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The first round-the-world telegram foreshadowed a shift in global news

Saturday 04 July 1903, President Roosevelt opened the American Pacific telegraph cable.

In the context of communication, “cable news” meant something different in 1903 than it does today. When written (or spoken) then, the phrase referenced the telegraph cable.

On Saturday 04 July 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt sent a telegram formally opening the American Pacific cable. The Pacific Cable Company endeavor had successfully joined the east and west cables in Hawaii.

The cables crossed 6,912 miles on the ocean floor. The project cost approximately $12 million (probably about $400 million in 2022 dollars).

Roosevelt then sent the first round-the-world telegram to Clarence H. Mackay, president of Pacific Cable.

Congratulations and success to the Pacific cable, which the genius of your lamented father and your own enterprise made possible. Theodore Roosevelt.

It took 9 minutes and 30 seconds for that telegram to travel east-to-west from New York over the Atlantic cable to England; then across the Continent and to Hong-Kong; then to Manila and over the American Pacific cable to San Francisco; and finally over land back to New York.

Pacific Cable transmission points — Honolulu, the Midway Atoll, Guam, and Manila — “were already politically associated in some way with the United States. American workers, employees of Pacific Cable, relocated to the islands to construct and operate the stations.”

The trans-Atlantic cable had connected Europe and North America (Follhummerum Bay in Ireland to Heart’s Content in Newfoundland, Canada ) about 37 years earlier, on 27 July 1866.

laying of the cable drawing
Celebrates the successful completion of the Atlantic telegraph cable between Newfoundland, Canada and Valentia Bay, Ireland. Library of Congress.

Unintended consequences

The 1903 dispatch demonstrated that the telegraph system worked. In hindsight, the Pacific telegraph cable contributed to a “shift in dominance between two global news agencies,” from Britain to the United States.

Until Hawaii connected Asia and North America via cable in 1903, “England dominated worldwide telegraphic communication [and] world news.”

Yet on 25 September 1904, the New York Times declared New York to be the “news centre of the world.” (Note the spelling!)

Within the past few years, and particularly since the laying of the Pacific cable, a great change has been observable in the news distribution of the world. New York is rapidly becoming, and in many ways has already become, the world’s news center, taking London’s place.

NYT news center
New York Times, page 33, 25 September 1904

Prior to the Pacific cable, the Reuters news agency (British based) relied upon the European cable structure to receive news from Asia. Reuters then provided news to the Associated Press (US-based), which went to North America via the Atlantic cable. News traveled from the east to the west.

Now all that is reversed. The Eastern news is sent across the Pacific to the Associated Press, which furnishes it to Reuters over the Atlantic cable…

New technologies are disruptive, and not all disruptions can be foreseen.

The British telegraph cable

Hawaii became a territory of the United States on 30 April 1900 and “did not want to jeopardize the standing Reciprocity Treaty that it had with the United States” by allowing Britain to run its Pacific cable through the nation. Instead, the British cable travelled from British Columbia to Australia; it opened on 08 December 1902.

pacific telegraph cable map
Map illustrates Pacific telegraph cables in 1903 for the United States and Britain.


#scitech, #society, #communication  (163/365)
📷 The San Francisco Call
Daily posts, 2022-2023

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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