This piece of cable is an original portion of the cable which connected for the first time Europe and America in 1858. It represents a pivotal point in the history of telecommunications.
It may not be a rare item but it is part of an incredible story. It is a story of grand plans, human folly and triumph, advances in technology and communication.
News of the success resulted in major celebrations and souvenirs found a keen and enthusiastic market. Remainders of the cable from the expedition was purchased by Tiffany, the jewellery company, which made them into little four-inch souvenir pieces. This portion is in the most splendid condition. It is still in its original wooden box and it has a little collar in its middle explaining what it is. It comes with a letter signed by Cyrus Field authenticating that it is part of the original cable.
In the 1850s Cyrus Field, an American who by the age of 33 had made a fortune in the wholesale paper business, had decided to invest his energy in a new venture: running a telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean. After many unsuccessful attempts, two ships - the Niagara and the Agamemnon - set out to join two sections of the cable together in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and each ship proceeded in opposite directions. In August 1858 the transatlantic telegraph cable finally connected Ireland to Newfoundland establishing the first instantaneous communication system between the two continents and hence between London and New York.
This piece of cable is part of the remaining cable from the Niagara.
People were almost hysterical at the idea that the two continents were now joined. Parades, speeches, fireworks and dinners were organised across many cities. Some said it was the greatest scientific and technical achievement of that century. The most famous messages sent over the Atlantic cable were those between Queen Victoria and the American President James Buchanan.
Regrettably a few weeks later, the cable deteriorated and fell silent.
The 1858 expedition might have ended in failure but it proved that it was possible to manufacture, lay and operate a cable across the Atlantic. This cable opened a whole new world of possibilities and elicited a lot of rhetoric and enthusiasm about its profound consequences for communication, politics and commerce.
The same discourse prevails today with our technology and its capacity for developing networks and communities, for improving the chances for peace. There are strong parallels between this Atlantic cable piece and what is happening in the world today with instantaneous global communication and the world wide web.
Rita Orsini, Assistant Curator, 2009
Submarine Telegraphy - The Grand Victorian Technology by Bernard S Flinn - Thanet Press, 1973
The Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable- 150th Anniversary Celebration 1858-2008 by Professor Nigel Linge, University of Salford
Illustrated Newspaper - 1858 Cable News by Frank Leslie
Dr E.O.W. Whitehouse and the 1858 trans-Atlantic Cable - History of Technology, Vol. 10, 1985, pp. 1-15. by D. de Cogan
The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage - Phoenix, 2000