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From the telegraph to the telephone, but no closer to world peace

On 25 September 1956, Europe and North America celebrated completion of the first trans-Atlantic telephone cable(s).

The mid-20th century was marked by rapid increase in the speed of communication from North America to Europe. About 100 years after the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable message (16 August 1858), global leaders exchanged a three-way ceremonial telephone call between New York, Ottawa and London (25 September 1956).

The first trans-Atlantic telephone cable,TAT-1, would also connect the U.S. and the Soviet Union via the “hot line” during the Cold War, although the connection was not the red phone depicted in TV and movies!

After the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy suggested a direct connection with the Soviet Union “to reduce the chances of accidental war.” The hot line became operational on 30 August 1963. Although carried by the trans-Atlantic cable, the hot line was text-only teletype. The system has been upgraded as communication technologies advanced.

On 27 November 1953, the Bell System (U.S.), the Canadian Overseas Telecommunication Corporation and the British Post Office (which managed U.K. telephone service) began the joint project. The deep-sea section has two cables, one each for east and west.

Clipping NYT
‘First Call Made by Phone Cable to Europe.’ New York Times, front page. 26 September 1956.

The telegraph had yielded an exuberance we now call “technological optimism.” From the 1858 book The Story of the Telegraph:

Of all the marvelous achievements of modern science the electric telegraph is transcendentally the greatest and most serviceable to mankind … The whole earth will be belted with the electric current, palpitating with human thoughts and emotions … It is impossible that old prejudices and hostilities should longer exist, while such an instrument has been created for an exchange of thought between all the nations of the earth (emphasis added).

We know, of course, that “old prejudices and hostilities” continued to exist, then and now. 

Although the two technologies have not prevented widespread war, both affected how global news is discovered and disseminated.

The telegraph linked the world’s newspapers in the 19th and 20th centuries through “wire services” such as the Associated Press in the US, Reuters in Britain, Havas in France and Wolff’s in Germany. The telephone system carried radio signals from New York to the rest of the nation in the early decades of the radio age; it was indispensable in establishing a centralized broadcasting system in the US and Europe. In both cases, many people who wanted a more decentralized, responsive and democratic information system were disappointed with the monopolistic way the networks developed.


Marshall McLuhan from Something Savage on Vimeo.

#scitech, #society, #media, #communications (248/365)
📷 Atlantic-Cable
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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