Clarence Mackay connected the World

Clarence Mackay

Clarence Mackay (1874-1938)

On April 17, 1874, American financier Clarence Hungerford Mackay was born. Mackay was chairman of the board of the Postal Telegraph and Cable Corporation and president of the Mackay Radio and Telegraph Company. He supervised the completion of the first transpacific cable between the United States and the Far East in 1904. He laid a cable between New York and Cuba in 1907 and later established cable communication with southern Europe via the Azores and with northern Europe via Ireland.

Clarence Mackay was the son of the successful silver miner and telegraph mogul, John William Mackay. Starting out with selling newspapers, John continued working at a shipyard and later formed a mining corporation managing to discover the single largest lode of silver ore in the world, to be known as the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada. The family, now quite wealthy, then lived between Paris and New York, where they brought up this daughter and their two sons, John and Clarence.

In 1884, John Mackay formed the Commercial Cable Company along with James Gordon Bennett, Jr., probably in order to compete against the Western Union Telegraph Company. Mackay further formed the Postal Telegraph Company as a domestic wire telegraph company so that Commercial would not need to rely on Western Union to collect and distribute telegraphic messages. After conquering the Atlantic with the Commercial Cable Company and the vast land mass of North America with the Postal Telegraph Company he turned his sights on laying the first cable across the Pacific. Mackay formed the Commercial Pacific Cable Company in secret partnership with the Great Northern Telegraph Company and the Eastern Telegraph Company and although he died in 1902 before this part of his vision was completed, Clarence Mackay saw the project through to completion between 1904 and 1906. Commercial Pacific operated a cable line from San Francisco to Manila, Philippines, via Hawaii and Guam, with a subsequent spur that went from Manila to Shanghai, China.

Eastern Telegraph Company network in 1901. Dotted lines across the Pacific indicate then-planned cables laid in 1902–03.

Eastern Telegraph Company network in 1901. Dotted lines across the Pacific indicate then-planned cables laid in 1902–03.

When Clarence Mackay took over the leadership of the company, he further acquired the Federal Telegraph Company, its radio stations and research laboratories. Around 1928, the system was bought out by Sosthenes Behn’s International Telephone and Telegraph. Unfortunately, Mackay’s profit was wiped out by the 1929 stock market crash.[4] He survived the Great Depression by selling his art and antiques. ITT organized the Postal Telegraph & Cable Corporation as a shell to acquire and control the Mackay System. In 1943, Congress authorized an amendment to the Communications Act of 1934 permitting the merger of the domestic operations of telegraph companies, which allowed for Western Union to acquire Postal Telegraph. The international communications parts of the Mackay system remained with ITT.

Clarence Mackay died of cancer on November 12, 1938, at age 64.

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