The Transatlantic Telegraph Cable: Eighth Wonder of the World

Gillian Cookson describes how the first physical link across the Atlantic was finally achieved.

In 1858 a telegram of ninety-eight words from Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan of the United States opened a new era in global communication. The Queen’s message of congratulation took sixteen and a half hours to transmit through the new transatlantic telegraph cable. After White House staff had satisfied themselves that it was not a hoax, the President sent a reply of 143 words in a relatively rapid ten hours. Without the cable, a despatch in one direction alone would have taken perhaps twelve days by the speediest combination of inland telegraph and fast steamer.

The Atlantic crossing had been achieved only at the third attempt, and until the first messages passed on August 17th, 1858, it was by no means certain that the project was technically feasible. Once its success had become clear, as far as the public was concerned all doubts melted away, to be replaced by huge enthusiasm. The impact of the first telegraphic communication between Europe and America is hard to appreciate now. The Times enthused:

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