‘The most gigantic electrical experiment’: The Trials of Telegraphy
In the frantic debates of the spring and early summer of 1858, prior to a renewed attempt to establish a submarine telegraph line between Britain and North America, Scientific American told its readers that once the cable was ‘successfully laid down’ it would ‘remain the most gigantic electrical experiment ever made’.2 The ambivalence of that statement — the telegraph as a robust product of electrical science, or as vast but fragile innovation — seemed to be justified by the events of the late summer. On 6 August 1858 Ireland and Newfoundland were in electrical communication; by 20 October 1858 telegraphic communication between Britain and her North American empire totally ceased.
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