Lead-covered underground telephone Cable

1880-1955 in unknown place
Lead-covered underground telephone Cable Lead underground telephone cable and 3-way joint, c.1950
      Photographed on a white background.

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Lead-covered underground telephone Cable
Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Musuem

Lead underground telephone cable and 3-way joint, c.1950 Photographed on a white background.
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Lead-sheathed underground telephone cable and 3-way joint, made between 1880-1955 and used in Manchester.

From the late 1880s, manufacturing companies like the Salford-based W T Glover & Co Ltd began to make lead-sheathed telecommunication cables for underground use. Inside these cables, copper wires send communication signals as an electric current. Copper wires were used for telegraph communications, telephone communications, and from the late twentieth century, the internet. The copper wires in this cable are electrically insulated from each other by paper. Lead was a good material to use to protect the copper wires that transmitted the signal, as it kept moisture out and was relatively chemically resistant, was malleable and could be opened and then soldered closed when carrying out repairs.

Following the invention of the telephone in 1875, the first telephone exchanges in Manchester were opened by the private company, Edison Telephone Company of London Limited in 1879. The Edison company showed that the existing cable infrastructure used for telegraph communications could also be used for telephone communications. However, this cable infrastructure had been owned by State-ran Post Office since 1870 and the Post Office also owned the rights to transmit messages. From the 1880s onwards, private companies competed with the Post Office to provide the UK’s telecommunications services, but by 1912 the Post Office was the monopoly supplier of telecommunications in almost all the UK. British Telecom became a separate corporation from the Post Office in 1977. British Telecom was privatised in 1982 and became known as BT in 1991. In 2003, BT donated some of its collection of historical communication artefacts, including this lead telephone cable, to the Science and Industry Museum as part of the BT Connected Earth project.


Object Number:
copper (metal), lead (metal) and paper (fibre product)
overall: 60 mm x 740 mm x 80 mm,
telephone cable
Gift of British Telecommunications plc