The underwater engineering feat of the 19th century

SS Great Western


By Charles Cooper - CBS News


In 1839, a couple of inventors, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone unveiled to the world their telegraph and It wasn't long before the idea of constructing an underwater telegraph cable that would stretch across the Atlantic began to take hold. 

To some, it may have seemed as out-of-this-world as would the idea of sending humans to the moon a century later. But 19th century entrepreneurs soon proved the concept could work, albeit on a smaller scale.

By the early 1850s, France and England were connected by underwater cable and other communications networks soon followed that would hook up the United Kingdom with Ireland and the Netherlands. And there was no shortage of motivation: prior to the building of a trans-Atlantic cable, the fastest ships of the day took a week to cross the ocean.

Attempting a project on such a grand scale brought with it a set unique technical and logistical challenges - not the least being the approximately 2,500 miles of ocean which separated the continents. It's estimated that the amount of wire which got laid on the ocean floor was equivalent to thirteen circumnavigations of the earth.

Despite a series of setbacks, the cable was successfully connected after a third attempt in the summer of 1858.

Unfortunately, glitches continued and it would take another eight years before the new and old worlds could count upon a reliable underwater cable connection between North America and Europe.

On July 27 1866, chroniclers would note that cable was pulled ashore at Heart's Content, a small fishing village in Newfoundland.



Atlantic Underwater Engineering Feat William Cooke Charles Wheatstone telegraph