Would you risk your savings and your reputation on a venture you really believe in? That’s what Cyrus Field did when he tried to create the Internet of his time.
In 1854, 34 year old Field had made a fortune as a paper wholesaler, when his brother introduced him to a telegraph company owner who proposed connecting Newfoundland and Nova Scotia by telegraph.
But Field was struck by a far greater idea; connect Nova Scotia with Ireland, which would connect North America with Europe. This would revolutionize communications. For the first time in history, communication between North America and Europe would be instant rather than the two weeks it took a letter to arrive by ship.
Business and even international diplomacy could be conducted on a scale never before imagined and Field envisioned people on both sides of the Atlantic paying handsomely to do so.
But to connect the continents by cable seemed impossible.
It would take 2,500 miles of cable laid on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Cable was primitive and unreliable and it would need the biggest ships in existence to carry this massive amount of cable. It was a crazy idea.
But not to Field, who had no background in telegraphs, cables or oceanography. To him it was a great challenge. He invested his money and convinced his friends to invest theirs too. Phase one was to connect Newfoundland with Nova Scotia but it took a year longer than planned and used up all the funds.
Undeterred, he went to England and persuaded the British government to invest and got a similar commitment from the U.S. government and raised still more investor funds. He was now ready to go.
In 1857, his first expedition failed when the newly developed cable broke at sea. In June, 1858, his next expedition ended when a violent storm sank one of the ships laying cable. The situation was becoming desperate but he continued to raise money and assure investors.
Under heavy pressure, he launched his third expedition in July, 1858. He later said, “When I thought of all that we had passed through, of the hopes thus far disappointed, of the friends saddened by our reverses….I felt a load at my heart almost too heavy to bear.” (PBS Website, 6/17/05)
Then at long last came what appeared to be an incredible breakthrough. His ships succeeded! When Queen Victoria cabled President James Buchanan, the world celebrated and Field was an international hero. There were huge festivities with fireworks shows and banquets in his honor.
But soon the transmission began to intermittently fail and then after 23 days, it fell silent. Field came under fire as authorities and newspapers questioned whether this whole thing had been a colossal swindle and he a scam artist.
After extensive investigation, the problem turned out to be faulty cable. Unfortunately, the cable could not be repaired and all of the funds were lost.
Field refused to quit and somehow managed to raise money again. His next try was delayed by the U.S. Civil War but in July, 1865, he launched an expedition using state of the art cable and the biggest ship of his day.
But just 600 miles short of his journey, the expedition failed yet again. As a devout believer, he assured everyone that next summer, they would succeed. That next year, after all the failures, devastating financial losses, humiliation and heartache, success was his.
This revolutionary breakthrough brought vast wealth to Field and his investors and he finally got the respect and admiration his courage and persistence had earned. Even today, despite all the technological breakthroughs since 1866 transatlantic cable still carries extensive communications between the U.S. and Europe.
Success Tip of the Week: Field is an excellent example of the persuasive powers of enthusiasm and persistence. If you have what you believe is a great idea, do your homework to be sure it is and then put your heart and your resources behind it. Like Field, you just might change the world.
In the next KazanToday, The incredible story of a gardener with a grade school education who became an outstanding, self-taught surgeon.