Cyrus West Field, 1819-1892

Mathew Brady Studio
Imperial salted-paper print, 1858
National Portrait Gallery
Smithsonian Institution,
Washington, DC


Cyrus Field began work at age fifteen, as an office boy for A. T. Stewart & Co., New York City's first department store. By age twenty, he was a partner in a paper manufacturing company, and before he was forty, he retired from business a wealthy man. In 1854 Field began the quest to lay a telegraphic cable across the Atlantic Ocean. After several failed attempts, in August 1858 Field arranged for Queen Victoria to send the first transatlantic message to President James Buchanan, and New York erupted in celebrations, lauding Field, telegraph inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, modern technology, and American ingenuity in general. But the cable broke after just three weeks, and Field did not complete his project until 1866.

Field posed for this portrait in 1858, and in an unusual departure, Brady added two telling props--a length of wire cable and a globe.



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