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Western Union is an American financial services and communications company. It was founded by Ezra Cornell in Rochester, New York in 1851 as The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company.
After a series of acquisitions of competing companies by Jeptha Wade, the company changed its name to Western Union Telegraph Company in 1856 to signify the joining of telegraph lines from the west to the east coast. When the Dow Jones Transportation Average stock market index for the NYSE was created in 1884, Western Union was one of the original eleven companies tracked.
Western Union completed the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861. 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. As the telephone replaced the telegraph, this would become its primary business. In 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 was also 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, relaying traffic for its Telex service, as well as having the Westar satellites' transponders leased by other companies for relaying video, voice, data, and facsimile(fax) transmissions.
Along with satellite telecommunications, Western Union was also quite active in other forms of telecommunication services, such as common carrier terrestrial microwave networks , long distance telephone service as mentioned earlier, as well as landline-based leased voice & data communication circuits, cellular phone service for a very short time in the early '80s (the phones were made by 2-way radio manufacturer E.F. Johnson ), and early messaging networks such as TWX, which was purchased from TWX's founder, AT&T, and Telex. Western Union, along with GTE (now Verizon), also established the Airfone service for phone calls aboard commercial passenger airline flights.
However, Western Union slowly began to divest itself of these telecommunications-based assets starting in the early 1980s due to mounting debts and financial losses. The only profitable division of the company was it's Financial Services division, and is the only division of Western Union that exists today, including such services as wire money transfers.
As the Internet became an arena for commerce at the turn of the millennium, Western Union started its BidPay service to let consumers pay for auction wins at sites like eBay; the service provided a way to pay with one's credit card and deliver the payment as a money order to the recipient. BidPay was renamed Auction Payments in 2004, and is currently a competitor to online payment systems like PayPal.
Western Union was bought by First Financial Management Corporation in 1994, which merged with First Data Corporation in 1995. Its North American headquarters are in Englewood, Colorado, and its international and commercial services headquarters are in Paramus, New Jersey.
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