The relentless persistence of one man resulted in one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century and the transformation of international communication.
Cyrus Field’s success in business enabled him to amass enough of a fortune to partially retire at the age of 34. His interest in telegraphy was sparked by Canadian engineer Frederic Gisborne, who aimed to establish a telegraph connection between St. John’s, Newfoundland, and New York City. Field formed a new company to take over Gisborne’s venture and convinced investors to lay a cable line from Newfoundland to Ireland. In 1857, after securing financing in England and backing from the American and British governments, Field’s Atlantic Telegraph Company established the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. The cable officially opened on Aug. 16, 1858, when Queen Victoria sent President James Buchanan a message in Morse code. Widespread jubilation over this feat was short-lived when the connection broke down and was not reconnected until 1866. Making extensive use of primary sources, Cowan admiringly chronicles how, in those intervening years, Fields endured delays and failed attempts, millions of dollars lost, suspected sabotage, technological problems, and public accusations of fraud and treason. Her well-paced, vivid account makes for a read that is at times gripping. The principal figures in her tale are white.
An inspiring portrait of a man with a dream and his steadfast determination to achieve it. (charts, maps, diagrams, photos, timeline, source notes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)