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Western Union completes the first transcontinental telegraph line

Western Union completes the first transcontinental telegraph line


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On October 24, 1861, workers of the Western Union Telegraph Company link the eastern and western telegraph networks of the nation at Salt Lake City, Utah, completing a transcontinental line that for the first time allows instantaneous communication between Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Stephen J. Field, chief justice of California, sent the first transcontinental telegram to President Abraham Lincoln, predicting that the new communication link would help ensure the loyalty of the western states to the Union during the Civil War.

READ MORE: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Help Win the Civil War

The push to create a transcontinental telegraph line had begun only a little more than year before when Congress authorized a subsidy of $40,000 a year to any company building a telegraph line that would join the eastern and western networks. The Western Union Telegraph Company, as its name suggests, took up the challenge, and the company immediately began work on the critical link that would span the territory between the western edge of Missouri and Salt Lake City.

The obstacles to building the line over the sparsely populated and isolated western plains and mountains were huge. Wire and glass insulators had to be shipped by sea to San Francisco and carried eastward by horse-drawn wagons over the Sierra Nevada. Supplying the thousands of telegraph poles needed was an equally daunting challenge in the largely treeless Plains country, and these too had to be shipped from the western mountains. Indians also proved a problem. In the summer of 1861, a party of Sioux warriors cut part of the line that had been completed and took a long section of wire for making bracelets. Later, however, some of the Sioux wearing the telegraph-wire bracelets became sick, and a Sioux medicine man convinced them that the great spirit of the “talking wire” had avenged its desecration. Thereafter, the Sioux left the line alone, and the Western Union was able to connect the East and West Coasts of the nation much earlier than anyone had expected and a full eight years before the transcontinental railroad would be completed.


Western Union

The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company, now Western Union, began as a financial services and communications company in 1851. The firm expanded by buying out a number of competitive companies. In 1856, the company changed its name to Western Union Telegraph Company in anticipation of its ability to send telegraphs from the east coast to the west coast. The company completed its first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861, then went on to offer a variety of money- and time-related services to the public. In 1884, the company was one of the first 11 to list on the Dow Jones Transportation Average in the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The Western Union company merged with the First Data Corporation in 1995, but the firm still uses the name Western Union for its financial assistance services. Recently it got involved with satellite communications and for a short time, cellular phones.

With the 1937 Samuel F.B. Morse invention of the telegraph already delivered to the world, a new company was on its way to transforming the world of communications forever.

When the new The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company began operation, it was one of 50 that crisscrossed the northeastern states. There was no interconnection of lines. Messages were transferred by hand from one company to another, and rates were as high as $20 for a telegram (big money in those days).

The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company set out to establish a unified, efficient service and carry it nationwide. During its first five years, the company acquired 11 other lines operating in five states north of the Ohio River and joined its eastern network with a telegraph line running as far west as St. Joseph, Missouri.

On April 8, 1856, the name of the company was changed to The Western Union Telegraph Company, signifying the union of "western" lines into one system. Spanning coast to coast

With the outbreak of the Civil War, swift communication with the far West became essential. The only rapid communication beyond the Missouri River was by the Pony Express, which took 10 days to carry telegrams and mail from St. Joseph to Sacramento, California. Although a telegraph line was needed, it seemed impossible to string a 2,000-mile line across the plains and over the rugged Rockies. Other telegraph companies refused to join in the undertaking, and even President Abraham Lincoln told Hiram Siley, Western Union’s president, "I think it is a wild scheme. It will be next to impossible to get your poles and materials distributed on the plains, and as fast as you complete the line, the Indians will cut it down."

The first poles were set up on July 4, 1861, and day after day, following heavy supply wagons and herds of cattle, each team of builders stretched the line 10 or 12 miles farther across the nation.

The strands of iron wire, uniting the nation in rapid communication for the first time, were joined at Salt Lake City on October 24, 1861, only 112 days after the project was begun. Two days later, the U.S. government stopped using the Pony Express service and turned to the "lightning lines" to speed messages across the continent.

Gradually, Western Union absorbed more than 500 telegraph companies throughout the nation, growing so much by 1884 that it was included in the original 11 stocks tracked in the first Dow-Jones Average. As the company expanded, it developed ingenious new services to keep pace with the changing needs of the American public.

A newer Western Union

During a new time of communications, Western Union began to enter the global marketplace. Since 1982, with help from the Competition Act (1981), the company has extended services directly to more than 100 countries — primarily offering its instantaneous Money Transfer service.

With such inventions as the singing telegram, the first inter-city facsimile, Dinero en Minutos*, the first pre-paid phone card, and becoming the first company to have five satellites in orbit, Western Union will continue to provide services to the nation and the world.

*Making funds sent to Mexico from the U.S. available in just minutes.


Contents

On June 16, 1860 the 36th United States Congress had passed the Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860, allowing the federal government to facilitate and seek bids on the construction of a telegraph line connecting the Eastern United States with the country's West. This act resulted in the First Transcontinental Telegraph, which was completed October 24, 1861 when a line from the East and a line from the West met in a telegraph office in Salt Lake City, Utah. [2]

Utah's Mormon settlers—members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or LDS Church—had supplied labor, food, and transportation for the line, along with poles for about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of its length. Church President Brigham Young served as contractor for supplying the materials and labor, bring $11,000 in gold to the LDS Church ($316,841 in today's terms). [3] [4] Completion of the transcontinental line raised the question of constructing another line to connect the numerous Mormon settlements in the Utah Territory. In February 1861, Brigham Young expressed his desire for a local territorial line, and a telegraphy school was established in Salt Lake City. Yet construction on the line was not started until 1865, due mainly to complications caused by the American Civil War. [5]

On November 9, 1865 a letter was published by the Deseret News from LDS Church Headquarters to the various leaders in settlements up and down the territory. The letter included instructions that each settlement would be responsible for constructing the segment of the line near their community, and laid out steps that needed to be completed immediately. Money or other means were collected to purchase the wires, insulators, and other equipment, while poles—22 feet long, and as straight as possible—were to be cut and placed by the settlers. [6] [7] [8] The co-operative efforts of the line's construction made it the first publicly constructed and owned telegraph line in the United States.

By the fall of 1866 all the poles had been set, and wire was being strung out from Salt Lake City resulting in communities close to the Salt Lake Valley being connected to the system sooner than more distant settlements. On December 1, 1866 the line was completed from Salt Lake City to Ogden, Utah and Brigham Young sent the first message across the Deseret line to other Church leaders in Ogden. [9] [10] On January 15, 1867 the line was completed between its northern terminus in Logan and southern terminus in St. George. [11] Later the line was extended north to Paris, Idaho, and south to Pipe Springs, Arizona, with extensions into the Sanpete and Sevier Valleys, Tooele, Gunnison, Kanab, and several mining districts, such as Tintic and Frisco in Utah, along with Bullionville and Panaca in Nevada. [12]

The Utah Territorial Assembly incorporated the Deseret Telegraph Company on January 18, 1867 to direct operation of the Deseret line. The company had issued 5,000 shares of stock, with the vast majority held by the LDS Church (the Church President would also serve as president of the telegraph company). [13]

Because of the unique co-operative ownership of the company, rates were set much differently than other contemporary telegraph companies. Only for messages between Ogden and Salt Lake City was a per-word-per-mile rate charged (the common rate system for telegraphy). Most communities paid a monthly sum, and could receive so many words per month depending on the amount paid. Most territorial and Church communications were sent free of charge, as was local personal and community correspondence. [14] As a result, very rarely was the company able to make a profit, running in the red numerous times (LDS Church tithes were often used to make up the difference). [10] [15]

Passage of the Edmunds–Tucker Act in 1887 led to the United States government confiscating the company in 1888. In 1894 ownership of the company was returned to the LDS Church. [16]

On February 20, 1900 the Western Union Telegraph Company (who had built the first transcontinental telegraph line) purchased the assets of the Deseret Telegraph Company from the LDS Church for $10,000 ($311,080 in today's terms) with the remainder of the stockholders receiving $2.00 per share ($62 in today's terms). [3] [9] [17] The line was turned over on April 4, 1900 and its operations absorbed into the Western Union company. [18] [19]


The first transcontinental telegraph line

Oct. 24 in 1861, workers of the Western Union Telegraph Company link the eastern and western telegraph networks of the nation at Salt Lake City, Utah, completing a transcontinental line that for the first time allows instantaneous communication between Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Stephen J. Field, chief justice of California, sent the first transcontinental telegram to President Abraham Lincoln, predicting that the new communication link would help ensure the loyalty of the western states to the Union during the Civil War.

The push to create a transcontinental telegraph line had begun only a little more than year before when Congress authorized a subsidy of $40,000 a year to any company building a telegraph line that would join the eastern and western networks. The Western Union Telegraph Company, as its name suggests, took up the challenge, and the company immediately began work on the critical link that would span the territory between the western edge of Missouri and Salt Lake City.

The obstacles to building the line over the sparsely populated and isolated western plains and mountains were huge. Wire and glass insulators had to be shipped by sea to San Francisco and carried eastward by horse-drawn wagons over the Sierra Nevada. Supplying the thousands of telegraph poles needed was an equally daunting challenge in the largely treeless Plains country, and these too had to be shipped from the western mountains. Indians also proved a problem. In the summer of 1861, a party of Sioux warriors cut part of the line that had been completed and took a long section of wire for making bracelets. Later, however, some of the Sioux wearing the telegraph-wire bracelets became sick, and a Sioux medicine man convinced them that the great spirit of the “talking wire” had avenged its desecration. Thereafter, the Sioux left the line alone, and the Western Union was able to connect the East and West Coasts of the nation much earlier than anyone had expected and a full eight years before the transcontinental railroad would be completed.

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Transcontinental Telegraph Line (U.S.)

The first transcontinental telegraph line was built in 1861 by the Western Union Telegraph Company. The line extended from Omaha, Nebraska to Carson City, Nevada and was the first high-speed link between California and the rest of the United States. It reached the West Coast eight years in advance of the transcontinental railroad. The original line was operated until May 1869 when the transcontinental railroad was completed and the telegraph lines were then moved to follow its route. The 1861 Transcontinental Telegraph is an IEEE Milestone

The telegraph, invented by Samuel Morse in the 1830s, was a major advance in the speed of communications. Before its invention, the time it took to send a message depended on the speed of horses or ships. For instance, it took 45 days to send a message from New York to San Francisco by ship, and over 20 days to send a message by overland stagecoach from St. Louis to San Francisco. The famous Pony Express took 11 days from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.

Just before the start of the Civil War, Congress offered a subsidy to any company agreeing to build the transcontinental telegraph.

The project was so risky that government support was necessary to convince investors to undertake it. On 20 September 1860, Hiram Sibley, president of Western Union, submitted a bid for $40,000 to build the line. Building began in Salt Lake City, Utah and moved both east and west. The Pony Express continued to cover the missing links as construction proceeded. The wire used was galvanized iron “of the best quality.” Insulators were an iron holder embedded in glass which in turn were enclosed in wooded forms. Poles were to be found “en route” (not so easily accomplished on the treeless plain). Western end materials were shipped around the Cape Horn to San Francisco. A wet cell provided 50 volts of power over a distance of 800 km (497 miles), which was unusually long because of low leakage due to low humidity.

The line was finished in October, 1861, just a few months after the onset of the Civil War. On 24 October, Stephen J. Field, Chief Justice of California and brother of Atlantic cable promoter Cyrus Field, sent a message to Abraham Lincoln assuring him of California’s loyalty to the Union and promising that the telegraph line would “be the means of strengthening the attachment which binds both the East and the West to the Union.” Like the advent of many technologies, the age of the telegraph signaled the demise of previous methods of communication. Once the telegraph connected the United States the famed and legendary Pony Express discontinued service.


The First Transcontinental Telegram Was Sent to DC 155 Years Ago

In the first half of the 19th century, Samuel F.B. Morse’s telegraph began to tame America’s vast distances, allowing people to communicate instantly as long as they were in the same geographic area. It wasn’t until 1861, however, that people on different coasts would be able to connect via telegram.

The first transcontinental telegraph system was completed on October 24, 1861, by the Western Union Telegraph Company, which linked the telegraph networks of the East and West in Salt Lake City. Stephen J. Field, the Chief Justice of California, sent the first cross-country message on the new line on October 25, 1861. It was addressed to President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, DC.

In his message, Field told Lincoln he thought the new link would would help the Western states stay loyal to the Union during the Civil War.

In the temporary absence of the Governor of the State I am requested to send you the first message which will be transmitted over the wires of the telegraph Line which Connect the Pacific with the Atlantic States the People of California desire to Congratulate you upon the Completion of the great work.

They believe that it will be the means of stengthening the attachment which bind both the East & West to the Union & they desire in this the first message across the continent to express their loyalty to that Union & their determination to stand by the Government in this its day of trial They regard that Government with affection & will adhere to it under all fortunes

Stephen J Field

Chief Justice of

California

Check out the history of the telegraph through these photos:

First Telegraph by Samuel Morse in 1844. The phrase was taken from the Bible and reads: “What hath God wrought?” Photo by Samuel Finley Breese Morse.

Original drawing of a telegraph machine by Samuel Morse in 1854. Photo by Samuel Finley Breese Morse.

Signs for Telegraph Machine by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1835. Photo by Samuel Finley Breese Morse.

Original Telegram from Chief Justice of California, Stephen J. Field to President Abraham Lincoln on October 25, 1861. Photo via Library of Congress. 1923 Western Union Telegraph Operator. Photo by Harris & Ewing.


Milestones:Transcontinental Telegraph, 1861

Between July 4 and October 24, 1861, a telegraph line was constructed by the Western Union Company between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, thereby completing the first high-speed communications link between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. This service met the critical demand for fast communications between these two areas. The telegraph line operated until May 1869, when it was replaced by a multi-wire system constructed with the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railway lines.

The plaque can be viewed in the Fort Laramie National Historic Site, 3 miles west of the town of Fort Laramie on highway 160.

Built during 1861 by the Western Union Telegraph Co. and its associates, the Transcontinental Telegraph, which connected St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California, reached Fort Laramie from the east on August 5, 1861. The first high-speed link between the East and West coasts, the line operated until May 1869 when the transcontinental railroad was completed and the telegraph lines were moved to follow its route.

When construction began in the summer of 1861, the path was filled with obstacles. The Civil War made heavy demands on labor and supplies. In one case, the political tensions led to the destruction and subsequent rerouting of the line. Nature presented roadblocks, too. The Great Plains certainly weren't a fruitful source of timber for telephone poles workers had to cross the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. But there were strong incentives, primarily financial, to complete the line, too. The prospect of spending a bone-chilling winter in the wilderness spurred completion as well.

Edward Creighton, a Western Union general agent, organized two teams of builders, one to work on the line from the West , the other from the East. On October 18, 1861, the workers of the one subcontractor, Pacific Telegraph Co. reached Salt lake City , completing the eastern section of the line. The western section, shorter but covering more difficult terrain, was finished by the Overland Telegraph Co., another subcontractor, on October 24.

That evening, the first messages were sent to President Abraham Lincoln. The message from Horace W. Carpentier, president of the Overland Telegraph Co., read: "I announce to you that the telegraph to California has this day been completed. May it be a bond of perpetuity between the states of the Atlantic and those of the Pacific."


Wiring up the West – over 155 years ago, the first transcontinental telegraph was completed

In today’s world technology is just taken for granted. Nobody bats an eye when a new phone, TV, or tablet comes out, and there are dozens of way to socialize, including the Internet and cell phones.

Over 155 years ago, the first transcontinental telegraph was completed. The telegraph stretched from sea to sea and it came at a good time, bringing people closer together. This completion came at the same time the North and South were winding down the Civil War. Many Americans who got to test out the telegraph firsthand realized what a breakthrough it was. It could enhance national identity and change lives.

Amy Fischer, an archivist for Western Union, said that there were telegraph lines running across mountains, canyons, and even tribal lands to make connections. She said that the Civil War had just ended only months before and people were in awe that someone from California could talk to someone in Washington or even the East Coast. On October 24, 1861, California’s chief justice, Stephen J. Field, wired a message from San Francisco to President Lincoln, all with the touch of one button. His message to Lincoln was a congratulations for the telegraph’s completion that day.

Dispatching trains by telegraph started in 1851, the same year Western Union began business. Western Union would build the first transcontinental telegraph

Some would say that the transcontinental telegraph was equivalent to a long-distance tin can attached to strings. However, while an invention like that might seem lame today, it still meant a lot as a step forward for Americans nationwide in its time. Just several years after the nation was first wired, telegraph technology was extended all throughout North America. There were cylindrical wires that ran from Mexico to Canada, redefining the means of communication which could eventually mean that business could be done from different states as money could be wired from Washington. News was finally about to travel fast in 1869 the final track that connected the transcontinental railroad was laid in Promontory, Utah, and The Associated Press sent the story out on the wire.

Telegraph historian Thomas Jepsen believes that the transcontinental telegraph is what started our journey toward technology. If it wasn’t for this invention there would be no telephone, no teletype, no fax, or no internet. The telegraph could even be considered a greater influence on communication than the Internet.

Wendover, Utah, June 17, The last pole is erected on the first transcontinental telephone line.

Sadly, new inventions also sound the death knoll for some businesses. The transcontinental telegraph ended up putting the Pony Express out of business due to the cost-effectiveness of the telegrapher’s key. When the Pony Express first started it had promised people that a letter could be delivered from Sacramento to St. Joseph, Missouri in just 10 days, which was a record for that time. However, it was only in the works for nine months from it’s start on April 3, 1860 to when the telegraph was used for the first time. Even though the Pony Express could have had a small chance at surviving as a business, the telegraph was able to connect and do business nationally and more quickly.

In this 1861-dated artist’s rendering, a pony express rider greets Western Union linemen as they string wires of the first transcontinental telegraph

Like Steve Jobs, who was instrumental in today’s new technology, Samuel F.B. Morse was a guru – of the telegraph. Morse had a patent for his telegraph in 1840 and four years later he sent his first famous message from Washington to Baltimore. In 1845, there was a man named John Tawell who was arrested in England for murdering his mistress after the police received a telegraph tip. A year after that, the Associated Press was used for relaying news on the Mexican-American War through telegraph wires.

In 1860, the telegraph went only as far west as Omaha, Nebraska. The Pacific Telegraph Act, in the first government policy concerning telecommunications, was able to change that limitation. When the bill passed, the government hired a company that could extend the lines, finally linking the west with the rest of the country. In order to build those lines, construction crews had to convince local tribes to let them put up the lines. They gave the Native Americans gifts and offered to hire some of the tribe’s members.

A repairman in 1863 working on a telegraph line

Since there was so much desert terrain in Nevada, there had to be lumber to build the lines. It took over 200 oxen and longer than a month to haul lumber across the Sierra Nevada. When the workers finally got the lumber, they hired around-the-clock guards, sometimes Native Americans, to ensure it would not get stolen, because of the high demand for wood for making houses in that area.

Another problem that the workers came across was that the poles were made so small that the buffalo in the area would scratch on them and knock them over.

The Morse-Vail telegraph register, the first telegraph instrument which was used to receive the message ‘What Hath God Wrought’ on the experimental line between Washington DC and Baltimore

Having the telegraphs gave people new jobs relaying thousands of messages and information. New terms were created for example, the number 73 meant goodbye and number 30 was meant to be placed as a period. These abbreviations were created so that longer messages wouldn’t jam up the wire. Morse Code was once used to keep track of ships at sea and prevent trains from colliding. Few people today know Morse Code anymore, as it’s fallen out of use.

The telegraph was where it all started and it’s not hard to understand how without it we could still be living in a world without Internet.


6 fascinating things about Western Union’s history

Most people know Western Union as the company that helps send and receive money around the world. But did you know that Western Union has been an industry leader in connecting people for over 145 years? Many different technologies Western Union helped develop are things you probably couldn’t imagine life without today. So get ready to be surprised by these 6 facts you didn’t know about Western Union.

Humble beginnings.

Western Union didn’t start out as a fintech company. In fact, for the first 15 years of their existence, they were focused on sending telegrams. Western Union even installed the first transcontinental telegraph cable, allowing people on the east coast to communicate with the expanding Western United States. Looking for a way to connect North America to Europe by Telegraph, Western Union also sponsored an expedition to survey a route across Russian-owned Alaska and Siberia. As a result of their negotiating for land rights with the Russian government, Western Union helped broker the sale of Alaska to the United States on March 30, 1867. It wasn’t until 1871 that they added the ability to transfer money electronically to their services.

Modern money movers for over 145 years.

Starting in February 1871, Western Union’s network grew exponentially, allowing customers to send money between New York, Chicago and Boston using the Western Union money transfer services. By the end of the year, they had expanded nationally, successfully uniting the country through remittances. As their business continued to grow, they revolutionized how international money transfers work. In 1914, Western Union introduced the “Metal Money”, one of the first consumer credit cards. In 1989, they made paying bills easier by enabling customers to use Western Union to pay for auto loans, mortgages and other bills from thousands of businesses. Eventually, WU.com was launched at the start of the new millennium, allowing easy money transfers online from any device and around the clock.

Technology innovators.

For Western Union, it wasn’t enough just to connect people through simple messages. They were among the first companies to make sending text and images around the world accessible for everyone. In 1920, the company introduced the Telex network, a communication system that would allow users to exchange and print telegraphs using automated machines. One could almost say, this service was the pioneer for modern SMS as abbreviations like “<3” or “THX” were originally used to communicate via Telex.

By 1935, Western Union had also made it possible to instantly send images using Telefax. And believe it or not, they were also ahead of the competition when it came to voice messages and email. Western Union’s Broadband and Mailgram services made it possible to send voicemails and emails by 1971.

Western Union has continued to stay on the cutting edge of technology thanks to the Western Union® money transfer app. Available in over 35 countries, the app makes it possible to send money on the go from virtually anywhere. And thanks to the MTCN tracking number you can track your transfer directly from your phone and know exactly when it arrives with your receiver.

Supporting people without access to banks.

Sending money online or making direct to bank transfers have become some of Western Union’s most popular services, but what about people without bank accounts? Many of their customers don’t have access to financial institutions like banks where they live. Thanks to a network of hundreds of thousands of Western Union® agent locations, they provide people with the ability to send money to and receive money from over 200 countries and territories around the world. Additionally, their services allow customers to check exchange rates and make informed money transfer decisions from even the most remote locations.

Funding scholarships for students worldwide.

By partnering with Western Union® agents globally, they were able to build the Global Scholarship program. Western Union provides scholarships valued at $2,500 (or the equivalent in local currency) for international in-need students in the field of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and business studies. This program enables high-potential students around the world to finish their post-secondary undergraduate education and enter the job market. In 2018, they introduced the newest generation of Western Union Scholars: 173 students from 64 countries who received a scholarship to pursue their careers and complete their post-graduate education.

Work for communities in need: Emergency Response.

Western Union is continuously supporting causes that are very close to the company’s mission and vision. Their global presence and network grant them the unique opportunity of making cash accessible to places where it’s needed the most. Through their work with diverse non-profit organizations, they’ve responded to catastrophes, provided immediate aid and helped to sustainably rebuild communities around the world. Since 2001, their Workforce Training, Scholarship Program, and Emergency Response have helped in 137 countries and reached over 940,000 people globally – and continues to strive to help others.

Throughout Western Union’s history, they’ve continued to find new ways to connect people around the world. From the early days of sending telegrams and stock market updates to their multilingual website and mobile app, they’re constantly looking for new ways to get people the money they need, when they need it. It’s been 168 years and they’re just getting started.


Telegram Passes Into History

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For more than 150 years, messages of joy, sorrow and success came in signature yellow envelopes hand delivered by a courier. Now the Western Union telegram is officially a thing of the past.

The company formed in April 1856 to exploit the hot technology of the telegraph to send cross-country messages in less than a day. It is now focusing its attention on money transfers and other financial services, and delivered its final telegram on Friday.

"The decision was a hard decision because we're fully aware of our heritage," Victor Chayet, a company spokesman said Wednesday. "But it's the final transition from a communications company to a financial services company."

Several telegraph companies that eventually combined to become Western Union were founded in 1851. Western Union built its first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861.

"At the time it was as incredible and astonishing as the computer when it first came out," said Tom Noel, a history professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. "For people who could barely understand it, here you had the magic of the electric force traveling by wire across the country."

In 1994, Western Union Financial Services was acquired by First Financial Management Corp., which First Data Corp. bought for $7 billion the following year. Last week, First Data said it would spin Western Union off as a separate company.

Telegrams reached their peak popularity in the 1920s and 1930s when it was cheaper to send a telegram than to place a long distance telephone call. People would save money by using the word "stop" instead of periods to end sentences because punctuation was extra while the four character word was free.

Telegrams were used to announce the first flight in 1903 and the start of World War I. During World War II, the sight of a Western Union courier was feared because the War Department, the precursor to the Department of Defense, used the company to notify families of the death of their loved ones serving in the military, Chayet said.

With long distance rates dropping and different technologies for communicating evolving — including the internet — Western Union phased out couriers in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

By last year, only 20,000 telegrams were sent at about $10 a message, mostly from companies using the service for formal notifications, Chayet said.

Last week, the last 10 telegrams included birthday wishes, condolences on the death of a loved one, notification of an emergency and several people trying to be the last to send a telegram.

"Recent generations didn't receive telegrams and didn't know you could send them," Chayet said.

Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse code, sent the first telegram from Washington to Baltimore on May 26, 1844, to his partner Alfred Vail to usher in the telegram era that displaced the Pony Express. It read "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?"

"If he only knew," Chayet said of the myriad choices today, which includes text message on cell phones, the internet and virtually free long-distance calling rates.

"It definitely was an anachronism," Noel said. "It's amazing it survived this long."


Watch the video: Western Union Deutschland: erhöhen Sie jetzt Ihr Sende-Limit ganz einfach per Video-Chat (June 2022).


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