Cyrus W. Field.
There are few people living who have not heard of Cyrus W. Field. Few people,
however, have taken the trouble to learn more of him other than the fact that to
him are we indebted for the Atlantic Cable, and this
information has been forced upon them.
One often hears the old saying, "blood tells," and when we review the Field
family we are constrained to admit its truth. David Dudly Field, Sr., the
father, was a noted Divine. He had a family of seven sons, the oldest of which,
David Dudly [Field], Jr., is a most conspicuous lawyer. Stephen Johnson [Field], has held some
of the most exalted positions as a jurist within the gift of the nation and his
adopted State, California. Henry Martyn [Field], is a renowned editor and Doctor of
Divinity. Matthew D [Field]. is an expert engineer, and in this capacity did much to aid
the success of the cable which has made famous for all time the subject of this
narrative. Matthew is also a somewhat noted and successful politician. Another
brother, Timothy [Field], entered the navy, and we doubt not would have become equally
distinguished but for his untimely death.
Cyrus West, was born at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, November 30th, 1819. Unlike the Appletons, Harpers and numerous other noted
families, the Fields seemed to discard the idea "in union is there strength,"
each selecting his own calling, to become individually singled out and honored.
As heretofore shown, almost the entire Field family have made history, but
upon Cyrus does the world bestow the greatest distinction. He was the only
brother choosing a mercantile life, and at the age of fifteen, nearly sixteen,
he was apprenticed to the great A[lexander]. T. Stewart. After his apprenticeship he
returned to Massachusetts and started a small paper-mill, and still later came
to New York again, this time to open a paper warehouse, but for some reason
One feature of the great success which has attended Mr. Field was his
stick-to-it-iveness which enabled him to 'fight it out on that line if it took
all summer.' He accordingly compromised the matter with his creditors,
re-established the business, profited by his past mistakes, and in the course of
eleven or twelve years had amassed an ample fortune. Accordingly, about 1853, he
decided to retire, and spent six months traveling in South America, not,
however, until he had enclosed a check to each of his old creditors, thereby
discharging a moral obligation, although not legally bound.
In the meantime, a Mr. Gibson had enlisted the sympathy of his brother Matthew, the engineer, in a transatlantic telegraph company, which was to be
carried on by a co-operation of the telegraph, and a system of fast ocean steamers. Although adverse to all thought of resuming any business this
brother obtained for Mr. Gibson an audience, and he presented to Mr. Field his scheme which involved a telegraphic communication between New York and St. John;
hence, by fast ocean steamers, Mr. Gibson left without gaining his object, but upon reflection Mr. Field
suddenly exclaimed: "Why not run a wire through the ocean itself, instead of ending it at St. John?"
Although it is claimed that Field had never heard of such an idea, yet it did not originate with him. In fact, a cable was then in
operation between Dover and Calais, connecting England and France. Having become imbued with this plan he at once consulted his brother David as to what legal
obstacles might possibly arise, and being satisfied on that score, he set about the accomplishment of his purpose.
He saw Peter Cooper and several other moneyed men and solicited their aid,
forming a company, with Peter Cooper as president. Matthew was now interested as
chief engineer, and David as counsel. These will be remembered as two of the famous brothers. The burden of the work, however, fell upon our hero. He seemed
to be everywhere. First in Newfoundland, where he bought the rights of a rival company then before the Provincial Government, where his influence secured the
consent of the legislature of Newfoundland. Then he is over in England, where he is successful in not only securing the necessary rights and privileges to occupy
British territory, but the special favor of the Queen and the capital stock of about $1,680,000, which it was hoped could be placed in England, was taken in a
few weeks, and not only this but the British government agreed to pay an annual subsidy of about $68,000, for the use of the cable by that government and ships,
not only for surveying but to help lay the cable.
Mr. Field now ordered the cable made, and again set sail for America, and is soon at the national capitol trying to enlist the sympathy and aid of our
country. The lobby and other influences seemed to be against
him, and he met with the cold shoulder at every turn, but nothing dismayed this man. At last the bill passed the Senate by the majority of but one vote, and in
the Lower House by an absolutely small majority, but after a hard fight it became a fixed thing, and received the signature of President Buchanan.
Reader, look back upon the trials of Cyrus Field as you have followed them thus far; imagine if you can the trouble, vexation and disappointments which
have thus far attended him, and when you think that he had all this trouble to get permission to lay the cable, and that while he
had already passed through much; yet his disappointments were destined to be tenfold greater ere success attended him; will you say he is undeserving of that
success? The rights are secure; the stock taken; the cable is done and all seems fair sailing.
The Agamemnon, of the Royal Navy, and the Niagara, furnished by the United
States government, started with their precious burden. The paying out machine
kept up its steady revolutions. Slowly, but surely, the cable slips over the
side and into the briny deep. Many eminent men were eagerly watching with Mr.
Field on the Niagara; a gradual solemnity took possession of the entire ship's
company. Who would not be interested? Who would not feel the powerful pressure
of responsibility, and when at last the too sudden application of a break parted
the cable, and it wholly disappeared from view, the shock was too much for the
stoutest nerves. All appeared to feel that a dear friend had just slipped the
cable of life, and had gone to make his grave beneath the deep waters.
But of all that sad company, Mr. Field is the least dismayed. He recognized that a
most expensive and disastrous accident had happened; but the belief was firmly
fixed in his mind that the plan was practicable. He was now offered the position
of General Manager, at a salary of $5,000 per year. The position he accepted,
but declined the salary.
In 1858 the second attempt was begun, but when about two hundred miles had
been laid, the cable parted, and the result of months of labor and large capital
was remorsefully swallowed up by the mighty deep. But while all seemed ready to
give up, Cyrus Field seemed to be everywhere. His activity seemed to exceed the
bounds of human endurance. Many were the successive twenty-four hours in which
he had no sleep, and his friends were alarmed lest he and the new enterprise
should break together.
By his assiduousness the work was recommenced this same year, and on the 5th
of August, 1858, was completed. Messages were exchanged between Queen Victoria
and President Buchanan, and for about a month the cable worked perfectly, amid
great rejoicing, when all at once it stopped; the cable refused to respond. Few
thought the project would be prosecuted further, but they miscalculated the
power of endurance, the possession of which has brought the success of that man
whom they now envy, "because fortune has smiled upon him more especially than
How often do we find ourselves wishing we were as rich as some person, or as
influential as another; when we have but to follow their example, do as they
have done, endure what they have endured to acquire the coveted success.
If we would stop to consider that seventy-three per cent. of our great men were poor
boys, we would readily see that those we now envy are only enjoying the fruit of
their own toil.
The civil war broke out and all work was suspended, but in 1863 a new cable
was ordered of Gloss, Elliot & Company in London, and a capital of
$3,000,000 was raised by the indomitable energy of Mr. Field. The Great Eastern
was employed to lay it, and on the 23rd day of July, 1865, that leviathan of the
deep, started on her momentous journey, successfully traversing about
three-fourths of the entire distance, when the cable once more parted, carrying
with it to the bottom of the ocean every fond hope cherished by so many. But
once more arose Cyrus West Field, and an entirely new company is formed, and
$3,000,000 more is raised. On Friday, July 13th, 1866, the Great Eastern once
more starts, and on Friday, the 27th of July, the following cablegram is
"Hearts Content, July 27th.
"We arrived here at nine o'clock this morning. All well, thank God. The Cable
is laid, and is in perfect working order.
"Signed, Cyrus W. Field."
To make the victory more complete, the Great Eastern again put to sea, raised
the cable which was lost the preceding year, spliced it, and the two have since
been in constant use.
Who dares deny that Cyrus W. Field is not deserving of enduring fame? For
thirteen years he had borne the brunt of all the ridicule and sneers directed at
this greatest enterprise of modern history. He has been bitterly denounced by
many as a capitalist, a monopolist, and the like; but if the world has been
benefited so many millions by the Ocean Telegraph, it seems to us that the best is inadequate as a reward to its proprietor.
Memorial for Cyrus W. Field