Coax cables are capable of transmitting radio frequency (RF) signals and have served as the backbone of communications technology for decades. From radios to telephones to televisions to computers, coax cable has seen continued use even as the technology it supports continues to evolve. Stretching back over 100 years, the origins of coax cables begin towards the end of the 19th century.

Coax cable

Oliver Heaviside, the grandfather of modern coax cable

1880: The original coax cable was created by English inventor Oliver Heaviside. Heaviside studied telegraph lines and discovered wrapping the lines with insulation reduced signal loss and made cables more durable. With this discovery, he created and patented the world’s first coax cable.

1884: A second coax cable is patented in Germany by the electrical engineering company Siemens & Halske (later merged with the company Siemens).

1894: Nikola Tesla files the first American patent on electrical conductors, which later become a key component in the birth of the modern coax cable.

1916: Lloyd Espenschied and Herman Affel, electrical engineers working for AT&T’s Bell Telephone Laboratories, invent the first coaxial cable to support America’s growing telephone industry and pave the way for the invention of television.

1929: Espenschied and Affel file a patent for the coax cable in the United States.

1931: Espenschied and Affel’s patent is granted.

1934: The coax cable is publicly disclosed in the October 1934 issue of AIEE’s Electrical Engineering.

1936: The first television images are transmitted over coax from the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin to Leipzig, roughly 118 miles away.

1936: The first underwater coax cable is installed between Apollo Bay, Melbourne and Stanley, Tasmania in Australia. The 300 kilometer (186.4 miles) cable was able to transmit signals for seven telephone channels.

1936: AT&T experiments with coax cable, running telephone and television cable between New York and Philadelphia (94.6 miles). The successful experiment was capable of supporting 240 simultaneously phone calls.

1936: General Post Office (now British Telecom) runs coax cable supporting 40 telephone channels between London and Birmingham, roughly 122 miles.

1941: AT&T puts coax cable into commercial use, running a line between Minneapolis and Stevens Point, Wisconsin, roughly 210 miles. This improved coax could support 480 phone calls or one television channel.

1956: TAT-1, the first transatlantic coaxial cable carrying 36 telephone channels, is completed. The cable was over 4,500 miles long and parts of it were submerged 2.5 miles below the ocean’s surface. TAT-1 later carried the Washington-Moscow hotline during the Cold War.

1972: Herman Affel passes away at 79 years old.

1978: TAT-1 is retired, with subsequent transatlantic cables retaining the “TAT” name in its honor.

1986: Lloyd Espenschied passes away at 97 years old.

2006: TAT-1 is named an IEEE Milestone, a list of historical achievements related to electrical and electronic engineering.

2006: Espenschied and Affel are inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame.