Events Society News

Milestone Ceremony—French Cable Station Museum

Thursday, September 6, 2018
    And the next one, the program of the

On a very sunny day, the IEEE milestone ceremony for celebrating “The French Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, 1898” took place in Orleans, MA. The picture below presents the dedication of the milestone.
The following page provides the keynote address from René Garello, past President of the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society, along with some pictures of the ceremony.

René Garello Keynote Address

Mr. President, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
At first, thank you for inviting me to attend this ceremony. I’m honored and very pleased to be here in this beautiful surrounding. My name is René Garello and I’m bearing several hats here. One being as a representative of the French and Brittany community, still faithful to the history of the cable “Le Direct”. Indeed, the site of Deolen, where the cable started, in Locmaria-Plouzané, near Brest in France, is about 1 mile away from my house. I’d like to thank the supportive groups (“associations” in French) of “Locmaria Patrimoine” and “Les Amis de Deolen” helping me to smooth administrative hurdles, the county authorities giving all authorizations, the IEEE France section accompanying the process and mainly the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society when, as President, I promoted the installation of the very same plaque on the coastal trail, at the cable station last year in Deolen.

This Plaque is an IEEE Milestone. What Does it Mean?

It’s meant to be a remembering of a great achievement in IEEE history. IEEE, and Jim (1) could tell you more, resulted in 1963 of the merging/convergence of, on the one hand the AIEE (American Institute of Electrical Engineers), the “Electrical” side of the IEEE, founded in 1884 with such big names as Thomas Edison or Graham Bell (Electricity, telegraph, telephone) and on the other hand, the “Communication” side with the IRE (Institute of Radio Engineers) founded in 1912 and arising from Marconi’s works in 1895/96 with an evolution to electronics (vacuum tube, transistors, …).
But already in the beginning to the mid-19th century, we had the early stages of what is the core of IEEE: “Information” and therefore its communication. Humankind has always been very clever in trying to communicate, to send messages by any available means: by foot, by horses, by ships, fire signals, sound signals (bells, canons, …), etc. It shaped large portions of the economy and, of course, via the technical developments, long-range planning that could seem futile today. For instance, raising great quantities of trees for the fire signals in the light houses (semaphores) or for having very straight and long tree trunks for the ship masts.
Communication! Leo Tolstoy asked the question “What is art?”, replied “Art is communication.” But what was a more essential problem then?

Time! Time is the Answer

Time for sending, for transmitting. Time because the messages were too long to bear some significance or useful content using those primitives means over long distances. At the end of the 18th century, Claude Chappe (and his brother) invented the earlier version of the telegraph (they called it so). That was optical (semaphore) and worked only during the day and in clear air. But it was the beginning of yet another IEEE core: coding or in this case, transcoding the alphabet and the 10 digits. The system was delivering short messages, on land or near the coast, as fast as 500 km/h (about 140 m/s, much faster than any horse). And in the first half of the 19th century two main “discoveries” took place: electricity sent through a copper wire in 1837 and the Morse code in 1838 (replacing the more complicated Chappe code). That achievement was nevertheless only used for terrestrial transmissions.
The media industry was delighted: fresh news (and not fake news …). And also, the militaries, of course (war being another matter in which Humankind is very good at). The system was able to deliver 100 words in 5’!

The French cable Station Museum. Keynote address from René Garello.
Cathy Ann Clark, Providence Section Chair. Jim Jefferies, IEEE President.

But a much bigger challenge was to bring news to another continent. The Atlantic was the next frontier. The only means then was by ship, meaning two to three weeks to send anything. Within a very short span of time, fantastic developments were achieved. I’m still amazed and marveled by the ability of humankind to adapt solutions. The “obvious” one was to lay a cable between the two continents. The first tests were in the Mediterranean, but the Atlantic Ocean is an order of magnitude larger. The driver was, as often, commercial (money). Investing in submarine cables was much more profitable than in railways for instance. And now, the challenge was there: over 3,500 miles of cable, weighting about 20 tons/mile! Transporting these cables wasn’t trivial. Huge boats (100 to 200 meters long) were conceived. I won’t detail what is described in the museum behind me. Great Britain was the main leader in the 1860s, with cables from England to Newfoundland and then Cape Cod (Duxbury). The USA weren’t yet interested, being in the midst of the secession war. The first cables from the French side weren’t a commercial success. A company, by the way mainly funded by British capital, installed a cable from Brest to St Pierre et Miquelon, near Newfoundland and Cape Cod again.

René Garello, IEEE OES Junior Past President. Group picture, René Garello, Michael Geselowitz,
Jim Jefferies, Cathy Ann Clark, Joseph Mana,
Rob Munier and Ron Brown (L to R).
Jim Jefferies, unveiling the plaque.

     In any case we were entering a new era. The first cables showed this by being able to send around 20 words per minute. The world started to shrink! Of course, big countries couldn’t be satisfied by a British monopoly. Hence the other driver for the “submarine cables” was political. That is the main reason behind the support of what we are here today to celebrate; the “Le Direct” Transatlantic cable. Indeed, the indirect paths via Newfoundland weren’t secure enough, were difficult to maintain and mainly operated through Great Britain. “Le Direct” proved its efficiency by being operated for many decades before being obsolete in the mid ’50s with the new co-axial cable technologies allowing more simultaneous messages (telex, telephone) to be sent. “Le Direct” was a success and for what concerns France a model, duplicated to other important places at this time, that is the African continent and the French colonies.
In closing, what is the status today? The former copper in the cables was replaced mainly by fiber optics. Most of our digital communications are nowadays still using cables. Over 99% of the traffic is underwater with above 300 cables totaling one million kilometers of cable and dozens of cable ships. So, yes, recognizing the “Le Direct” cable as a pioneer for bringing the world to a new stage is evident. And recognizing it as an IEEE milestone is more than natural: “Advancing technology for Humanity” is exactly what “Le Direct” did.

Thank you for your attention.
1) Jim Jefferies, IEEE President & CEO
From Cape Cod Chronicle, September 13, 2018