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. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2011 @ 11:57pm

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

    Yes from all sources I could find they all say the same thing, he took 2 boats because there wasn't any big ships that could carry the entire length of the cables, they then traveled to the middle, spliced the cables together and went in opposite directions sending messages to each other to make sure the cable was ok and after completing the whole thing the electrical engineer hired(Dr. Edward Orange Wildman Whitehouse which was really a doctor who dribbled in amateur telegraph) fried the whole thing.

    After that he tried a second time and it was the one that succeeded, also by that time he had a big boat that came about by chance(The SS Great Eastern).

    With that big boat he could put all the cable needed in one ship.

    Source: Wikipedia - Transatlantic Telegraph Cable

    Really fascinating story about how things got done and maybe the greatest asset they had was ignorance, they didn't know it was so difficult others had laid cables undersea and they didn't think it was going to be difficult to lay a bit more, that is good ignorance you have something that could work because it had a proved concept and it worked in the end despite all the problems.

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