Field, Cyrus West

Field, Cyrus West
SUBJECT AREA: Telecommunications
b. 30 November 1819 Stockbridge, Massachusetts, USA
d. 12 July 1892 New York City, New York, USA
American financier and entrepreneur noted for his successful promotion of the first transatlantic telegraph cable.
At the age of 15 Field left home to seek his fortune in New York, starting work on Broadway as an errand boy for $1 per week. Returning to Massachusetts, in 1838 he became an assistant to his brother Matthew, a paper-maker, leaving to set up his own business two years later. By the age of 21 he was also a partner in a New York firm of paper wholesalers, but this firm collapsed because of large debts. Out of the wreckage he set up Cyrus W.Field \& Co., and by 1852 he had paid off all the debts. With $250,000 in the bank he therefore retired and travelled in South America. Returning to the USA, he then became involved with the construction of a telegraph line in Newfoundland by an English engineer, F.N. Osborne. Although the company collapsed, he had been fired by the dream of a transatlantic cable and in 1854 was one of the founders of the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company. He began to promote surveys and hold discussions with British telegraph pioneers and with Isambard Brunel, who was then building the Great Eastern steamship. In 1856 he helped to set up the Atlantic Telegraph Company in Britain and, as a result of his efforts and those of the British physicist and inventor Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), work began in 1857 on the laying of the first transatlantic cable from Newfoundland to Ireland. After many tribulations the cable was completed on 5 August 1857, but it failed after barely a month. Following several unsuccessful attempts to repair and replace it, the cable was finally completed on 27 July 1866. Building upon his success, Field expanded his business interests. In 1877 he bought a controlling interest in and was President of the New York Elevated Railroad Company. He also helped develop the Wabash Railroad and became owner of the New York Mail and Express newspaper; however, he subsequently suffered large financial losses.
Principal Honours and Distinctions
Congressional Gold Medal.
Further Reading
A.C.Clarke, 1958, Voice Across the Sea, London: Frederick Muller (describes the development of the transatlantic telegraph).
H.M.Field, 1893, Story of the Atlantic Telegraph (also describes the transatlantic telegraph development).
L.J.Judson (ed.), 1893, Cyrus W.Field: His Life and Work (a complete biography).

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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