Western Union

    Western Union Company history, profile and history video

    ¬†The Western Union Company (Western Union) is engaged in money movement and payment services. The Company’s business payments service provides consumers and businesses with options for making one-time or recurring bill payments, including business-to-business payment transactions, which are primarily cross-border, cross currency transactions. Its segments are consumer-to-consumer and global businesspayments. Its other businesses not included in these segments primarily consist of Western Union money order and prepaid services available through a network of third-party agents. In April 2011, the Company acquired Angelo Costa, S.r.l. In August 2011, the Company formed Western Union Ventures. In October 2011, the Company acquired Finint S.r.l. In November 2011, the Company acquired the business-to-business payment business of Travelex Holdings Limited, known as Travelex Global Business Payments.”

    “Western Union¬†History

    19th century

    In 1851, the¬†New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company¬†was organized in¬†Rochester, New York¬†by¬†Hiram Sibley¬†and others, with the goal of creating one great¬†telegraph¬†system with unified and efficient operations. Meanwhile,¬†Ezra Cornell¬†had bought back one of his bankrupt companies and renamed it the New York & Western Union Telegraph Company. Originally fierce competitors, by 1856¬†¬†both groups were finally convinced that consolidation was their only alternative for progress. The merged company was named the Western Union Telegraph Company at Cornell’s insistence, and Western Union was born.

    Western Union bought out smaller companies rapidly, and by 1860 its lines reached from the¬†East Coast¬†to the¬†Mississippi River, and from the¬†Great Lakes¬†to the¬†Ohio River. In 1861 it opened the¬†first transcontinental telegraph. In 1865 it formed the¬†Russian American Telegraph¬†in an attempt to link America to Europe,¬†via Alaska, into¬†Siberia, to¬†Moscow. (This project was abandoned in 1867.) The company enjoyed phenomenal growth during the next few years. Its capitalization rose from $385,700 in 1858 to $41 million in 1876. However it was top-heavy with stock issues, and faced growing competition from several firms, especially the¬†Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company‚ÄĒitself taken over by financier¬†Jay Gould¬†in 1875.¬†In 1881 Gould took control of Western Union.

    It introduced the first stock ticker in 1866, and a standardized time service in 1870. The next year, 1871, the company introduced its money transfer service, based on its extensive telegraph network. In 1879, Western Union left the telephone business, having lost a patent lawsuit with Bell Telephone Company. As the telephone replaced the telegraph, money transfer would become its primary business.

    When the Dow Jones Transportation Average stock market index for the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) was created in 1884, Western Union was one of the original eleven all-American companies tracked.

    By 1900 Western Union operated a million miles of telegraph lines and two international undersea cables.

    20th century

    The company continued to grow, acquiring more than 500 smaller competitors. Its monopoly power was almost complete in 1943 when it bought Postal Telegraph, Inc., its chief rival.

    In 1914 Western Union offered the first¬†charge card¬†for consumers; in 1923 it introducedteletypewriters¬†to join its branches.¬†Singing telegrams¬†followed in 1933, intercity¬†fax¬†in 1935, and commercial intercity¬†microwavecommunications in 1943. In 1958, it began offering¬†Telex¬†service to customers in New York City.¬†Western Union introduced the ‘Candygram’ in the 1960s, a box of chocolates accompanying a telegram featured in a commercial with the rotund¬†Don Wilson. In 1964, Western Union initiated a transcontinental microwave system to replace land lines.

    During World War II, families of sons in the military service dreaded the Western Union “boy on his bicycle” to arrive at their home with a telegram from the¬†War Department¬†or the¬†Navy Department. The message began: The Secretary of War (for soldiers and airmen) or Secretary of Navy (for sailors and marines), regrets to inform you that [name, rank and serial number of the man in the military service] was killed in action (or missing in action).

    Western Union became the first American¬†telecommunications¬†corporation¬†to maintain its own fleet of¬†geosynchronous¬†communication satellites, starting in 1974. The fleet of satellites, called¬†Westar, carried communications within the Western Union company for telegram and¬†mailgram¬†message data to Western Union bureaus nationwide. It also handled traffic for its¬†Telex¬†and¬†TWX¬†(Telex II) services. The Westar¬†satellites’¬†transponders¬†were also leased by other companies for relayingvideo,¬†voice,¬†data, and facsimile (fax) transmissions.

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    In 1963 Western Union organized its international cable system properties and its right-of-way for connecting international telegraph lines into a separate company called Western Union International (WUI) which it divested that year to American Securities. In 1983 American Securities sold WUI to MCI Communications which renamed it to MCI International and moved its headquarters from New York City to Rye Brook, New York.

    In the 1970s WUI installed and leased to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) dedicated 50¬†Kbps¬†high-speed telecommunications facilities between the continental U.S. and Hawaii, Germany and the United Kingdom to provide a test bed for the DOD’s¬†Advanced Research Projects Agency¬†(ARPA). This test bed provided ARPA with a proof of concept for the technology of packet switching which later became the Internet.

    In 1976, Western Union partnered with E. F. Hutton & Co..

    In 1981 Western Union purchased a fifty percent interest in Airfone. It sold Airfone to GTE in 1986 for $39 million in cash.

    Because of declining profits and mounting debts, Western Union slowly began to divest itself of telecommunications-based assets starting in the early 1980s. Because of deregulation at the time, Western Union began sending money outside the country, re-inventing itself as “The fastest way to send money worldwide” and expanding its agent locations internationally.

    In 1987, Investor¬†Bennett S. LeBow¬†acquired control of Western Union through an outside of chapter 11 process that was a complex leveraged recapitalization. The transaction was backed by a total of $900 million in high-yield bonds and preferred stock underwritten byMichael Milken’s group at¬†Drexel Burnham Lambert¬†as part of an exchange offer. LeBow installed Robert J. Amman as President and CEO who led a complete strategic, operational and balance sheet restructuring of the company over the subsequent 6 years.

    Mr. Amman executed a strategy of redirecting Western Union from being an asset-based provider of communications services, with a money transfer business as a large but less important part of the business, into being a provider of consumer-based money transfer financial services. In so doing, Mr. Amman ran the company as two separate companies. One business consisted of the money transfer business, which was funded and operated to take advantage of the significant growth opportunity. The second unit consisted of all the non-strategic communications assets such as the long-distance analog voice network, satellite business and undersea cable assets. In the 3 year period through 1990 Mr. Amman was supported by Robert A. Schriesheim, also installed by Mr. LeBow, as a special advisor who oversaw the divestiture of the four non-strategic telecommunications assets for about $280 million.

    The official name of the corporation was changed to¬†New Valley Corporation¬†in 1991, just in time for that entity to seek bankruptcy protection as part of Mr. Amman’s strategy to eliminate the overleveraged balance sheet while continuing to grow the money transfer business . The name change was taken to shield the Western Union name from being dragged through the proceedings (and the bad PR that would cause).¬†Under the day to day leadership of Robert J. Amman and the backing of¬†LeBow, the company’s value increased dramatically through its years operating under chapter 11.

    Following various restructurings that included negotiations with Carl Icahn who became a large bond holder, Mr. Amman engineered the sale of New Valley in a bankruptcy auction to¬†First Financial Management Corporation¬†in 1994 for $1.2 billion where he became vice chairman, and a year later merged with¬†First Data Corporation¬†in a $6 billion transaction. On January 26, 2006, First Data Corporation announced plans to spin Western Union off as an independent, publicly traded company. Western Union’s focus will remain money transfers. The next day, Western Union announced that it would cease offering telegram transmission and delivery,¬†the product most associated with the company throughout its history. This was, however, not the original Western Union telegram service, but a new service of First Data under the Western Union banner; the original telegram service was sold off after New Valley Corporation’s bankruptcy and now operates as¬†iTelegram.

    The spin off was completed September 29, 2006 and Western Union became an independent, publicly traded company again.

    Involvement in early computer networking

    Western Union telegrams were transmitted through a¬†store and forward¬†message switching system. Early versions were manual telegraph systems. Later systems usingteleprinters¬†were semi-automatic, using punched¬†paper tape¬†to receive, store, and retransmit messages.¬†Plan 55-A, Western Union’s last paper tape based switching system (1948‚Äď1976), was fully automatic, with automatic routing.

    Western Union was a prime contractor in the Automatic Digital Network (AUTODIN) program. AUTODIN, a military application for communication, was first developed in the 1960s and became the precursor to the modern Internet in the 1990s. The Defense Message System (DMS) replaced AUTODIN in 2000.

    AUTODIN, originally named “ComLogNet”, was a highly reliable service that operated at 99.99% availability, using mechanical¬†punched card¬†readers and tab machines to send and receive data over¬†leased lines. During the peak operation of AUTODIN, the United States portion of the network handled twenty million messages a month. Western Union failed in its attempts to engineer a replacement (AUTODIN II), leading to the development of an acceptable¬†packet-switched network¬†by¬†BBN¬†(the developer of the¬†ARPANET) which became the foundation of today’s Internet. AUTODIN service ceased in 2000, years after it had become obsolete.

    A related innovation that came from AUTODIN was Western Union’s computer based EasyLink service. This system allowed for one of the first marketable¬†email¬†systems for non-government users. In addition, the system allowed the same message to be sent simultaneously to multiple recipients via email, fax, mailgram, or telex services as well as allowing messages to be sent from the integrated formats. With the service, users could also perform research utilizing its InfoLink application. EasyLink Services is now its own company.

    The end of telegrams

    As of February 2006, the Western Union website showed this notice:

    “Effective 2006-01-27, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact a customer service representative.”

    This ended the era of telegrams which began in 1851 with the founding of the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company, and which spanned 155 years of continuous service. Western Union reported that telegrams sent had fallen to a total of 20,000 a year, because of competition from other communication services such as email. Employees were informed of the decision in mid-January.

    Telegram service in the United States continues to be available through iTelegram and other companies.


    In May 2009, Western Union announced its intention to acquire Custom House from Peter Gustavson. The deal closed in September 2009, with Western Union purchasing Custom House for US$370 million. Its acquisition led the company to be re-branded as Western Union Business Solutions.

    In January 2011, Western Union acquired 100% of Angelo Costa, a group active in money transfer and services to immigrants. Angelo Costa has a network of 7,500 points of sale in various European countries. The agreement was signed for US$200 million.

    In July 2011, Western Union acquired¬†Travelex’s Global Business Payments division for¬†¬£606 million.

    In October 2011, Western Union completed the acquisition of Finint S.r.l., one of Western Union’s leading money transfer network agents in Europe, counting more than 10,000 subagent locations across Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.”

    *Information from and

    **Video published on YouTube by “Western Union



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