Atlantic Telegraph Company

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Atlantic Telegraph Company
Industry Telegraphy
Fate 1870 merged with New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company and French Atlantic Cable Company
Founded 1856
Founders Cyrus Field, John Watkins Brett, Charles Tilston Bright
Subsidiaries Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company

The Atlantic Telegraph Company was a company formed on 6 November 1856[1] to undertake and exploit a commercial telegraph cable across the Atlantic ocean, the first such telecommunications link.


The project stemmed from an agreement between the American Cyrus Field and the Englishmen John Watkins Brett and Charles Tilston Bright, and was incorporated in December 1856 with £350,000 capital, raised principally in London, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. The board of directors was composed of eighteen members from the United Kingdom, nine from the United States and three from Canada, the original three projectors were joined by E.O.W. Whitehouse as chief electrician. Curtis M. Lampson served ably as vice-chairman for over a decade.

The board recruited the physicist William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), who had publicly disputed some of Whitehouse's claims, the two enjoyed a tense relationship before Whitehouse was dismissed when the first cable failed in 1858.

When a second cable, under Thomson's supervision, was proposed, a new subsidiary company, the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, was formed to execute the new venture.

On the failure of the expedition to lay the second cable in 1865, a third company was formed to raise the capital for a further attempt, the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, the next expedition in 1866 was a success, also succeeding in recovering the lost second cable. The service generated revenues of £1000 in its first day of operation, the approximate price to send a telegram was: one word, one mile (1.6 km)= $0.0003809

The Atlantic Telegraph Company operated the only two trans-Atlantic cables without competition until 1869, when a French cable was laid. Shortly after this company was established, an agreement was made to coordinate pricing of telegraph services and share revenues, effectively combining the French and Anglo-American interests into one combine. A second French company, Compagnie française du télégraphe de Paris à New-York, was established in 1879.

Anglo-American Telegraph Company[edit]

In 1870, the Atlantic Telegraph Company merged with rivals the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company, and the French Atlantic Cable Company to form the Anglo-American Telegraph Company.


Secretariat records (two volumes) of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, 1866-1869, are held by BT Archives.


  1. ^ The Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable 150th Anniversary Celebration 1858-2008 by Nigel Linge, University of Salford, 2008. Retrieved 4 September 2013. Archived 2013-09-03 at WebCite

Further reading[edit]

  • Sharlin, H.I (1979). Lord Kelvin: The Dynamic Victorian. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-00203-4. , pp127-147
  • Standage, T. (1998). The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's Online Pioneers. Phoenix. ISBN 0-7538-0703-3. 

External links[edit]