This year marks the 150th anniversary of man's first attempt to communicate across water That first attempt, though only partially successful, was the beginning of what has grown Into today's multi-billion dollar industry Messrs Jacob and John Watkins-Brett would be astounded to know that their attempt to send one message at a time was the precursor of today's millions of channels across the same stretch of water

Connecting countries and then continents was the natural extension of what had been happening in terrestrial communication As early as the mid-eighteenth century people were trying to establish and invent ways of sending information faster than the mail service, using the new technologies that the discovery of electricity had opened up However, it was to be the middle of the nineteenth century before the telegraph era was to get underway


Strictly speaking we should refer to this as the Electric Telegraph era, as the word ‘Telegraph’ comes from the Greek words for ‘distant writing’ and was probably used by them They had a system of lighting fires or torches and using them in a simple code Obviously this was a slow and cumbersome method, with limited range and only really usable at night

The Greeks also invented a code that involved using mirrors and reflected sunlight Pythagoras whilst travelling in Egypt, is reported to have corresponded with friends in Constantinople by this method, by projecting his messages onto the moon

But back to the Electric Telegraph

Cooke and Wheatstone, in England, devised a system whereby letters of thealphabet could be read by the deflections of magnetic needles Patented in 1837 it was used as a railway signaling device in 1839, though it was a cumbersome system, requiring six separate wires to carry the signals At the same time, In America Samuel Morse, who later Invented Morse Code had patented a system whereby a magnet marked a line on a strip of paper Using this method the first commercial telegraph circuit was opened between Washington DC and Baltimore in 1844, the first historic message to be transmitted being 'What God hath wrought'

Whilst progress was being made in leaps and bounds on land, the problems of submarine telegraphy were taxing the minds of a number of people The problem was the lack of an insulant that would stand up to immersion in water Cables were coated in tar and silk or laid in lead pipes with varying degrees of success but it was not until Gutta Percha came into common usage that the problem was solved Gutta Percha had been used by the natives in Malaya for years but was only introduced to Europe in 1837 One of the first to use Gutta Percha was Dr Werner Siemens and interestingly he used the new product, not for Telegraphy but to remotely detonate mines in Kiel Harbour as part of his naval warfare experiments

The first serious attempt to connect England to France, and so the start of our story, was made in 1850

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