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  Promoting Unity, Peace, and Goodwill Among Men Previous
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This article appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1860, in between Cyrus Field's first and second attempts to lay the Atlantic cable. It traces the rapid growth of telegraphy worldwide, and discusses some of the problems with underwater cables.

...The lines of electric telegraph are increasing so rapidly, that the length in actual use cannot be estimated at any moment with accuracy. At the commencement of 1848, it was stated that the length in operation in this country was about 3000 miles. At the end of 1850, the lines in operation, or in progress, in the United States, amounted to 22,000. In 1853, the total number of miles of wire in America amounted to 26,375.

It is but fifteen years since the first line of electric telegraph was constructed in this country; and at the present time there are not less than 50,000 miles in successful operation on this continent, having over 1400 stations, and employing upwards of 10,000 operators and clerks.

The number of messages passing over all the lines in this country annually is estimated at upwards of 5,000,000, producing a revenue of $2,000,000; in addition to which, the press pays $200,000 for public despatches...

The electric telegraph, which has made such rapid strides, is yet in its infancy. The effect of its future extension, and of new applications, cannot be estimated, when, as a means of intercourse at least, its network shall spread through every village, bringing all parts of our republic into the closest and most intimate relations of friendship and interest. In connection with the railroad and the steamboat, it has already achieved one important national result. It has made possible, on this continent, a wide-spread, yet closely linked, empire of States, such as our fathers never imagined. The highest office of the electric telegraph, in the future, is thus to be the promotion of unity, peace, and good-will among men...

No limit has yet been found to aerial telegraphing; for, by inserting transferrers into the more extended circuits, renewed energy can be attained, and lines of several thousands of miles in length can be worked, if properly insulated, as surely as those of a hundred. The lines between New York and New Orleans are frequently connected together by means of transferrers, and direct communication is had over a distance of more than two thousand miles. No perceptible retardation of the current takes place; on the contrary, the lines so connected work as successfully as when divided into shorter circuits.

This is not the case with subaqueous lines. The employment of submarine, as well as of subterranean conductors, occasions a small retardation in the velocity of the transmitted electricity. This retardation is not due to the length of the path which the electric current has to traverse, since it does not take place with a conductor equally long, insulated in the air. It arises, as Faraday has demonstrated, from a static reaction, which is determined by the introduction of a current into a conductor well insulated, but surrounded outside its insulating coating by a conducting body, such as sea-water or moist ground, or even simply by the metallic envelope of iron wires placed in communication with the ground. When this conductor is presented to one of the poles of a battery, the other pole of which communicates with the ground, it becomes charged with electricity, like the coating of a Leyden jar, -- electricity which is capable of giving rise to a discharge current, even after the voltaic current has ceased to be transmitted...

It was owing to the retardation from this cause that communication through the Atlantic Cable was so exceedingly slow and difficult, and not, as many suppose, because the cable was defective. It is true that there was fault in the cable, discovered by Varley, before it left Queenstown; but it was not of so serious a character as to offer any substantial obstacle to the passage of the electric current.

...everything pertaining to the actual operation of the Atlantic Cable has been studiously withheld from the public, until it has come to be seriously doubted whether any despatches were ever transmitted through it...

Excerpt from "The Progress of the Electric Telegraph, "The Atlantic Monthly: A Magazine of Literature, Art, and Politics. Volume 5, Issue 29, March 1860, pp. 290-297. Courtesy of the Making of America Digital Library at Cornell University. Article URL:

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