Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tata is in a bid to buy UK’s Cable & Wireless

When James Cook died in Hawaii in 1779, it took 11 months for the news to reach London.  Fifteen years later, when Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, it took 10 days for the news to traverse 1200 miles to London.  In 1840, it took 29 days for the fastest news to reach from Bombay to London, but it took 40 days for London to know about Indian Mutiny of 1857.

The word ‘telegraph’ was coined by a French civil servant and it meant ‘to write at a long distance’.  Before telegraphy, news spread through ships, horses, carriages, by foot.  Many societies employed smoke signals, flags, and semaphores to send messages over long distance.

In 1824, Encyclopedia Britannica wrote about telegraphy as: “It has been supposed that electricity might be the means of conveying intelligence but, ingenious as the experiments are, they are not likely ever to become practically useful”.

Samuel Morse developed his famous Morse code of dots and dashes and demonstrated telegraphic equipment in 1840s in United States.   By 1848, most of the Eastern United States was connected by telegraphic lines.

William Thomson, rechristened as Lord Kelvin,   developed a highly sensitive galvanometer which enabled sending Morse code over submarine cables.   Michael Faraday suggested that submarine copper cables should be coated with gutta-percha, which was later used to make golf balls.

Cyrus Field, a paper merchant from New York, made 5 attempts to lay the transatlantic cable.  The first one snapped after 400 miles of cable was laid.  The second one was laid, after combining two halves midway, but then parted.  The cable was 2500 miles long and a cigar thick with gutta-percha covering 7 copper wires.

In 1858, a 98-word message from Queen Victoria to President Buchanan of USA took more than 16 hours to type.   But soon the signals became weak, and many telegraphic lines went silent after few weeks.  After seven years, Cyrus Field and Atlantic Telegraph raised money once again to lay the cable but it snapped after laying 1200 miles.   They raised money again to lay the cable in 1866.

Telegraphy changed the newspaper reporting.   Many incumbent newspapers were initially skeptical about use of telegraphy.  But a German named Israel Ben Josaphat Beer, later renamed as Paul Julius Reuter, settled in London and started world’s first telegraphic news agency in 1851 (which we know as Reuters).    When Tsar Nicholas I of Russia died in 1855, it took only few hours for the news to reach London.

John Pender, a cotton merchant from Manchester, put 10,000 pounds into the Atlantic venture, and eventually laid a submarine cable to India, from Porthcurno in England through Mediterranean and Arabian Sea to Bombay in 1870.  Now, it took only few hours for London to know the news from India making Secretary of State for India a powerful man in London.  Pender’s Eastern Telegraph Company became Father Eastern, which eventually became Cable and Wireless in 1934.

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