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Influence the cryptologic future by sharing our educational resources, stimulating new knowledge, & commemorating our heritage.

1858: Early Telegraph Communications

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

16 August 1858: First exchange of telegraph communications occurred with congratulatory messages between Queen Victoria and President James Buchanan. Photo: US postage stamp commemorating the Atlantic cable, 1958. Designed by George Giusti.

Excerpted from mapsoftheworld.com:

Made up of seven copper wires covered in 18 strands made of iron, the cable ended up weighing more than one ton per nautical mile. Under the guidance of E. O. W. Whitehouse, the connection was completed in early August the following year with the help of four British and American ships. So it was that, on August 15, 1858, Queen Victoria could write:

“The Queen desires to congratulate the President upon the successful completion of this great international work.”

President Buchanan, with a bit more flair, replied: “May the Atlantic Telegraph, under the blessing of Heaven, prove to be a bond of perpetual peace and friendship between the kindred nations, and an instrument designed by Divine Providence to diffuse religion, civilization, liberty and law throughout the world.”

As the leaders exchanged messages, Americans, stunned by the achievement, gathered at post offices to read the conversation the following day and marveled – but the link would not last for long. Whitehouse, attempting to speed up the extended transmission times (one of Queen Victoria's messages took more than 16 hours to be received), decided to apply additional voltage to the cable and rendered it inoperable just three weeks later. Though historians argue the construction would not have held up due to poor understanding of the effect saltwater could have, Whitehouse was immediately dismissed for his perceived role in the failure.

It would be another seven years before another attempt could be made at laying a new cable. Though unsuccessful at first, transmission resumed on July 28, 1866 using a line constructed of more durable substances. Within months, a second line was operational and, by the 1870s, the technology had grown to allow multiple messages to be sent in either direction at once. Within four decades, an intricate network of cables connected Britain, France, Germany and the United States.

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The NCF's Vision is to Influence the cryptologic future by sharing our educational resources, stimulating new knowledge, and commemorating our heritage.

The Foundation provides exceptional cryptologic programs throughout the year, encourages young minds to explore cryptology and cyber education and careers,  hosts educational, cryptology-related exhibits at various community events, and honors the people— past, present, and future—whose contributions to our national security protect and make possible our way of life.

The NCF also provides needed support to the National Cryptologic Museum (NCM), the first public museum in the U.S. Intelligence Community. Located adjacent to the National Security Agency (NSA) in Maryland, the NCM houses a unique and priceless collection of artifacts that represent our Nation's history in code making and code breaking, as well as a world class library of cryptologic media. The NCF acquires the best artifacts for the Museum and supports new educational and interactive exhibits.

As part of the Foundation's partnership with NSA to build the Cyber Center for Education and Innovation - Home of the National Cryptologic Museum (CCEI-NCM), the NCF also serves as a leader in the field of cybersecurity - striving to provide the best in educational resources and programs.

The NCF has a three-part mission to Educate, Stimulate, and Commemorate. Learn more about our MISSION.