Nevada Appeal at 150: July 10, 1927: How Lindbergh’s photograph was sent over Atlantic cable

While New York still thrilled with first news that Col. Charles Lindbergh and the “Spirit of St. Louis” had reached Paris, a motorcycle messenger sped from the Western Union Cable Office at 40 Broad St., New York City, to the office of the Pacific Atlantic Photos, Inc., with a small package. The package contained a roll of paper tape, some 350 feet long, five-eighths of an inch wide, and perforated crosswise with a multitude of tiny holes.

Less than an hour later, newspapers were on the streets with actual photographs of Lindbergh and his plane landing in Le Bourget Aviation Field outside Paris.

During the days that followed other cabled photographs were published — pictures of Lindbergh receiving plaudits of enthusiastic thousands in Paris, Brussels and London, and still later there were views of Chamberlain and Levine in Berlin. Pictures of Lindbergh receptions in Washington and New York appeared in European newspapers only a few hours after the pictures were taken.

These pictures were actual photographs transmitted over the Atlantic cables by the Bartlane method. It consists essentially of the conversion of an ordinary photograph into a five-unit telegraph tape, and the reproduction of the photograph from the tape after the tape signals have been transmitted telegraphically.

First, the photograph is printed on metal sheets in such a manner as to give tone differentiation. This is obtained by making five prints of varying density from the same negative. These prints consist of conducting and insulating portions according to the lights and shades of the original photograph.

The metal prints are next placed on a series of rotating cylinders, each of which has a needle in electrical contact, much as the needle is in friction contact with the record of a cylinder-type phonograph. The needles are connected electrically with a tape perforator such as is used in automatic telegraphy, and the perforations made in this tape as the cylinders rotate constitute a record of the picture.

The tape is then delivered to the Western Union, and is transmitted exactly as if it were an ordinary cable message over the high speed Permalloy type cables recently laid in the Atlantic. The signals are received at the distant end of the cable in the form of a perforated tape, identical with the original sending tape. The received tape is taken to the Bartlane machine and run through the reproduction apparatus.

A high-powered light is projected through the holes of the moving tape so that it registers upon a photographic film, and the picture is built up on the film in accordance with the record of the tape. The time required to transmit a photograph is about 35 minutes, and the cost is in the neighborhood of $100.

The Bartlane system is susceptible of use on land lines as well as Permalloy cables, and is in operation between New York, Chicago, Washington and other large cities.

This continues the Appeal’s review of news stories and headlines during its Sesquicentennial year.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment