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The Commercial Cable Company, early development as told by the president and others

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The following extracts come from a monthly issue of "The Postal Telegraph" magazine of 1909 or 1910. Once again I am grateful to Bill McLaughlin for this material. It is an edited transcript of a speech by Mr Clarence Mackay (and others) on the occasion of the company's 25th anniversary. (Events were also held at Waterville and Bristol and no doubt elsewhere.) Click here to see the brochure produced by the company for the occasion. Commercial Cable Comany logo
President Clarence H. Mackay gave a dinner to the staffs at all of the Commercial Cable stations on December 27th last, to commemorate that company's twenty-fifth anniversary.
...Two hundred guests, composing the officers of the Commercial and Postal companies and such of the operating staff as could be spared from duty, attended... Two large illuminated translucent geographical globes, showing the company's cable systems, were hung from the ceiling about fifty feet apart, and were connected by five silver cables emblematical of the five transatlantic lines of the Commercial Cable Company.
Messages of congratulation and sentiment were exchanged with the company's stations in Europe and the Far East, through a special wire operated in the dining room, joined to the Atlantic and Pacific Cable systems. The rapidity of the Commercial Cable service was demonstrated. Messages were sent to London and Shanghai, and replies received thereto in less than three minutes and five minutes respectively....
Mr. Mackay, as host of the evening, welcomed the men and paid a splendid tribute to Mr. George Gray Ward, the Vice-president and General Manager of the Company.
Mr. Mackay's address was as follows:

A CCC messenger boy in 1920
Click on picture to see full size
"Gentlemen of the Commercial Cable Company, and guests of the evening: I esteem It a great privilege to bid you welcome on this, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Commercial Cable Company. ...
"...Never has any company had an abler or finer executive staff than that of the Commercial Cable Company. For bringing together and moulding an organisation such as I see here tonight, the credit belongs more to one man than to another, and that is, to George Gray Ward.
"Gentlemen, you should be proud of George Gray Ward, as I am. For twenty-five years he has devoted himself untiringly to the interests of this company, and by that I mean your interests. In good times or bad, in sunshine or storm, he has always been imbued with the same spirit, to zealously safeguard the interests of the company, and to see that every man was given a square deal. To you, Mr. Ward, I give credit In a large measure for the results that nave been achieved by this company, and I am glad, old and trusted friend, of the opportunity to pay you this tribute tonight, for, gentlemen, to know him is to love him."
Mr. Ward then recited the company's history showing its steady development. His review was as follows:
"Mr President, and gentlemen: We are assembled here tonight, by the invitation of our President, to celebrate the company's twenty-fifth or silver anniversary. ...
..."The landing places selected as stations for the company's trans-Atlantic cables, as you are aware, were Waterville, Ireland and Dover Bay, Nova Scotia.
"Our first trans-Atlantic cable was completed on July 20, 1884, the cable from Nova Scotia to Rockport, Cape Ann, Mass. having been completed shortly before that date.
"On October 9 the laying of a second trans-Atlantic cable was completed, and on October 18 the cable from Nova Scotia to New York City was successfully laid, thus forming the first all-cable route between New York City and Europe.
This silver table decoration inscribed to George Gray Ward may well be associated with this event but we cannot be sure:

(Click to see a larger version.)
From the White family archive
"In the midst of our enthusiasm over the success thus far attained, first one and then the other of our main cables became Interrupted on ground over which the cables should never have been laid. These cables were repaired in December, 1884. Initial problems with cable
"Our New York-Canso cable has the distinction of being the first submarine cable landed and operated in a large city, and has proved a great boon to the business people on many occasions, notably the blizzard in 1888, when all communication to places outside of New York City was entirely interrupted except by this cable....
..."On December 24, 1884, the cables were opened for public use, at a twenty per cent reduction, from fifty cents to forty cents per word and from the first were well patronized. The first paid message that passed over the line from America was sent by Mr. I. C. Reiff, of Woerithoffer & Company and this gentleman I may say, has always been very proud of the fact. The other companies naturally met our reduced rates. Scenes of unusual activity and stern expressions were visible everywhere in the cable offices as the fight for prestige and supremacy began.
"To be prepared at all times to restore interrupted communication without undue delay, the cable ship 'Mackay-Bennett' was contracted for, and launched in 1883, and was put Into commission In the winter of 1884.
New York
"On February 1, 1885, our cable between Waterville and [Le] Havre was opened for business, thus establishing direct cable communication with France. France
"On June 26. 1885, the first cable was laid between Waterville and Weston-Super-Mare, England, thus establishing direct cable communication with England, the manifest advantage of which was reliability of service.
"The company operated its lines In undisturbed tranquillity until April 20, 1886, when placards and circulars were issued by our pooled competitors, announcing a reduction in the rates from 40 cents per word to 12 cents per word. The object was perfectly clear. The popularity of the Commercial Cable Company's service and its firm establishment of Independence, from which it could not be swerved, became a serious menace to the prosperity of the other combined forces, and in their desperation they determined to make a strong effort to free themselves of our opposition by commencing a ruinous war of rates. It was a war waged at a great financial loss to Mr. Mackay and others, not only for our own existence, but for the benefit of the public who now enjoy a competitive cable service unequalled in any part of the world.
"Our opponents, however, miscalculated the resources and character of their antagonist. We met the first attack by reducing our rate to twenty five cents per word and secured a good deal of public support by giving a faster service.
"In September, 1887, we decided to meet the twelve cent rate. We were seriously handicapped by not having adequate and suitable land line facilities in the United States and Canada and our opponents made use of every message we handed over to them for further transmission, for canvassing purposes. We were also at a great disadvantage in Europe because the old companies had the exclusive right to all unrouted messages. The rate war lasted two years and five months, both sides suffering very heavy losses. It however, as you well know, ended in a decided victory for the "Commercial" which maintained its independence and gave the public a superior service through keen competition at a twenty-cent rate, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
"From that time onward, our progress has been steady and rapid. Under the able direction of our friend Colonel A. B. Chandler, whom we are all delighted to see here to-night, land lines were gradually acquired throughout the United States, rebuilt and organized Into the great Postal Telegraph system, which with its connections now comprises over 330,000 miles at wire. A connection was also established at Canso, Nova Scotia, with the Canadian Pacific Railway telegraphs; the largest telegraph system in Canada.
It must be assumed that the overland route from Ireland to London (with a hop via the Irish Sea via Post Office cables ?) was used before this.

Price wars
"In 1894 we laid our third cable between Canso and Waterville.
"In 1901 our Canso-Azores-Waterville cables were laid, thus completing our fourth trans-Atlantic route to Europe and establishing connection with the great systems of the Eastern and Western Telegraph Companies at the Azores. We also laid an additional cable between Canso and New York City the same year.
..."In 1901 we laid a second cable from Waterville to Weston-Super-Mare, England. We now felt that we bad an adequate, up-to-date cable and telegraph system In the Atlantic and United States and Canada respectively.
More cables
We then shifted the scene for our activities to the Pacific ... and in 1902-3 the Commercial Pacific cables between San Francisco, Honolulu, Midway Islands, Guam, and the Philippines were laid, and the long cherished desire of the government and public was realized. Pacific cables
"When we laid our fourth trans-Atlantic cable, there was a sufficient margin of facilities available to make it doubtful In our minds whether we should require any further cable facilities for many years to come, but only four years elapsed before another cable was found necessary, and In 1905 the company's fifth trans-Atlantic cable was laid. Fourth Atlantic cable
..."For some years the company had been endeavouring to extend Its system to Cuba, but was prevented from doing so by other Interests which held an extensive monopoly of the telegraph privileges on that island. This monopoly expired In 1907. however, and a cable was at once laid from New York direct to Havana. The introduction of our competition again resulted In a much improved service and a large traffic. Cuba
..."During the past year we have diverted our two 1884 trans-Atlantic cables from a point In the Atlantic known as the Flemish Cap into St Johns, Newfoundland, and have also laid a cable from St. Johns to New York, and a second cable from St. Johns to New York already partially laid will be completed in due course. The diversion of these two cables removes them from dangerous locations, shortens their length and gives us a practical transmitting speed between New York and Europe faster than the speed of any other trans-Atlantic cable route. Atlantic diversions
Mr. Ward was followed by Mr. George Clapperton, Traffic Manager of the Company, who spoke as follows:
..."Since 1884. not counting the original cables, the Commercial Cable Company has laid one-half of the new cables In the Atlantic and Commercial Cable employees have contributed to the art of working cables two of the three really notable Improvements since the siphon recorder and the application of the duplex. The principle discovered by Cuttriss, and it was pure discovery, is the principle that has survived, and the work of Wilmot remains a monument to his patience and his persistency. The results of the work of these Commercial Cable men have been of world-wide adoption. Their contributions first, so helpful to the separate and individual advance of the Commercial Cable Company, became in time their contributions to the common progress of cable telegraphy.
"The third improvement was contributed by one not previously identified with our branch of applied electricity and this makes the names of Cuttriss and Wilmot still more conspicuous in cable history.
The evening was voted one of the most pleasant occasions ever participated in by those present.

Wilmot's development would appear to be an automatic transmitter. He was superintendent at Waterville. Cutriss, in New York, also worked on an automatic transmitter but I suspect the principle he developed might have been in the field of automatic relays which he was working on at the time the book by Bright was published in 1898. Click here to see a page of Bright describing the transmitters.



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© John Crellin 2009