Transcript for An introduction to the world's first two-way transatlantic telephone


Before the success of TAT 1 in 1956 there had been attempts to connect different countries by under-sea cable for more than a hundred years. The world’s first successful under sea cable was laid in 1851 between Britain and France, linking the two countries by telegraph – only 14 years after the electric telegraph itself had been invented in 1837.

Before the advent of submarine cables Transatlantic communication was a roundabout affair – a message sent from Britain to America even by the fastest combination of overland telegraph and steamship took nearly two weeks. The first attempt to bridge the Atlantic by under sea telegraph cable came in 1857, but while it was being laid the cable was lost overboard and sank down to the depths. The second was laid a year later in 1858. Queen Victoria used it to become the first person to officially send a transatlantic telegram – sending a message to the US President James Buchanan. It got to his office in just 16 and a half hours. She described the telegraph cable link as:

Female voice:

“A triumph… far more useful to mankind than was ever won by a conqueror on the field of battle.”


But in a few weeks, and just 271 messages later, the line failed. The cable’s copper core and insufficient insulation against the freezing underwater temperatures were blamed, plus desperate attempts to push higher voltages of electricity along the line as it faltered.

Eight years later, with improvements made, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s giant steamship The Great Eastern laid the thousands of miles of cable necessary to bridge the Atlantic.

More than a century later and technology has moved on a pace – In the 1980s fibre optic cable was laid – this was made from bundles of glass strands, each spun to the width of a human hair and enclosed in casing. Remarkably, just one of these cables allowed for 40,000 phone calls to be made simultaneously!

It’s over 150 years since the first transatlantic cable was laid, and British people are making incredible numbers of international phone calls – up to 6 Billion minutes a year!

And with the very the latest cable, capacity is measured not in phone calls but Gig Bits per second. We now communicate in the age of the Internet – but, one way or another, we’re still just talking to one another, all over the world.

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