Christmas marks 100th anniversary of first overseas call - to Cuba
KEY WEST, Florida (AP) -- Christmas Day marks the anniversary of the first
international telephone call, which was made 100 years ago between Key West,
Florida, and Havana, Cuba.
The call on December 25, 1900, was an experiment to determine whether the
human voice could be carried over telegraph wires.
John W. Atkins, then manager of the Key West office of the International
Telegraph Company, adjusted the wires and called Havana, the Cuban capital.
"For a long time there was no sound, except the roar heard at night sometimes,
caused by electric light current," Atkins told the Florida Times Union and Citizen,
which reported the historical call in its December 26, 1900, editions.
Atkins continued to call Cuba and finally came back the words, clear and
distinct: "I don't understand you."
With those words, international voice communication began.
According to the newspaper, the Southern Bell Telephone Company had
connected telephone wires with the existing underwater telegraph cable running
between Key West and Havana, said Tom Hambright, director of the Florida
History Room at Key West's public library.
Southern Bell is the predecessor to BellSouth Corp.
The test demonstrated that the technology would work, Hambright said. By
1921, the Miami Metropolis reported it had laid three underwater telephone
cables between Key West and Cuba's capital that "in a fortnight will make it
possible to talk over the telephone from New York to Havana."
The cables, covering approximately 127 miles (204 kms) across the Florida
Straits in waters in some places more than a mile (2 km) deep, were touted as
the longest telephone cables in the world, Hambright said.
The construction was accomplished by the Cuban-American Telephone and
Telegraph Company, a subsidiary of AT&T and the International Telephone and
By 1930, the original cables were insufficient and a new cable was installed
provided the same number of telephone circuits as the three older lines.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.