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
    Richard (profile), 29 Jan 2011 @ 3:54pm

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

    Anyone else got any better explanation?

    The ships weren't big enough to carry the whole cable. That first cable failed pretty quickly. The first lasting cable was laid by the Great Eastern a few years later. The Great Eastern was big enough to carry the whole cable on its own - making the whole process much more straightforward. Even so it took two attempts.
    Amazingly a year or so later they actually fished up the end of the cable from the first attempt, spliced in and completed it. The story is on Wikipedia here

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