Most people are aware of the joining of the railroads at Promontory point, Utah. That historic event occurred on May 10, 1869 at noon and was the topic of many news articles.
What you may not know is that 7 ½ years earlier another joining of technology of the day also occurred in Utah.
This event was the joining of the “Trans-continental telegraph” which occurred at the telegraph office located on Main Street in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Beginning in the spring of 1860 the method of getting telegrams and mail from Missouri to California was by “pony express”. The Pony Express, however, could not make their earnings equal their running expenses. Despite landing a contract in 1861, for carrying the California mails in its coaches from St. Joe Missouri to San Francisco, the pony express struggled and the telegraph was to ultimately take over and doom the pony express service.
In 1860, Edward Creighton was at work on the Overland Telegraph Line and by the summer of 1860, a telegraph line from the east coast had been completed as far as Omaha, NE. However, Creighton still had his eyes on the West. He wanted to build an overland telegraph line and connect the Atlantic with the Pacific.
In the fall of 1860, Creighton left Omaha by stage and headed west looking over the proposed route of the telegraph. He crossed the Sierra-Nevada mountains in the dead of winter and completed his survey in Sacramento, CA. There he found the eastern end of the telegraph owned by the California State Telegraph Company.
Mr. Creighton met with officials of the California Telegraph Company and after many meetings, an agreement was reached for the California Telegraph Company to extend it’s wire eastward to Salt Lake City and Mr. Creighton would build from Omaha westward to Salt Lake City. When the wires were joined, a new company was to be formed under the name of the Pacific Telegraph Company.
The race was now on, with the California company having four hundred fifty miles of wire to construct and the eastern company having one thousand one hundred miles. The California Company had the challenge of the Sierra- Nevada’s and the eastern company had the open plains and the Wasatch mountain range.
The work was pushed vigorously and on October 17, 1861 Creighton brought his wire into Salt Lake City and one week later the California line arrived.
The newly formed “Pacific Telegraph Company” joined the line from the east and west on October 24, 1861 in the telegraph room of the Hooper, Eldridge and Company building at 83 South Main Street in Salt Lake City, Utah.
This joining of wires completed the United States’ first transcontinental telegraph and helped bind the western states and territories to the then fragile American Union.
A transatlantic telegraph cable is an undersea cable running under the Atlantic Ocean used for telegraph communications.
After the first successful demonstration, telegraph lines were rapidly built all over Europe and North America, allowing messages to be sent virtually instantaneously. Crossing the water presented greater problems. The cable needed to be insulated and strong, technologies that were both in their infancy. The first major undersea link, connecting England to France, was not completed until 1851 after several failed attempts.
The First Transatlantic Cable
The manufacture of the first transatlantic cable was completed in June, 1857. Before the end of July it was stowed on the American Niagara and the British Agamemnon -- both naval vessels lent by their respective governments for the task. They started at Valentia Harbor in Ireland (which was by then connected to the rest of the British Isles) on August 5th. For the first few days, everything went well but six days later, due to a mistake made with the brake limiting the rate of descent, the cable snapped. Just 380 miles had been laid. Three more attempts were made to lay the cable starting at the mid point in the ocean but each time the cable broke. On July 29, 1858 they began their fifth attempt, again starting from the mid point. This time it worked! Both ships reached their destinations -- Valentia Harbor in Ireland and Trinity Bay in Newfoundland.
The Second Cable
In 1865 it was decided to lay a second cable. This time a single ship was chartered, the enormous Great Eastern, by far the largest ship of its day. She started from Valencia at the end of July 1865 and succeeded in laying 1,200 miles before the cable snapped. Several attempts were made to retrieve the broken end but they all failed. The Great Eastern was again loaded with enough cable for another attempt plus enough cable to connect the previous one if the end could be found.
On 27 July 1866, the new cable was pulled ashore at a tiny fishing village in Newfoundland known by the charming name of Heart’s Content. The distance was 1686 nautical miles.
Almost immediately the Great Eastern steamed east to the point that the second cable had reached and after about two weeks of trying, they found and raised the broken end. This was a difficult task, as the broken cable was at a depth of 16,000 feet. The broken end was spliced and on September 8, 1866 that cable was landed.
Almost immediately, the cables opened for business but only the very wealthy could afford it -- the initial rates were a startling $1 a letter, payable in gold.
These early pioneers were courageous and stalwart in completing the task at hand. Their dedication to the new technology of "telegraph" made it possible for people to "learn of the world" in ways never before dreamed of.