Western Union

EARLY HISTORY (1851-1869)

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Western Union was founded in 1851 by Hiram Sibley and Ezra Cornell as the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company.

Sibley, a prominent businessman from Rochester, New York, saw the potential in the emerging telegraph industry and partnered with Cornell, a telegraph entrepreneur and later founder of Cornell University.

Together, they aimed to create a unified telegraph network across the United States by acquiring and consolidating smaller regional telegraph companies.

Name Change & Telegraph Expansion

In 1856, the company changed its name to the Western Union Telegraph Company after acquiring several other telegraph companies.

The First Transcontinental Telegraph

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The completion of the first transcontinental telegraph line by Western Union in 1861 was a monumental achievement that revolutionized communication in the United States.

The line, which stretched from the East Coast to the West Coast, allowed for near-instant transmission of messages across the country, a feat that previously took weeks or even months by mail.

This rapid communication played a crucial role during the American Civil War, enabling military leaders, government officials, and journalists to exchange information quickly between the eastern and western states.

The Stock Ticker

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The introduction of the first stock ticker by Western Union in 1869 marked a significant milestone in the history of financial markets.

Invented by Edward A. Calahan, an employee of the company, the stock ticker was a telegraph machine that printed stock quotes on a paper strip, providing investors with near-real-time information about stock prices.

This groundbreaking technology revolutionized the way stock market information was disseminated, making it more accessible and timely for investors, and paving the way for the development of modern financial markets and trading practices.


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Metal Money

Source: Western Union

Western Union's introduction of the first consumer charge card, called "Metal Money," in 1914 was a pioneering move in the history of consumer credit.

The Metal Money card was a metal plate that allowed customers to defer payment for services at Western Union offices, making it easier for people to send money or messages even if they didn't have cash on hand.

This innovative concept laid the foundation for the development of modern credit cards.

Singing Telegrams

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In 1933, during the Great Depression, Western Union introduced singing telegrams as a way to add a touch of cheer and novelty to their telegram service.

The idea was conceived by George P. Oslin, a Western Union public relations executive, who believed that sending messages with a musical twist could lift people's spirits during difficult times.

Singing telegrams were delivered by live performers, often in costume, who would sing the message to the recipient, accompanied by a small gift or prop.

This creative service became popular for special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.


During World War II, Western Union delivered over 78 million telegrams for American soldiers.

First Commercial Satellite

In 1964, Western Union achieved a major milestone in the history of telecommunications by launching the first commercial satellite, called Westar 1.

Developed in collaboration with NASA and the Hughes Aircraft Company, Westar 1 was designed to provide telecommunications and broadcasting services to businesses and government agencies across the United States.

The successful launch and operation of this satellite marked the beginning of a new era in global communication.

First Prepaid Phone Card

The company introduced the first prepaid, disposable phone card in 1993.


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Last Telegram

In 2006, Western Union made the difficult decision to discontinue its iconic telegram service after 155 years of operation, marking the end of an era in communication history.

The company's decision was driven by the rapid adoption of email, text messaging, and other modern communication technologies, which had largely rendered the telegram obsolete.

As more people turned to these faster, more convenient, and less expensive alternatives, the demand for telegrams had declined steadily over the years, making it no longer economically viable for Western Union to maintain the service.

Modern Day Money Transfer Services

Today, Western Union is primarily known for its money transfer services, with over 500,000 agent locations in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.

289 Million Transactions

In 2020, Western Union completed more than 289 million consumer-to-consumer transactions worldwide, moving over $85 billion in principal between consumers.