Cyrus West Field
CYRUS WEST FIELD,
THE FIELD family is one of those instances of which there are several in our national history, in which the
greater part of the children of a large family springing from a respectable, but not specially-eminent ancestry,
attain high distinction either in kindred or diverse pursuits.
The Edwards, the Dwight and the Woolsey families in various degrees belong to this class; its most conspicuous example is
"the Beecher family;" but the descendants of Rev. David Dudley Field, D. D., who died at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1867,
are hardly less conspicuous though in more varied careers. Dr. Field had ten children, of whom nine grew up to maturity,
viz.: seven sons and two daughters. Of the seven sons, David Dudley has attained high distinction and great wealth as a jurist,
in New York City; Timothy B. was a naval officer of great promise, but was lost at sea in 1836; Matthew D., a
manufacturer and civil engineer, has a high reputation in his profession, and has been a State Senator in Massachusetts; Jonathan E.,
was a lawyer of great ability, several times a member of the
CYRUS WEST FIELD was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, November 30th, 1819. He received a very thorough English and academical education, and at the age of fifteen went to New York as cleric in a mercantile house. After several years' experience in that capacity, he entered the house as partner, and finally became principal. He was very successful, and in 1853, at the age of thirty-four, retired from business with an ample fortune. He spent six or eight months in travel in South America, and soon after his return was approached by Mr. F. N. Gisborne, Engineer and Telegraph operator, and the founder and chief promoter of the Electric Telegraphic Company, an organization which had attempted the construction of a telegraphic line from New Brunswick to St. John's, Newfoundland, there to con nect with a line of steamers to the Irish coast.
He wrote at once to Lieutenant Maury, then at the bead of the Naval Observatory at Washington, and author of a work on "The Physical Geography of the Sea," inquiring of him concerning the practicability of carrying an insulated wire or wires across the ocean, i. e, whether there were any insurmount able physical difficulties in the ocean bed. At the same time he addressed a letter to Professor S. F. B. Morse (lately deceased) inquiring as to the possibility of transmitting electro-magnetic signals to such a distance through the ocean. Lieutenant Maury replied, transmitting a report he had just made to the Secretary of the Navy of Lieutenant Berryman's continuous soundings across the ocean, at the very points between which Mr. Field had thought the cable should be laid, showing that there was an oceanic plateau crossing the ocean, whose depth nowhere ex ceeded two miles, and whose surface, composed of the debris of microscopic shells unmixed with sand or gravel, was almost as level as a western prairie. Professor Morse came to visit Mr. Field, and demonstrated the feasibility of the transmission of magnetic signals through the ocean to much greater distances. Having thus satisfied himself of the practicability of the enterprise, Mr. Field next undertook to enlist several capitalists in it, and succeeded in persuading Peter Cooper, Moses Taylor, Marshall 0. Roberts, and Chandler White to join him in form ing a company to undertake the work. Subsequently Professor Morse, Wilson G. Hunt, and an English Telegraphic Engineer, Mr. John W. Brett, took some share in the enterprise. The asso ciates visited Newfoundland, and procured from the provincial legislature a new and very favorable charter; bought up the pro perty of the old Electric Telegraphic Company, and paid its debts; constructed nearly 550 miles of road and telegrapic lines front New Brunswick to Newfoundland, and at their direction Mr. Field visited England, and ordered a telegraphic cable to cross the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and this being lost, went again and procured another, which was successfully laid. At the end of two years, and with an expenditure of about a million of dollars, nearly all of which had come from their own pockets, the asso ciates had reached Newfoundland, and were ready for another step in advance. Mr. Field again visited England, empowered either to obtain additional subscriptions to the New York, New foundland and London Telegraph Company, organized by himself and his associates two years before, or to found a new company to lay the cable alone. The latter alternative was adopted, a company organized with guaranties from the British Government, and its capital stock fixed at 350,000I.,=$1,750,000. Mr. Field took 88,0001.,=$440,000 of this stock himself, but subse quently disposed of $135,000 of it here. The cable was made by Glass, Elliot & Co. The first attempt to lay it was made in 1857. The United Steamships Niagara and Susquehanna, and the British Steamships Agamemnon and Gorgon perform ing the work under the direction of Mr. Field and his associates. The cable broke when three hundred and thirty-five miles had been laid, in consequence of the clumsiness of the paying-out machine. The ships returned to England and landed the remainder of the cable, and Mr. Field returned to the United States, to find that in the financial panic nearly his entire fortune had been swept away. The next year the effort to lay it was made again, and after two or three failures, proved successful so far that the cable was laid, and imperfect commu nication kept up between the shores of the Atlantic for nearly a month, when it gave out entirely. Meantime Mr. Field had received a succession of ovations, one of them so glowing that it set on fire the cupola and roof the City Hall in New York, and came very near destroying the whole of the vast building.
But the sudden news on the 5th of September, 1858, that "the Atlantic Telegraph was dead," would have killed a man less sanguine and resolute. Mr. Field, however, went to England repeatedly, and kept the matter in agitation, and under the en couragement of added subsidies from the British Government, and the promise of guaranties if it should be made to write, succeeded in getting again under way. A new company was formed, called the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, in which Messrs. Glass, Elliot & Co., the manufac turers of the cable, Thomas Brassey and others, were large stockholders; the Great Eastern secured to lay the cable, and in the summer of 1865 the effort was made again with a greatly improved cable. Between twelve and thirteen hundred miles were laid, not without some slight accidents, when once more the cable was broken by being fouled under the bow of the Great Eastern. For nine days the persevering directors and crew grappled for the lost cable ; three times they brought it up for a mile or more from the bottom (here two and a half miles in depth), but each time their apparatus gave way under the terrible strain, and finally, marking carefully its location with buoys, they left it. Not yet, however, did the brave Field give up to despair. Again he crossed the ocean, and after try ing several other plans organized a fourth company, in which the previous companies became stockholders, with three million dollars capital, had another cable made, and in the summer of 1866 it was laid, and has proved a complete success from that time to the present. More than this; the same expedition which laid this grappled for, and brought to the surface the end of the cable of 1865, spliced it, and successfully completed that also. In 1869, a third cable was laid by a French company, which has since passed into the hands of the London company, and although we believe but two of the three are now working successfully, yet there is very little danger now of a loss of our communication with Europe by telegraph, especially as one or two other lines are in progress.
Mr. Field's indefatigable zeal and persistency in thus struggling through thirteen years of discouragement and disaster to a final triumph, and his courage, which rose higher with each failure, are worthy of all praise.
With his great enterprize, at last an assured success, and his
outlays so long unproductive, at last yielding their golden
harvest, it would seem that he would have been content to rest
upon his laurels; but we notice that beside taking an interest
in most of the telegraphic cables which connect the great divi
sions of the American continent and the adjacent islands, he led
the way a few months' since in an application to Congress for a
charter for a Telegraphic Cable Company to cross the Pacific
from San Francisco to Japan, taking the Sandwich Islands as a
half-way house, and thus solving the problem of the Great Eng
lish poet and dramatist of "Putting a girdle round the earth in
forty minutes." We have not yet heard that the company is
fully organized, or the cable in process of manufacture, but just
as sure as Cyrus W. Field has a controlling interest in it, it is
bound to be carried through triumphantly.
Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872
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