowly, carefully) head back towards their home coasts. It didn't always go smoothly:
After experiments in the Bay of Biscay had been conducted, the plan was changed -- the Niagara and Agamemnos met in the centre of the Atlantic on 26 June and attached their respective cables to each other, then headed for opposite sides of the ocean. Again, the cable broke -- once after less than 6km had been laid, again after about 100km and then a third time when 370km had been laid. The boats returned to port.
It's a fun read, reminding you of the massive amount of work that goes into the infrastructure that we rely on every day.