Telegraph Siphon Recorder by Muirhead
Telegraph Siphon Recorder by Muirhead & Co. Ltd. from the Ballingskelligs cable station in the Irish Republic. This station was opened in 1873 only nine years after the epic voyage of the Great Eastern which laid the first successful submarine cable across the Atlantic.
The Siphon Recorder was invented by Lord Kelvin in 1867 for use with the new trans-Atlantic telegraph cable laid successfully at the third attempt in 1865. Due to the length of the cable- 4,000 + miles - there was an immediate requirement for an instrument of unparalleled sensitivity and Lord Kelvin devised the Siphon Recorder to satisfy this need. As sensitive as the mirror galvanometer it had the advantage of also creating a permanent record of the received signal. The recorder translated the incoming signal into a series of squiggles on a paper ribbon. These were then interpreted by a telegraph clerk.
Syphon recorders were highly complex and expensive and were only used on long distances where the usual equipment was insufficient, in consequence they were never common and most surviving examples are in museums. The example on offer is one of the first and probably dates from the 1870s. After the Ballinskelligs cable station was closed was presented to a local museum by the Western Union International Inc. in 1966. A plaque on the recorder records this. The land on which the museum was located was subsequently sold and the museums contents were disposed.
This instrument is missing the recording drum which would have been mounted on pillars on the top of the instrument. (The round bases of the four pillars can be seen on both sides of the instrument - see images), the arm which fits into the bracket on the side for holding the reel of paper tape and two small pieces of wood molding are missing from each side of the drawer in the base. The coil suspension is broken at the top but could be fixed without much difficulty, otherwise it appears to be complete. 13" x 16" x 17"high
By 1900 there were fifteen cables across the Atlantic, and a few years later Australia and New Zealand were joined to Asia and North America. For the history of the first Atlantic cables and more details on the Siphon Recorder go to http://www.goonhilly.bt.com
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