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1956: TAT-1 transatlantic telephone cable links Canada and U.K.

The Story

On Sept. 25, 1956, the "mother country" gets a little closer, thanks to a new undersea telephone cable connecting Canada with England and Scotland. No longer do callers have to endure the loud static and poor signal of the former radio system crossing the Atlantic. Four months later, in January 1957, CBC's Tabloid salutes the new link, called TAT-1, with a special edition in which host Percy Saltzman gets a close look at the underwater wonder. Saltzman also demonstrates the cable's capabilities by calling up London's weather forecast via Telex. This data-transmission system, an improvement on the telegraph, connects teletypewriters on either end of the Atlantic. After Saltzman types in his request, a quick response is tapped back out: just above freezing with snow showers.

Medium: Television
Program: Tabloid
Broadcast Date: Jan. 14, 1957
Guest(s): Douglas Bowie, Dame McDougall
Host: Percy Saltzman
Reporter: Gil Christy
Duration: 13:06

Did You know?

• In 1866 the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable was established between Ireland and Newfoundland. At least four other transatlantic telegraph cables were laid over the next 30 years.

• Before TAT-1, transatlantic telephone calls were relayed by radio waves with radio-telephone service introduced in 1927. A three-minute call, subject to fading and static, cost about £9 ($254 in 2015 Canadian dollars). About 2,000 such calls were made between 1927 and 1957.

• TAT-1 (named because it was the first transatlantic telephone cable) was a joint initiative of the General Post Office of the United Kingdom, American Telegraph and Telephone and the Canadian Overseas Telephone Corporation (COTC). The U.S. and U.K. partners held 50 per cent and 40 per cent of the effort's shares, leaving the COTC with 10 per cent.

• COTC was founded as a Crown corporation in 1950. Its mandate was to manage overseas communications links.

• TAT-1 was a coaxial cable with a central copper conductor. It was insulated with polyethylene, a plastic developed in the 1930s.

• The cable was laid in the summers of 1955 and 1956 by a British ship, the Monarch. Two cables were laid side-by-side, each transmitting in one direction.

• The cable linked Scotland just south of Oban and continued to London. In Newfoundland it came ashore at Clarenville and then crossed the Cabot Strait to Nova Scotia.

• The tremendous transmitting power of TAT-1 was possible due to vacuum-tube repeaters that boosted the signal's power as it traversed the Atlantic. The tubes, 1608 in total, were placed along the cable at 60-kilometre intervals and could last 20 years or more underwater.

• Where the cable was laid in high-traffic areas, it was covered with a steel coating to protect it from damage by ships' anchors and fishery equipment.

• Though TAT-1 held 36 circuits for telephone communications - meaning 36 transatlantic conversations could take place at any given time - only six were reserved for Canada.

• The cable was inaugurated on Sept. 25, 1956. In its first 24 hours, there were 588 calls between the United States and London and 119 between Canada and London.

• Most callers used the line for business purposes. Outside the peak hours of 10 a.m. to noon Eastern time, it usually took  fewer than 10 minutes to put a call through.

• The capacity of TAT-1 was boosted to 48 circuits just a few months after its start.

• Over the years, more TAT cables were laid. Fibre-optic cable TAT-10, installed in 1993, could carry 113,000 telephone calls at once.

• As of 2003, undersea communications cables connect every continent but Antarctica.


Canada Says Hello: The First Century of the Telephone more