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Cyrus Field's Big Dream: The Daring Effort to Lay the First Transatlantic Telegraph Cable

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Best STEM Book symbolA 2019 Best STEM Book, awarded by the National Science Teaching Association, in cooperation with the Children's Book Council



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  Cyrus Field dreamed of linking North America and Europe with instant communication, but in the early 1850s, many believed this was impossible. Undaunted, he forged ahead, despite numerous setbacks: years of delays, failed attempts, millions of dollars lost, suspected sabotage, and technological problems. Final success in 1866 provided one of the most important links in what became the first worldwide communications network. Written for readers ages 10 and older, this carefully-researched biography includes a map and many archival illustrations and encompasses STEM topics. 
•  “Mary Morton Cowan is to be applauded for bringing to a young audience the story of one of the great achievements of the nineteenth century. In his teenage years and early twenties Cyrus Field developed so strong a reputation for integrity and perseverance that two decades later he was able to persuade government officials, financiers, scientists and engineers to back this unprecedented venture, and when the first attempt failed to try again.”
Bernard S. Finn, Curator Emeritus
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

  •  “Cyrus West Field's Atlantic Cable of 1866, perhaps the greatest technical project of the nineteenth century, was one of the most important links in what was to become the first-ever worldwide communications network. In this biography of Field, Mary Morton Cowan tells the story of how he rose from a large family in rural Massachusetts to become a wealthy paper merchant in New York City, then invested twelve years of his life and risked most of his capital to lay the cable. This is a tale of Field's determination and persistence for a project that involved financiers, politicians, scientists, engineers, manufacturers, and thousands of workers in many occupations, until the cable was finally a success.”

Bill Burns, publisher and webmaster

   from Chapter 8

    The water kept getting deeper. “At this time we were in 2,150 fathoms water, and the cable was going out in magnificent style,” Mullaly wrote. …
    Suddenly, at 9:00 p.m., the electrical current stopped. The electricians worked frantically for more than two hours to fix it. …
    But no one could explain why it happened, and unexplainable problems made Cyrus nervous. The ship became strangely silent. Cyrus went to bed, exhausted, but he couldn’t sleep. Shortly before daybreak, he heard commotion on deck.
    Charles Bright came to Cyrus’s door, trembling. “The cable’s gone,” he said.
    Cyrus stood up, numb.
    The cable sank more than two miles to the bottom of the sea.
   from Chapter 9
    A fierce storm churned up. Day after day, winds howled and torrential rains drenched everything. The ships lurched back and forth and were tossed around by the violent sea. Niagara’s timbers creaked as she rolled in the waves. Cyrus was so seasick, he could barely hang on. The Niagara crew watched Agamemnon heave up onto the tops of gigantic waves, then fall out of sight into deep troughs. She leaned so far over, Cyrus wondered whether she could stay afloat.…
    A short time later, signals stopped suddenly between the two ships, jarring everyone’s confidence. … “We are hourly haunted with a dread that the worst has yet to happen,” reporter John Mullaly wrote.
   from Chapter 10
    A banquet was held honoring Cyrus and the ships’ officers. Six hundred guests and dignitaries arrived at the Metropolitan Hotel in horse-drawn carriages. … The extravagant menu began with oysters on the half shell, relishes, green-turtle soup, or lobster. … But Cyrus could hardly eat. … During the banquet, while speakers were praising him, and six hundred guests were applauding his marvelous accomplishment, he was handed a telegram from Ireland. All he could see was a jumbled note, a broken string of words that meant nothing.
   from Chapter 13
    Sometimes they hardly dared to breathe. And some of them were panicked by the ghost. The sailors claimed it was real—and alive! Lying on their bunks, they found it almost impossible to sleep at night. They heard moaning and groaning and something kept scratching on the iron walls of the hull.
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