The Story Behind the First Reliable Trans-Atlantic Submarine Cable Laid 150 Years Ago
By Brian Lavallée – As mentioned in a previous blog, undersea cable networks deployed around the world carry close to 100% of all intercontinental communications traffic, but they’re not a new phenomenon by any means. In fact, this week is the 150-year anniversary of the first reliable trans-Atlantic telegraph cable that was put into service way back in 1866. You’re not hallucinating; it was indeed a century and a half ago!
The 1866 submarine cable snaked along the Atlantic Ocean seabed to connect Telegraph Field at Foilhommerum Bay on Valentia Island (Ireland) to Heart’s Content in Newfoundland (now part of Canada). The 1866 cable wasn’t actually the first trans-Atlantic submarine cable though; it was the fourth attempt, though the first which was successful, after multiple failed attempts in 1857, 1858, and 1865. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again — and they did.
The first message successfully sent across a trans-Atlantic cable occurred on August 16, 1858 and ushered in an era of drastically reduced communication times.
The first repeatered trans-Atlantic cable was TAT-1 deployed nearly a century later in 1956, which used such newfangled technologies as coaxial cable, polyethylene insulation instead of gutta-percha tree sap, reliable vacuum tubes in submerged repeaters instead of newly introduced (and untrusted) transistors, as well as other engineering improvements in the 1950s. TAT-1 was a submerged fossil by today’s standards, but an absolutely critical step to where we are today.
What will future generations think of the submarine cables that we’re so proud and fond of today? Will today’s cables be viewed in the future the same way we view 8-track cassettes today? more>