The project had started in the 1840s and 50s with the ambitious vision of a few US and British engineers and businessmen, including Samuel Morse, Frederic Gisborne, Cyrus Field and Charles Tilston Bright.
The overland telegraph network had spread across Britain and America and some submarine cables had already been laid, mostly short cables making as much use as possible of tried and tested overland cable technology.
The problem was that underwater cables were different from those laid overland: there were issues with retardation which were still not fully understood. The longer the cable, the more serious the retardation effects and this was by far the longest cable to be planned. There were also practical manufacturing issues: who would make such a long cable and how could it be laid? What about the problems of laying a cable in deep water?
Practical commercial interests and science determined the cable’s route. Initial soundings indicated that the shortest route was also the best: a plateau between Ireland and Newfoundland. Almost as important were the concessions negotiated with the Newfoundland authorities, which gave the company a monopoly on cables laid in the area for fifty years. Although initial finance for the project had come from the US, by the time the cable came to be laid a great deal of money had come from the British side as well, including a pledge from the British Government.