July 27 – Cross Atlantic Communications Day

Posted on July 27, 2016

Have you heard someone say something like, “My aunt is going across the pond on Thursday”? “Across the pond” is a jokey sort of understatement for “over the Atlantic,” either from the U.S. to Europe, or vice versa. It's understatement because it makes it seem as if the mighty Atlantic Ocean (3 to 4 thousand miles wide) were a mere pond.

Of course, nowadays, anywhere on Earth is just seconds away from anywhere else, when we're talking about communications. Back in the 1700s, the fastest way to communicate “across the pond” was to send written communications by ship – so news from the American colonies, for example, would get to England in six or seven weeks.

Eventually faster ships—and having small, speedy ships dedicated to just delivering mail and news—cut the communication time between America and Europe to just ten days.

Still – multiple days!

And stormy weather could delay ships for weeks.

In the 1850s, people began laying a “transatlantic” (across-the-Atlantic) telegraph cable across the sea floor from Ireland to Newfoundland. It was finished in August of 1858, but it only functioned for three weeks...and during those three weeks, the signal quality became very poor very quickly. The transmission time thus got quite slow (not ten-days slow, of course, but mamy more minutes than it should have taken!).

On the second attempt, starting in 1865, better materials were used, and the connection was completed on this date in 1866.

Finally, people in the Americas could communicate with people in Europe the same day. As a matter of fact, they could get a response back on the same day! What a revolution!

Soon new cables were laid with duplex and quadruplex systems that could relay more than message at a time, and eventually telegraph cables were replaced with telecommunications cables. Of course, now we use satellite signals more often than cable communication! And things are pretty instant!

Hooray for progress!

Hooray for technology!

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