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Cyrus West Field


THE FIELD family is one of those instances of which there are several in our national history, in which the greater part of the children of a large family springing from a respectable, but not specially-eminent ancestry, attain high distinction either in kindred or diverse pursuits.   The Edwards, the Dwight and the Woolsey families in various degrees belong to this class; its most conspicuous example is "the Beecher family;" but the descendants of Rev. David Dudley Field, D. D., who died at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1867, are hardly less conspicuous though in more varied careers.  Dr. Field had ten children, of whom nine grew up to maturity, viz.: seven sons and two daughters. Of the seven sons, David Dudley has attained high distinction and great wealth as a jurist, in New York City; Timothy B. was a naval officer of great promise, but was lost at sea in 1836; Matthew D., a manufacturer and civil engineer, has a high reputation in his profession, and has been a State Senator in Massachusetts; Jonathan E., was a lawyer of great ability, several times a member of the
Massachusetts Senate, and once or twice President of that body; Stephen J., also a lawyer, formerly Chief Justice of California, is now one of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States ; of Cyrus W. we shall have more to say. Rev. Henry M., D.D., is an eloquent preacher and writer, and for some years past has been editor and proprietor of the New York Evangelist, a very popular and widely circulated Presbyterian journal. The two daughters were ladies of high intellectual ability. Both were married, the elder to a missionary,  with whom she spent some years in missionary labors in Syria.  Several of Dr. Field's grandchildren have also achieved distinction.

CYRUS WEST FIELD was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, November 30th, 1819. He received a very thorough English and academical education, and at the age of fifteen went to New York as cleric in a mercantile house. After several years' experience in that capacity, he entered the house as partner, and finally became principal. He was very successful, and in 1853, at the age of thirty-four, retired from business with an ample fortune.  He spent six or eight months in travel in South America, and soon after his return was approached by Mr. F. N. Gisborne, Engineer and Telegraph operator, and the founder and chief promoter of the Electric Telegraphic Company, an organization which had attempted the construction of a telegraphic line  from New Brunswick to St. John's, Newfoundland, there to con nect with a line of steamers to the Irish coast. 

This company  had become bankrupt before the completion of their enterprize,  and Mr. Gisborne was anxious to have their charter taken up  by New York capitalists. Mr. Matthew D. Field, a brother of  Cyrus, and an engineer by profession, had formed Mr. Gisborne's  acquaintance, and became favorably impressed with his project,  and he introduced him to his brother. Mr. Field was at first  averse to the undertaking, but examining it carefully, and be coming impressed with the feasibility of carrying a telegraphic  wire across the Atlantic from St. John's, he began to give it  more attention.

He wrote at once to Lieutenant Maury, then at  the bead of the Naval Observatory at Washington, and author of a work on "The Physical Geography of the Sea," inquiring of  him concerning the practicability of carrying an insulated wire or  wires across the ocean, i. e, whether there were any insurmount able physical difficulties in the ocean bed. At the same time  he addressed a letter to Professor S. F. B. Morse (lately deceased)  inquiring as to the possibility of transmitting electro-magnetic  signals to such a distance through the ocean. Lieutenant Maury  replied, transmitting a report he had just made to the Secretary  of the Navy of Lieutenant Berryman's continuous soundings  across the ocean, at the very points between which Mr. Field  had thought the cable should be laid, showing that there was  an oceanic plateau crossing the ocean, whose depth nowhere ex ceeded two miles, and whose surface, composed of the debris of  microscopic shells unmixed with sand or gravel, was almost as  level as a western prairie. Professor Morse came to visit Mr.  Field, and demonstrated the feasibility of the transmission of  magnetic signals through the ocean to much greater distances.  Having thus satisfied himself of the practicability of the enterprise, Mr. Field next undertook to enlist several capitalists in  it, and succeeded in persuading Peter Cooper, Moses Taylor,  Marshall 0. Roberts, and Chandler White to join him in form ing a company to undertake the work. Subsequently Professor  Morse, Wilson G. Hunt, and an English Telegraphic Engineer,  Mr. John W. Brett, took some share in the enterprise. The asso ciates visited Newfoundland, and procured from the provincial  legislature a new and very favorable charter; bought up the pro perty of the old Electric Telegraphic Company, and paid its debts;  constructed nearly 550 miles of road and telegrapic lines front  New Brunswick to Newfoundland, and at their direction Mr.  Field visited England, and ordered a telegraphic cable to cross  the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and this being lost, went again and  procured another, which was successfully laid. At the end of two years, and with an expenditure of about a million of dollars,  nearly all of which had come from their own pockets, the asso ciates had reached Newfoundland, and were ready for another  step in advance. Mr. Field again visited England, empowered  either to obtain additional subscriptions to the New York, New foundland and London Telegraph Company, organized by himself  and his associates two years before, or to found a new company  to lay the cable alone. The latter alternative was adopted, a  company organized with guaranties from the British Government, and its capital stock fixed at 350,000I.,=$1,750,000. Mr.  Field took 88,0001.,=$440,000 of this stock himself, but subse quently disposed of $135,000 of it here. The cable was made  by Glass, Elliot & Co. The first attempt to lay it was made  in 1857. The United Steamships Niagara and Susquehanna,  and the British Steamships Agamemnon and Gorgon perform ing the work under the direction of Mr. Field and his associates. The cable broke when three hundred and thirty-five  miles had been laid, in consequence of the clumsiness of the  paying-out machine. The ships returned to England and landed  the remainder of the cable, and Mr. Field returned to the  United States, to find that in the financial panic nearly his  entire fortune had been swept away. The next year the effort  to lay it was made again, and after two or three failures, proved  successful so far that the cable was laid, and imperfect commu nication kept up between the shores of the Atlantic for nearly  a month, when it gave out entirely. Meantime Mr. Field had  received a succession of ovations, one of them so glowing that  it set on fire the cupola and roof the City Hall in New York,  and came very near destroying the whole of the vast building. 

But the sudden news on the 5th of September, 1858, that "the  Atlantic Telegraph was dead," would have killed a man less  sanguine and resolute. Mr. Field, however, went to England repeatedly, and kept the matter in agitation, and under the en couragement of added subsidies from the British Government,  and the promise of guaranties if it should be made to write,  succeeded in getting again under way. A new company was  formed, called the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance  Company, in which Messrs. Glass, Elliot & Co., the manufac turers of the cable, Thomas Brassey and others, were large  stockholders; the Great Eastern secured to lay the cable, and in  the summer of 1865 the effort was made again with a greatly  improved cable. Between twelve and thirteen hundred miles  were laid, not without some slight accidents, when once more  the cable was broken by being fouled under the bow of the  Great Eastern. For nine days the persevering directors and  crew grappled for the lost cable ; three times they brought it  up for a mile or more from the bottom (here two and a half  miles in depth), but each time their apparatus gave way under  the terrible strain, and finally, marking carefully its location  with buoys, they left it. Not yet, however, did the brave Field  give up to despair. Again he crossed the ocean, and after try ing several other plans organized a fourth company, in which  the previous companies became stockholders, with three million  dollars capital, had another cable made, and in the summer  of 1866 it was laid, and has proved a complete success from  that time to the present. More than this; the same expedition  which laid this grappled for, and brought to the surface the end  of the cable of 1865, spliced it, and successfully completed that  also. In 1869, a third cable was laid by a French company,  which has since passed into the hands of the London company,  and although we believe but two of the three are now working  successfully, yet there is very little danger now of a loss of our  communication with Europe by telegraph, especially as one  or two other lines are in progress.

Mr. Field's indefatigable zeal and persistency in thus struggling through thirteen years of discouragement and disaster to  a final triumph, and his courage, which rose higher with each  failure, are worthy of all praise.

With his great enterprize, at last an assured success, and his  outlays so long unproductive, at last yielding their golden  harvest, it would seem that he would have been content to rest  upon his laurels; but we notice that beside taking an interest  in most of the telegraphic cables which connect the great divi sions of the American continent and the adjacent islands, he led  the way a few months' since in an application to Congress for a  charter for a Telegraphic Cable Company to cross the Pacific  from San Francisco to Japan, taking the Sandwich Islands as a  half-way house, and thus solving the problem of the Great Eng lish poet and dramatist of "Putting a girdle round the earth in  forty minutes." We have not yet heard that the company is  fully organized, or the cable in process of manufacture, but just  as sure as Cyrus W. Field has a controlling interest in it, it is  bound to be carried through triumphantly.

Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872 

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