From: "Donald E. Kimberlin" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Telecom Cables of the Megalithic Era
Date: Tue, 19 Feb 91
In a comment about submarine cables (Digest v11, iss129), Roy
Smith <email@example.com> quotes from a US Coast Guard publi-
cation saying that:
> AT&T will gladly compensate the owner of any ship who's captain cuts
> away his anchor rather than trying to pull it up if he suspects he has
> snagged a cable.
One of the things all too few "phone" people have any
knowledge of is the untold miles of submarine cable that has been laid
all over the planet for more than a century. The telegraphers had
submarine cables literally ringing every continent and spanning every
ocean, often in multiple routes, for there was an open marketplace for
them. I have no estinate of the total, but once saw that even until
the mid-1950's, the English interests that comprised what today is
called Cable & Wireless had 155,000 nautical miles of telegraph cable
in place. Multiply that by what the American, Canadian, French,
German, Danish, Russian and other similar entities had placed, and it
must have been a million or more miles!
I once did a short stint at WUI in New York City where I saw
the maps of what WUI inherited from its prior life as the Cable
Division of Western Union Telegraph (which by the way traced its
lineage back to Western Union buying the first fabled 1864 cable we
all read of in school), and it showed the seas of the world littered
with abandoned stuff ... a very large diameter insulated core of
high-grade copper, tons of copper per mile, surrounded by multiple
tons of steel armor wires, using the earth for a ground return
thousands of miles long.
It was some really heroic electromechanical era engineering,
indeed, and I have often wondered if we couldn't with today's technol-
ogy push some pretty respectable digital pulses down the cables them-
selves. The breakdown rating of the cable was a few kilovolts, so one
could launch some pretty strong pulses into it.
But, I digress: The man who kept the charts had himself
started his career as a cable station operator in (of all places!)
Rockaway Beach in Brooklyn. There, telegraph cables extended right
out through the swimming beaches to the Azores across the Atlantic,
which were a major landing, crossing and interchange point for
American, British, German and Italian telegraph cable between the
U.S., Europe and South America. (The other end was the island of
Horta to be specific, where there is today a museum kept of the rather
large operating plants they all had.)
The keeper of all these maps told me how Western Union had in-
deed developed submarine vacuum-tube repeaters for these cables along
with rather sophisticated test methods to locate a fault in the cable
from the shore end, He also was the person on duty at Rockaway when
visitations occurred from groups from Bell Labs, asking him all manner
of details about what the gsket material for the underwater repeater
cans was, how the power was sent down the cable and how the test
methods were used, etc.
He told me he read all about WUTCo's technology a few years
later in the Bell System Technical Journal articles about AT&T's
success at laying "the first transatlantic telecommunications cable."
And now, nobody recalls what was there before, and lies now silent in
the depths of the world's oceans, with a layer of coaxial and now
fiber cable criss-crossing it.