Hawaii Fact 27 of 50: Pacific Cable Speeds Communication To/From Hawaii

Did you know that until New Year’s Day on 1903, it took a week for news to travel between Hawaii and the US mainland? Today we can instantly read and hear news with mobile phone,  the Internet, and television. At the turn of the 20th century, news traveled by steamship. Can you imagine that?

The idea of a quicker communication method between Hawaii and the US mainland was enthusiastically welcomed. An archived article from the New York Times reported that, “[T]he cable was hauled up on the soil of picturesque San Souci Park amid the shouts of thousands and the crash of a band of music playing a cable march dedicated to President Mackay.” (Note Mackay was the president of the company hired to lay the cable.)

The Commercial Pacific Cable Company laid cable in the ocean that spanned more than 2000 miles from San Francisco to Honolulu. On January 1, 1903 at approximately 8:40pm Hawaii time, the first telegraphed message flashed from San Francisco to Honolulu.

I wasn’t able to find details on the message transmission time between Hawaii and the US mainland. I’d imagine it took a couple of minutes. I base my estimate on this information from Wikipedia:

Later that year, cables were laid from Honolulu to Midway, then from Midway to Guam, and then from Guam to Manila. The cables carried the first message to ever travel around the globe from U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt on July 4, 1903. He wished “a happy Independence Day to the U.S., its territories and properties . . .” It took nine minutes for the message to travel worldwide.


Though we don’t know how long it took that first message to transmit, we do know that communication time was drastically reduced from a week to minutes.


For some additional information on this historic moment, I found this article to be very interesting. Note that some of the dates seem to be off by a couple of weeks.

  1. Nice find, the techie in me thinks these numbers are pretty neat.

    Amazing what $12 million could do back then.

  2. @ Andy – I can’t imagine going back to dial-up again. That was so sloooooow. We’re spoiled, aren’t we.

    @ Kris – I had fun researching this fact. After reading your comment, I started wondering what today’s equivalent of 1903’s $12million would be. Here’s the result: $302,888,159.44 That’s a lot of money!

  3. Electrical Signals travel on copper wires at 2/3 the speed of light. So the time from contact in Hawaii to the mainland was probably only a couple of seconds. The delay was getting the message relayed from one telegrapher to others.

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