Western Union Telegraph Company
The Western Union Telegraph Company was the first nationwide multi-unit modern business enterprise in the United States, specializing in the electromagnetic telegraph.1 A small group of entrepreneurs launched the company in 1851 originally named it “The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company.” They changed its name to “Western Union” on 8 April 1856.2
The first poles were set-up on 4 July 1861 and the lines joined with Salt Lake City on 24 October 1861, only 112 days after the project began. By 1866, the company monopolized and seized control of the largest telegraph network in the world. Gradually, Western Union absorbed over 500 other telegraph companies.3 By 1868, the United States government nationalized telegraph companies, including Western Union. In 1873, an early telegraph historian declared that this [telegraphs] technology had bound the nations of the earth in brotherhood.4
Western Union believed that only a single company could afford to conduct the nation's telegraph business. To achieve this “self-serving” goal, the company engaged manipulation of the press, they destroyed competition, and resisted democratization.5 The influence/power of the company was depicted in an 1881 Puck cartoon in which Uncle Sam is being tortured on a rack made out of a Western Union telegraph pole.6
Overall, the company exerted a large amount of influence, such as it helped to define the core elements of market triumphalism which still persists to this day. With the help of the Competition Act (1981), the company also extended its services to over 100 different countries.7
  • 1. Joshua D. Wolff, Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893, (Cambridge University Press, 2013), p.3,5.
  • 2. Ibid., 2; Western Union, US History.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Wolff, Western Union, p.3,5.
  • 5. Ibid., 6.
  • 6. Ibid., 7.
  • 7. Ibid., 8; Western Union, US History.
Mentions of this organization in the documents
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Salt Lake City