The overland telegraph system
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Audio recording of Gavin Halkett's March 1998 presidential address to the Nanaimo Historical Society about early telegraph systems. Halkett beings his talk with an explanation of how a telegraph works. He then goes on to explain the early development of the invention, and outlines how numerous small systems around the world developed, but all ultimately faced the same challenge: they were unable to cross oceans. Halkett next chronicles the attempt to lay 2,000 miles of cable across the Atlantic, from southern Ireland to Newfoundland. The many challenges, including: the initial difficulty of laying the cable by a moving ship, teredos damaging the cable, fishermen fouling the line, and outright sabotage, are all discussed. He then explains how the repeated failures in 1858 to establish the trans-Atlantic cable gave rise to the idea of running an overland cable from San Francisco up the Pacific coast, through British Columbia, the Yukon, and through what was then Russian America (Alaska), before crossing the Bering Sea. As Halkett explains, those working for the Western Union Extension Company on the Pacific telegraph project also faced numerous challenges, including: extreme cold, starvation, and a lack of supplies appropriate to the climate and conditions. Halkett concludes his talk by detailing the 1866 completion of the Atlantic cable and the subsequent abandonment of the Pacific project.