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Western Union's history
Rytis Cekauskas 2019-10-8

6 fascinating things about Western Union’s history

Most people know Western Union as the company that helps send and receive money around the world. But did you know that Western Union has been an industry leader in connecting people for over 145 years? Many different technologies Western Union helped develop are things you probably couldn’t imagine life without today. So get ready to be surprised by these 6 facts you didn’t know about Western Union.

Western Union's history

1. Humble beginnings

Western Union didn’t start out as a fintech company. In fact, for the first 15 years of their existence, we were focused on sending telegrams. Western Union even installed the first transcontinental telegraph cable, allowing people on the east coast to communicate with the expanding Western United States. Looking for a way to connect North America to Europe by Telegraph, Western Union also sponsored an expedition to survey a route across Russian-owned Alaska and Siberia. As a result of our negotiating for land rights with the Russian government, Western Union helped broker the sale of Alaska to the United States on March 30, 1867. It wasn’t until 1871 that they added the ability to transfer money electronically to our services.

2. Modern money movers for over 145 years

Starting in February 1871, Western Union’s network grew exponentially, allowing customers to send money between New York, Chicago and Boston using the Western Union money transfer services. By the end of the year, we had expanded nationally, successfully uniting the country through remittances. As our business continued to grow, they revolutionized how international money transfers work. In 1914, Western Union introduced the “Metal Money”, one of the first consumer credit cards. In 1989, we made paying bills easier by enabling customers to use Western Union to pay for auto loans, mortgages and other bills from thousands of businesses. Eventually, WU.com was launched at the start of the new millennium, allowing easy money transfers online from any device and around the clock.

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3. Technology innovators

For Western Union, it wasn’t enough just to connect people through simple messages. We were among the first companies to make sending text and images around the world accessible for everyone. In 1920, the company introduced the Telex network, a communication system that would allow users to exchange and print telegraphs using automated machines. One could almost say, this service was the pioneer for modern SMS as abbreviations like “<3” or “THX” were originally used to communicate via Telex.

By 1935, Western Union had also made it possible to instantly send images using Telefax. And believe it or not, we were also ahead of the competition when it came to voice messages and email. Western Union’s Broadband and Mailgram services made it possible to send voicemails and emails by 1971.

Western Union has continued to stay on the cutting edge of technology thanks to the Western Union® money transfer app. Available in over 35 countries, the app makes it possible to send money on the go from virtually anywhere. And thanks to the MTCN tracking number you can track your transfer directly from your phone and know exactly when it arrives with your receiver.

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4. Supporting people without access to banks

Sending money online or making direct to bank transfers have become some of Western Union’s most popular services, but what about people without bank accounts? Many of our customers don’t have access to financial institutions like banks where they live. Thanks to a network of hundreds of thousands of Western Union® agent locations, we provide people with the ability to send money to and receive money from over 200 countries and territories around the world. Additionally, our services allow customers to check exchange rates and make informed money transfer decisions from even the most remote locations.

5. Funding scholarships for students worldwide

By partnering with Western Union® agents globally, we were able to build the Global Scholarship program. Western Union provides scholarships valued at $2,500 (or the equivalent in local currency) for international in-need students in the field of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and business studies. This program enables high-potential students around the world to finish their post-secondary undergraduate education and enter the job market. In 2018, we introduced the newest generation of Western Union Scholars: 173 students from 64 countries who received a scholarship to pursue their careers and complete their post-graduate education.

6. Work for communities in need: Emergency Response

Western Union is continuously supporting causes that are very close to the company’s mission and vision. Our global presence and network grant us the unique opportunity of making cash accessible to places where it’s needed the most. Through our work with diverse non-profit organizations, we’ve responded to catastrophes, provided immediate aid and helped to sustainably rebuild communities around the world. Since 2001, our Workforce Training, Scholarship Program, and Emergency Response have helped in 137 countries and reached over 940,000 people globally – and continues to strive to help others.

Throughout Western Union’s history, we’ve continued to find new ways to connect people around the world. From the early days of sending telegrams and stock market updates to their multilingual website and mobile app, we’re constantly looking for new ways to get people the money they need, when they need it. It’s been 168 years and we’re just getting started.

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