Early depictions of Sand Island describe it as a low, sandy island with little vegetation. When he first arrived in 1903, the Commercial Pacific Cable Company operations manager said that Midway was unfit for human habitation, and then initiated the long process of introducing hundreds of new species of flora and fauna to Midway. Eastern Island appeared to possess more shrub vegetation. During this period, the superintendent imported soil from Honolulu and Guam to make a fresh vegetable garden and decorate the grounds. By 1921, approximately 9,000 tons of imported soil changed the sandy landscape forever. Today, the last living descendants of the Cable Company’s legacy still flutter about: their pet canaries. The cycad palm, Norfolk Island Pine, ironwood, coconut, the deciduous trees, everything seen around the cable compound is alien. Since Midway lacked both trees and herbivorous animals, the ironwood trees spread unchecked throughout the Atoll. What else came in with the soil? Ants, cockroaches, termites, centipedes; millions of insects which never could have made the journey on their own.
The cable, which stretched from San Francisco to Honolulu to Midway to Guam to the Philippines, carried the first round-the-world message from President Theodore Roosevelt on July 4, 1903. He wished “a happy Independence Day to the U.S., its territories and properties.” After only a brief time at Midway, the Cable Station personnel realized that Japanese poachers landed on the atoll frequently to fish and collect bird feathers and eggs. President Teddy Roosevelt sent 21 Marines to stop the wanton destruction of birdlife, and to keep Midway safe as a U.S. possession. The Marines dug a freshwater well and lived in tents near the compound. The four main Cable Company buildings, constructed of steel beams and concrete with twelve-inch thick first-story walls, have fought a tough battle with termites, corrosion, and shifting sands for nearly a century.
Four of five Cable Houses were demolished by USFWS in 2013.
One of five Cable Houses was partially refurbished.