The Process Of Laying The Very First Transatlantic Cable

from the not-so-easy dept

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.

Filed Under: cable, infrastructure


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  1. icon
    btrussell (profile), 29 Jan 2011 @ 5:47am

    Re: Re: Re: Why start in the middle?

    "But, according to the article, that's exactly what they did, only at the beginning instead of the end of the project."

    At the beginning, all the weight is on the ships, easy to connect in the middle. At the end, hundreds of meters of cable are hanging off the boats, pulling and tugging, much harder to join. Not to mention all the wasted cable from both ships to seabed. Hundreds of yards of cable spooled on ocean floor after connecting and releasing from ship. These cables aren't $0.03/foot.

    Tie pieces of rope to two trees and try to tie them together tight. Now untie from trees and try tying the ropes together. Rope is much lighter than cable.

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