An Post have issued a new stamp to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the laying of the first Trans Atlantic Telegraph Cable by Cyrus West Field, a US paper merchant. The new stamp features the British battleship HMS Agamemnon and the US Navy’s Niagara. But the anniversary is not as straight-forward as it might appear.. For a start, the cable had failed by September that year due to a lack of understanding of the processes involved by the chief electrical engineer on the project, Edward Whitehouse – who ignored the advice of Belfast-born scientist William Thomson – later Lord Kelvin. The first official message, 99 words long, from Queen Victoria to James Buchanan, President of the United States, was sent on 16th August 1858 from Valentia Island and took over 16 hours to send due to technical issues with the cable. And according to David Bodanis’ excellent Electric Universe – “It took more than thirty hours of struggle with sending and resending to transmit Buchanan’s equally brief telegram back to the Queen.”It wasn’t until 1866, after the US Civil War, that a second cable was successfully laid by the SS Great Eastern.
This time, as the PBS site says, – “It reflected the engineering influence of William Thomson instead of Edward Whitehouse, and it would not fail the way the Whitehouse cable had.”