Section of the 1866 Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable by The Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company Limited
A very rare commemorative section of 1866 Trans-Atlantic telegraph cable by The Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company Limited (Telcon).
This museum quality piece is comprised of a core with a single copper conductor surrounded by gutta percha and a brass tape (teredo tape) used to inhibit marine boring insects from destroying the core. It is further surrounded by a protective layer of 10 jute covered armoured cables.
A brass stamped ferrule or collar surrounds the tip and the base.
The tip states: “Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company Limited”
The base states: “Contractors, London. Atlantic 1866.”
The 1866 trans-Atlantic telegraph was a monumentally historic achievement, allowing the UK and the US to communicate with one another in a matter of minutes as opposed to weeks. Previous attempts in 1857 and 1858 had both ultimately failed although the 1858 cable famously allowed Queen Victoria to send a message of congratulations to the then President Buchanan before its demise just a week later.
The outbreak of the American Civil War hampered any further attempts in the short term but by 1865 another Anglo-American attempt was commissioned using Brunel’s SS Great Eastern and a new cable was laid. Similar to in 1857, this cable broke during the voyage and all attempts to retrieve it failed but undeterred, the Great Eastern and its investors returned with a new cable in 1866 which finally reached the US in July. The voyage delivered the new cable and also retrieved the 1865 cable, successfully delivering two fully working lines of communication between the countries.
The Telegraph Construction & Maintanance Company, more commonly known as Telcon was formed by the merger of The Gutta Percha Company and Glass Elliot in April of 1864.
Gutta Percha is a latex type material that is derived from the tree sap of the Palaquium genus of trees found commonly in Malaysia and was first imported to England in the 1840’s. Initially used in the manufacture of stoppers for bottles within the drinks industry, The Gutta Percha Company was formed in 1845 after the material was discovered to have ideal insulating qualities. It was used as an insulator for telegraph cable as early as the 1850’s for The Channel crossings and quickly became their main business focus.
Glass Elliot & Co was formed from the wire rope manufacturers, Kuper & Co. George Elliot, a mining engineer and colliery owner, had worked with Kuper through his mining interests and was appointed agent after Kuper’s bankruptcy in 1849. Through Elliot’s guidance, the company secured continued investment and it was during this period that Richard Glass provided accountancy services to Kuper & Co. The company was also involved in the 1851 cross Channel telegraph laying and it is thought that Glass first considered the combination of Kuper wire rope and gutta percha as protection for undersea cable.
In 1854, the company had managed to pay off its creditors leaving Elliot and Glass to set up their own company and subsumed Kuper as a subsidiary. As Glass, Elliot, the company continued to manufacture numerous cables and was involved in the first Atlantic Telegraph crossing in 1858.
In 1864, Glass, Elliot and The Gutta Percha Company merged to form Telcon and in 1866 using Brunel’s famous iron steam ship the SS Great Eastern, successfully laid the second Trans-Atlantic cable.
The company continued to lay telegraph cable across the world and still exists today under the name Telcon.