This article analyses how journalists and businessmen used and perceived the Atlantic cable following the failure of New York banking house Jay Cooke & Co. in September 1873, an event which sparked stock markets panics in Vienna and Berlin. It is argued that while bankers successfully used telegraphic cables to communicate intelligence such as price information, letters proved superior as a medium for establishing personal trust, as the case of New York banker George Opdyke shows. Journalists, too, were critical of the telegraph’s performance, blaming the paucity of information available on the technology’s supposedly inherent deficiencies. This criticism, it is argued, was ultimately based on the ‘imagined reception’ of cables by their senders, as well as on the persistence of earlier imagined uses of telegraphy. These, I argue, continued to inform contemporary expectations of telegraphy’s performance.