Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Commercial Cable Co

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The Commercial Cable Company of 253, Broadway, New York; London office: 80, Bishops gate, London, E.C.

1884 Founded in the United States by John William Mackay and James Gordon Bennett, Jr. Their motivation was to break the then virtual monopoly of Jay Gould on transatlantic telegraphy and bring down prices (particularly for Bennett's newspaper empire).

The technology was well established by this time, and they were able to lay cables from Waterville in Ireland to Canso, Nova Scotia, without the major technical problems of the first Transatlantic telegraph cable. Onward connections to New York and beyond were initially overland and later submarine. Connections from Waterville to Weston-super-Mare in England and Le Havre in France were soon established by the submarine route after initial use of landlines from Waterville onward to mainland Britain. Commercial Cable also had a relationship with the German Atlantic submarine cable system.

Other stations in Britain were at Bristol, Cardiff, and Swansea.

1897 Acquired the properties of the Postal Telegraph Cable Co.

Domestically the cable distributed its cable traffic through its partner firm Postal-Telegraph. It had a twenty-five percent share ownership in the Commercial Pacific Cable Company that operated a cable from San Francisco to Manila and Shanghai after 1906. Together these companies were all part of the Mackay Companies, also known as the Associated Companies.

1914 Owned five duplexed Atlantic Cables. The entire share capital was held by The Mackay Companies.

John Mackay's son, Clarence Mackay, took over the firm by the early 20th century and led it during World War I. Clarence Mackay and Frank Polk, a senior State Department official, were friends and this enabled the State Department to have access to selected diplomatic traffic carried over Commercial's cables. The company flourished for a time but in 1928, together with other elements of the Mackay System, came under the control of International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) under a wholly owned subsidiary, the Postal Telegraph & Cable Corporation. This would be reorganized in 1935, with Commercial Cable becoming part of the American Cable and Radio Corporation. The undersea cables remained in use carrying telegraph traffic until 1962.

In 1998, cables were briefly visible going out to sea at Waterville and are probably still there.


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