The Western Union Company (NYSE: WU) is a financial
services and communications company based in the
United States. Its North American headquarters
are in Greenwood Village, Colorado, and its international
marketing and commercial services headquarters
are in Montvale, New Jersey. Until it discontinued
the service, this company was the best known US
company in the business of exchanging telegrams.
Union has a number of divisions, with products
such as person-to-person money transfer, money
orders, and commercial services. As of June 9,
2006, the company has 270,000 Western Union agent
locations in over 200 countries and territories.
Reported revenues top $3 billion annually.
Union was founded in Rochester, New York, in 1851
as The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing
a series of acquisitions of competing companies
by Hiram Sibley & Don Alonzo Watson the company
changed its name to Western Union Telegraph Company
in 1856 at the insistence of Ezra Cornell, one
of the founders of Cornell University, to signify
the joining of telegraph lines from coast to coast.
Union completed the first transcontinental telegraph
line in 1861. In 1865 it formed the Russian American
Telegraph in an attempt to link America to Europe,
via Alaska, into Siberia, to Moscow.
telegraph was dominated by Western Union, an industrialized
monopoly. They were the first communications empire
and the beginning of what was to come for the
future of communications as it is known today.
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. As the
telephone replaced the telegraph, money transfer
would become its primary business.
the Dow Jones Transportation Average stock market
index for the NYSE was created in 1884, Western
Union was one of the original eleven companies
1914 Western Union offered the first charge card
for consumers; in 1923 it introduced teletypewriters
to join its branches. Singing telegrams followed
in 1933, intercity fax in 1935, and commercial
intercity microwave communications in 1943. In
1958 it began offering Telex to customers. 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 beam to replace land lines.
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 relaying video, voice, data, and facsimile
to declining profits and mounting debts, Western
Union slowly began to divest itself of telecommunications-based
assets starting in the early 1980s. Due to deregulation
at the time, Western Union began sending money
outside the country, re-inventing itself as "The
fastest way to send money worldwideSM" and
expanding its agent locations internationally.
1986, Western Union and GTE became owners of Airfone.
Union was bought by First Financial Management
Corporation in 1994, which a year later merged
with First Data Corporation. 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 discontinued after Western Union Corp.'s
spinoff was completed in December and Western
Union is now an independent, publicly traded company.
Union is also the name of a ship that worked for
the same company laying telegraph cable in the
Caribbean and South America. She is currently
working in Key West, Florida, where she was built
and launched. The Western Union is 130 feet long
and weighs 91.91 tons and is currently configured
as a passenger vessel.
September 10, 2007, Los Angeles area immigrant
and community organizations joined the Transnational
Institute for Grassroots Research and Action (TIGRA)
to launch a nationwide boycott against Western
Union. This boycott was scheduled two days before
a general consumer boycott by immigrants. Groups
accuse Western Union of charging exorbitant fees
while failing to adequately reinvest in immigrant
communities. The community organizations demand
that Western Union abandon its "predatory
financial practices" or face an ongoing boycott.
advocates called for Western Union to adopt a
Transnational Community Benefits Agreement (TCBA).
According to the advocacy group, the agreement
would "lower remittance fees, establish fairer
exchange rates, and provide for community reinvestment."
According to the advocacy group, Western Union
and other money transfer agencies often function
as the primary banking service in immigrant communities
through check cashing services, yet they remain
unregulated by the Community Reinvestment Act
and are unaccountable to their primarily low-wage
Union was involved 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.
was an extremely primitive service that used mechanical
card readers and tab machines to send and receive
data over leased circuits. 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 was of limited usefulness
and obsolete decades before 2000. That is simply
when the service was finally stopped.
related innovation that came from AUTODIN was
Western Union's computer based EasyLink service.
This service was developed for business application.
This system allowed for one of the first marketable
electronic mail 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 receive messages from the integrated formats.
With the service, users could also perform research
utilizing its InfoLink application. EasyLink Services
is now its own company.
the Internet became an arena for commerce at the
turn of the millennium, Western Union started
its online services. BidPay was renamed "Western
Union Auction Payments" in 2004 before being
renamed back to BidPay. BidPay ceased operations
on 31 December 2005 and was purchased for USD$1.8
million in March 2006 by CyberSource Corp. who
announced their intention to re-launch BidPay.
Western Union Mobile
October of 2007 Western Union announced plans
to introduce a mobile money transfer service with
the GSM Association, a global trade association
representing more than 700 mobile operators in
218 countries and covering 2.5 billion mobile
proliferation of mobile phones in developed and
developing economies provides a widely accessible
consumer device capable of delivering mobile financial
services ranging from text notifications associated
with Western Union cash delivery services to phone-based
remittance options. Western Union's mobile money
transfer service offering will connect its core
money transfer platform to m-bank or m-wallet
platforms provided by mobile operators and / or
locally regulated financial institutions.
Other service offerings
with satellite telecommunications, Western Union
was also quite active in other forms of telecommunication
* common carrier terrestrial microwave networks,
* long distance telephone service
* landline-based leased voice and data communication
* cellular phone service for a very short time
in the early 1980s (the phones were made by 2-way
radio manufacturer E.F. Johnson Company)
* early messaging networks such as TWX, which
was acquired from AT&T (the founder of the
TWX network) and renamed Telex II by Western Union,
Union was a major Jersey sponsor of the Sydney
Roosters NRL team from
2002-2003. The company still sponsors the team,
but not as a jersey sponsor. Around the world,
Western Union sponsors numerous community events
that help support the diaspora communities that
use the global Money Transfer service.
First Data Western Union Foundation donates money
to worthy causes around the world. After the 2004
Indian Ocean tsunami,
the Foundation donated $1,000,000 US dollars to
the relief effort.
End of telegrams
of July 2006, The Western Union website showed
January 27, 2006, 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."
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, due to competition from other
communication services such as email. Employees
had been informed of the decision in mid-January.
service in the United States and Canada is still
available, operated by iTelegram and other companies.
Popular money laundering tool
Union always advises its customers not to send
money to someone that they have never met in person.
Despite its efforts in increasing customers' awareness
of the issue, Western Union provides one of the
most popular services for internet fraud from
scammers. Western Union has been required to maintain
records of pay-out locations to the criminals
who launder the money but this information may
only be obtained through the use of a subpoena.
Often pay-out location information is useless
since there are no extradition treaties with Nigeria.
Hence 419 and romance scammers continue to receive
funds via Western Union confident in the knowledge
that money lost to Nigerian /USA and Europe scammers
through Western Union is almost always unrecoverable.
is for this reason it is banned as a medium of
payment through eBay.
New security policies and customer complaints
Union has begun blocking transactions based on
suspicion of terrorist connections, as a part
of the company's intimate involvement with the
War on Terror. In practice, this has often meant
denying service to senders who specify recipients
with Arabic-sounding names. Transactions which
do not involve persons with such names will sometimes
be denied as well, based on criteria which the
company refuses to disclose. Currently, transfers
sent from the Western Union web site require telephone
confirmation of the sender's identity. On occasion,
the transfer will inexplicably fail. Western Union's
customer service will inform the sender that the
transaction "does not meet our requirements."
If details are requested, no information other
than the fact that their disclosure is forbidden
will be given. The total cost of the transaction,
however, is still charged to the sender's bank
card, to be refunded after several days. Numerous
customers have reported this problem.
company, famous for telegrams, was often parodied
in cartoons as "Western Onion" or "Eastern
Onion" anytime a character received a telegram
(in Homeless Hare, for example). (Credit: