Map of undersea cables from 1901

I don't have any context for this 1901 map of undersea cables for the Eastern Telegraph Company System, but it sure is a tantalizing look at telcoms history and the way that the world used to talk to itself.

sc-tech: A Map of Undersea Cables from ...1901 ! (via Super Punch!)


  1. Two books I would recommend: The Victorian Internet and A Thread Across the Ocean. Good stuff. I spent two hours honing my Morse Codes skills last night in the N.A. QRP CW Club (NAQCC) sprint, lots of fun.

  2. If you are interested in more of these maps, you can find more here, and they are very high resolution scans with a viewer. I’ve spent hours just admiring the maps on that site.

    1. Well, satellite coverage was a bit spotty back then…

      Surprisingly similar to today, except of course for transpacific cables from Japan and Singapore (or East Asia in general) to America for obvious reasons.

  3. I had no idea the global undersea telecom network was already this extensive in 1901. That means you could probably have contacted someone within a day or so, regardless of their location in the world … provided they had either a phone or a wire office nearby, of course.

    That had to boggle a few minds, back then.

    1. Actually the global undersea telecommunications network had already existed for several decades by 1901. London and Paris were linked by telegraph as early as 1852. The first functional transatlantic telegraph cable was laid down around 1865-66. By 1876 the entire British Empire, from Canada, to the U.K., to India, to Australia, and to New Zealand, was all on a single global telegraph network, and a message could be sent across the empire in a matter of a few hours. By 1900 this was already old technology – it was the drive to overcome the limitations of this wired system that was one of the factors motivating inventors in the 1890s and early 1900s to develop wireless (radio) communications.

      As royaltrux mentioned, Tom Standage’s book “The Victorian Internet” is a wonderful account of the development of this first global electronic network.

  4. This was about the time that the first Antarctic explorations were taking place. They weren’t really sure that there was a continent down there, it might have just been a few unconnected islands. But Darwin’s theory of evolution suggested that there must be another as-yet undiscovered land mass. Based on the distribution of two fossil plant species on two other continents, it was clear that they must have evolved from a common ancestor, in some other place (since fossils of this common ancestor had not been found).

    Which is why the whole of Antarctica isn’t on this map, just the few parts that has been explored up to that date. And fossils of that hypothesised plant were indeed found there.

    1. rebdav, not me I like operating more than building. Same with RC planes when I was into them – flying over building. Even my Elecraft K1 was purchased prebuilt. But sending and receiving CW with a Vibroplex is transcendental. 73

  5. Here’s some ‘context’ for the map: “History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network”

    With more history in the parent page. Note that 1901 is only 35 years after Cyrus Field, after many many tries, laid the first cable (that kept working) in 1866 (it worked for 100 years). Such cables cost a princely sum at first (400 miles cost £36,000 … $5 million today). Explains the hefty investment needed to send a telegram.

    Book: “A Thread Across The Ocean: The Heroic Story Of The Transatlantic Cable”, John Steele Gordon.

  6. I own the original of this map (and many others) and the image is taken from my site on the history of undersea cables, which go all the way back to 1850 and now carry over 99% of all traffic worldwide. Satellite traffic is just a minor blip – but essential in emergencies and for locations where cables + landlines can’t reach. My site has almost a thousand pages on cable history over the last 160 years.

    Bill Burns

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