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Why the 1858 Cable Failed...

In taking up the first cable, the cause of the failure was discovered. It originated in the manufacture of the cable. In passing the cable into the vat provided for it, where it was intended to lie under water all the time, until put aboard the ship, the workmen neglected to keep the water at all times over the cable; and on one occasion, when the sun shone very hotly down on this vat where the cable was lying uncovered, its rays melted the gutta-percha, so that the copper wire inside sunk down against the outer covering. I have a piece of the cable which shows just how it occurred. The first cable that was laid would have been a perfect success if it had not been for that error in manufacturing it. The copper wire sagged down against the outside covering, and there was just a thin layer of gutta-percha to prevent it from coming in contact with the water. In building the first cables, their philosophy was not so well understood as it is now; and so, when the cable began to fail, they increased the power [voltage] of the battery, and it is supposed that a spark of electricity passed off into the water.

After the two ocean cables had been laid successfully, it was found necessary to have a second cable across the Gulf of St. Lawrence [Cabot Strait]. Our delays had been so trying and unfortunate in the past that none of the stockholders, with the exception of Mr. Field, Mr. Taylor, Mr. Roberts, and myself, would take any interest in the matter. We had to get the money by offering bonds, which we had power to do by charter; and these were offered at fifty cents on the dollar. Mr. Field, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Taylor, and myself were compelled to take up the principal part of the stock at that rate, in order to get the necessary funds. We had to do the business through the Bank of Newfoundland, and the bank would not trust the company, but drew personally on me. I told them to draw on the company, but they continued to draw on me, and I had to pay the drafts or let them go back protested. I was often out ten or twenty thousand dollars in advance, in that way, to keep the thing going.

After the cable became a success, the stock rose to ninety dollars per share, at which figure we sold out to an English company. That proved to be the means of saving us from loss. The work was finished at last, and I never have regretted it, although it was a terrible time to go through.

Tadahisa (Tad) Kuroda, Professor of History, Skidmore College, Saratoga, New York

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