The first submarine telegraph cable, laid by the brothers Jacob and John Watkins Brett between England and France in August 1850, was of simple construction - a copper conductor with gutta percha insulation and no armoring. It worked for only a day, then broke from chafing on rocks; another version says that the cable was hooked by a fisherman and destroyed, It quickly became apparent that cables needed to be armored to withstand not only the stresses of being laid and the risks of being damaged by fishing vessels, but also the predations of aquatic life.
The first wire ropes were made with iron wire, using the same manufacturing methods as for hemp rope. By 1834 wire ropes developed by the German engineer Wilhelm Albert were being used in the mines in Germany's Upper Harz district, and it was estimated that the additional manufacturing cost was more than covered by the much longer life of the wire rope over traditional hemp ropes. The new technology spread rapidly to Britain, and by the late 1830s there were a number of companies making wire rope.
In 1837 Lewis Gordon, formerly an assistant to Brunel during the construction of the Thames Tunnel, made a career change to practical mining, and entered the Freiburg School of Mines in Germany, and then the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. In 1838 he visited the mines at Clausthal in the Harz mountains, and met Wilhelm Albert. Impressed by what he saw, he wrote to his friend R.S. Newall in Britain on June 20th, 1838, urging him to "Invent a machine for making (wire ropes)".
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