Founded in 1851, Western Union has been around for over a century. From its early days as a telegraph company to its acquisition of several other telegraph companies, Western Union’s history is a tale of telegraphy and money transfers. It’s been a dependable provider of money transfers, helping people send money around the world. In addition, Western Union has helped develop many technologies that are used today.
Western Union, originally named the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company, was founded by Hiram Sibley and Ezra Cornell. The company opened its first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861. Later, Western Union bought out several other telegraph companies, including the Postal Telegraph Inc. and the Erie and Michigan Telegraph Company. Western Union also acquired the American Telegraph Company.
In the late 19th century, Western Union became a major player in the telegraphy industry. The company was also involved in the creation of the Treaty of Six Nations, which created a shared network of main lines between the United States, Canada and Europe. The company operated two undersea cables by 1900. Western Union also began to offer electronic money transfers.
The company’s first digital services were introduced in 1958, including the Telex service. In the 1970s, Western Union also introduced an automated clearing house. These facilities also provided proof of concept for packet switching. This technology was later used to create the Internet.
Western Union was also a major participant in the satellite communications industry. The company’s fleet of satellites, called Westar, carried Western Union communications. In addition, the company’s Westar transponders relayed video and other forms of communications.
Throughout its history, Western Union has faced growing competition from other telegraphy companies. It also attempted to launch a rival telephony system. It lost a patent lawsuit to Alexander Graham Bell in 1879. However, the company continued to acquire other telegraph companies, including the United States Telegraph Company, which was founded by Jay Gould in 1875.
In the 1980s, Western Union began reorganizing its balance sheet. It acquired 500 smaller competitors and diversified its operations. In the early 1990s, Western Union started to offer money transfers online. This led to the company’s transition from an asset-based to a consumer-based money transfer company.
In 1990, Western Union was in the process of negotiating debt restructuring. By 1991, the company had changed its name to the New Valley Corporation. The company subsequently sold the company to First Financial Management Corporation for $1.2 billion. In 1993, Western Union filed for bankruptcy protection. The company’s balance sheet was overleveraged. However, the company remained profitable and continued to grow. In 2011, Western Union was one of the biggest money transfer providers in the industry. In 2014, Western Union expected to see $500+ million in Digital revenue.
By the end of 2010, Western Union had over 50,000 agent locations around the world, including in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Australia. In addition, Western Union offers an extensive selection of money transfer services to help consumers send money to friends, family, and businesses all over the world.