By the Numbers: The Underwater Cables That Connect Us

To commemorate the completion of the first lasting transatlantic cable, we take a look at some facts about communication across the seas

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On this day in 1866, the first permanent transatlantic cable connected Europe and North America, allowing telegraphic messages to cross the ocean nearly instantly, though it still took about 24 hours to reach New York from the small fishing village in Newfoundland where the cable ended.

To commemorate this major advance in communication technology, we've rounded up some curious facts and figures about the flow of information across the oceans.

  • 3: The number of weeks the first transatlantic cable lasted after completion in 1858.
  • 14: The number of days the Great Eastern took to sail from Ireland to Newfoundland setting the 1866 cable, eight years after the first cable failed.
  • 10: Number of dollars per word to send a cable across the Atlantic in 1866. Messages were required to be a minimum of 10 words.
  • 60: Approximate number of days an average farm worker in 1866 could feed himself for the cost of one word of a telegraph.
  • 90: Percent of early telegraphs sent by big businesses.
  • August 4, 1914: Date of an early act of infowarfare. At the beginning of World War I, the British deliberately cut a German cable running from Borkum, Germany, to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. (via @ajblum)
  • 1915: The year that the human voice first crossed the ocean, connecting (briefly) Norfolk, Viriginia, and Paris.
  • 1951: The year you could make a direct dial phone call across North America.
  • 1956: The year you could first call Europe from the United States, almost 100 years after the first telegraphic cable.
  • 10,000: Cost, in dollars, per circuit of fiber optic cable when it first connected the two shores of the Atlantic.
  • 1,000,000: The cost, in dollars, per circuit of the 1956 copper cable.
  • 25: percent at which international call volume increased in 2000.
  • 4: percent at which international call volume increased in 2010, the smallest increase in more than 20 years.
  • 1,361.6: minutes an average person in Bermuda spent on international calls in 2009, the most of anywhere in the world.
  • 18,000: length, in kilometers, of the Trans-Pacific Express cable connecting the United States, China, South Korea, and Taiwan, completed in 2008.
  • 500,000,000: Approximate cost, in dollars, of the Trans-Pacific Express cable, which was necessitated by a 2006 earthquake off the cost of Taiwan that damaged older communications infrastructure.

Image: Atlantic-Cable.com

Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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