The end of an era occurred this week with very few raised eyebrows. After 145 years of business, Western Union has announced that the company will no longer send telegrams.
Many of us have "family archives" that contain one or more Western Union telegrams, often bearing bad news.
Now the company has announced, "Effective 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."
The decline of telegrams obviously is because of technology. Just as the new technology of the mid 1800s created a demand for telegrams, more advanced technologies later made the telegram obsolete. Cheap long-distance telephone service appeared in the 1980s. Faxes didn't help. Email became the final nail in the coffin.
Western Union goes back to 1851 as the Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company. In 1856 it became the Western Union Telegraph Company after the acquisition of competing telegraph systems. By 1861, during the Civil War, it had created a coast-to-coast network of lines.
Western Union is not going out of business, however. The company long ago refocused its main business to make money transfers for consumers and businesses. Revenues are now $3 billion annually. It's now called Western Union Financial Services, Inc., and is a subsidiary of First Data Corp.
Other company highlights:
1866: Introduced the first stock ticker.
1871: Introduced money transfers.
1884: Became one of the original 11 stocks tracked by the Dow Jones Average.
1914: Introduced the first consumer charge card.
1964: Began using a transcontinental microwave beam to replace land lines.
1974: Launched Westar I, the first U.S. dedicated communications satellite.