A Look at Western Union History

western union history

Western Union is a colossal corporation with millions of miles of telegraph lines, two international undersea cable systems, and thousands of offices in 200 countries and territories. In addition to sending and receiving money, it offers bill payments and reloadable prepaid cards. Its business grew out of the American frontier and has always sought to profit from people on the move. It has become an iconic company, and its history illuminates important issues ranging from monopoly to labor-capital relations.

In the early days of its existence, Western Union showed itself to be an innovative firm. It completed the first transcontinental telegraph line, allowing for coast-to-coast communications during a four-year period of intense and bloody civil war. This was just the beginning of a long list of groundbreaking advances that can be attributed to the company.

Throughout its corporate life, Western Union encountered financial challenges. Several times it had to file for bankruptcy protection, and its balance sheet was frequently pocked by bad debts. Despite this, the company continued to grow its money transfer business and develop new innovations.

The company was founded in 1851 as the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company, by Ezra Cornell, Hiram Sibley, and Samuel Selden. The company’s initial goal was to build a telegraph line from Buffalo, New York, to St. Louis, Missouri. After this line was built, the company decided to acquire all telegraph companies west of Buffalo and unite them into one system.

By the end of World War II, telegraph lines were being eclipsed by the growing popularity of telephones. As a result, the long-distance market share of Western Union and its industry competitors was shrinking rapidly. The company made efforts to diversify its business, including developing a desk-model teleprinter that allowed consumers to send messages to others in their own homes rather than having to send them to the main office. The development of this device also signaled the decline in the use of uniformed messengers to transmit telegrams.

In 2015 Constantine Varvias, the global head of Western Union’s loyalty program and a former banker, noticed something unusual. He received calls from aid groups and governments in the Greek island of Lesbos, where refugees were escaping Syria’s brutal civil war. They were asking where to receive their money transfers, and Varvias knew that his company’s more than 1,000 counters worldwide could help.

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