The Western Union Company is a American financial services and communications company. Its North American headquarters is in Meridian, Colorado, though the postal designation of nearby Englewood is used in its mailing address. Up until it discontinued the service in 2006, Western Union was the best-known U.S. company in the business of exchanging telegrams.
Western Union has several divisions, with products such as person-to-person money transfer, money orders, business payments and commercial services. They offered standard "Cablegrams", as well as more cheerful products such as Candygrams, Dollygrams, and Melodygrams.
Western Union, as an industrialized monopoly, dominated the telegraph industry in the late 19th century. It was the first communications empire and set a pattern for American-style communications businesses as they are known today.
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—itself taken over by financier Jay Gould in 1875. In 1881 Gould took control of Western Union.