First Transatlantic Cable
First Transatlantic Cable
This specimen is a fragment of the First Transatlantic Cable carried aboard the U.S.S. Niagara. Originally part of the Third Edition of the Mini Museum, we're excited to offer the remaining fragments as stand-alone items.
Please Note: Due to the fragile nature of the material the size will vary widely. Single wires are the most common, but there are also bound pairs from our original prototype work and selections of smaller pieces.
George Harrison's Childhood Home
Ten years after Samuel F.B. Morse sent the first telegraph message in 1844, the world was hooked on the new form of rapid communication. Transmission lines crossed mountains, rivers, and national boundaries. Even 20 miles of the English Channel could not hold back the constant flow of messages.
The Atlantic Ocean, however, seemed like an impossible hurdle. To span it would require a line able to stand up to 2,000 miles of water without breakage. Building a cable long and sturdy enough to suffice was a madman's dream... and that's exactly who stepped up to the task.
The first transatlantic telegraph cable to implemented in 1858, thanks to the project's architect, Cyrus West Field. He wasn't sure that his ambitions would succeed, but when the cable was finally connected, the world was brought a little closer together. For the first time in history, Europe and the Americas could speak in a matter of minutes.
Charles Tiffany of Tiffany & Co. purchased the remaining surplus cable from Field with the intent of selling souvenirs. However, the wonder of this advancement was not to last, as the cable failed within just a few weeks. Tiffany was unable to sell more than a few of the finished pieces before the world turned against Field with a fury that was just as intense as their initial excitement.
This specimen is a section of that surplus cable purchased from Field by Tiffany. It is an authentic piece of the line that was brought across the Atlantic to help strengthen communication as the first transatlantic cable.
The specimen is enclosed in an acrylic specimen jar with a removable top which arrives in a handsome, glass-topped riker box case measuring 4x3x1. A small information card is included, which also serves as the certificate of authenticity.
📸 THE HMS AGAMEMNON LAYING THE TRANSATLANTIC CABLE.
MORE ABOUT THE TRANSATLANTIC CABLE PROJECT
📸 FIELD, CIRCA 1870.
The Man Behind the Cable
Born in 1819, Cyrus West Field was one of eight children. He began an early career in business as a dry goods merchant in New York, leaving to become a paper salesman. Still young, he joined a paper manufacturing partnership, then nearly fell into financial ruin when the business collapsed and he somehow came out personally responsible for the debts of his partners. Not to be held down, Field went out and started a new paper manufacturing business, becoming a primary supplier to the burgeoning penny presses of the day. Field sold his business and found himself incredibly wealthy. He and his brother purchased matching mansions in New York's hottest new private development: Gramercy Square.
But Field was still a young man and he hungered for adventure. Along with a friend, painter Frederic Edwin Church, he traveled to South America following in the footsteps of 18th-century scientist Alexander von Humboldt. Field had Church paint sweeping landscapes and volcanoes to capture the incredible vision left behind by von Humboldt in his book Cosmos.
Returning home to New York, Field became very excited by a new technology: the telegraph. Lines for the telegraph were appearing everywhere, but Field had the idea that a line stretching from Europe to America might change the world. Without hesitation, he set out to make it happen.
Connecting the World
In 1854, Field raised a fund among his wealthy New York friends equivalent to $40M in today's currency to develop the technology needed to draw the cable across over 2,000 miles of ocean. Three years later, the US Government also authorized annual payments of nearly $2M per year to help fund the development.
Then in August 4th, 1858, after already suffering one failed attempt to connect the line, Cyrus Field and the USS Niagara reached Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, connecting the First Transatlantic Telegraph Cable.
"I have no words to express the feelings which fill my heart tonight -- it beats with love and affection for every man, woman, and child who hears me. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder." ~ Cyrus West Field, 1858
Within days, messages began flowing between the two continents at a rate never before imagined. The world had become smaller in what seemed like an instant.
Charles Tiffany of Tiffany & Co. purchased the remaining cable from Field with the intent of selling souvenirs. However, the wonder of this advancement was not to last, as the cable failed within just a few weeks. Tiffany was unable to sell more than a few of the finished pieces before the world turned against Field with a fury that was just as intense as their initial excitement.
Field was not to be put off. He set back to work immediately, creating a new company. It would be hard work, but ten years later a new, sturdier cable would be set in place. This cable would not fail, and Field would be treated to awards and accolades from across the world.
Front of the Specimen Card
Back of the Specimen Card
Standage, Tom. The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s Online Pioneers. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998.
Hearn, Chester G. Circuits in the sea: The Men, the Ships, and the Atlantic Cable. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.
Nathan, Adele Gutman. The First Transatlantic Cable. 1959
Wilson B. Heyday : the 1850s and the Dawn of the Global Age. First edition. Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group; 2016.