Western Union - Friday, May 22, 2015

Happy Friday!  The American Treasure Tour blog is deep into our exploration of the neon signs we have hanging throughout the Toy Box, and today we are going to dedicate the entire blog to  one of the more subtle signs - if that's the right word for anything illuminated - advertising one of America's most influential companies: Western Union.

The telegraph was the first major innovation in communication since the horse (or maybe the train).  Prior to this, the only way to get information across distances was in the written word. Telegraphs allowed for instantaneous communication over long distances - something we take for granted today.  In 1851, the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company was established with the vision of creating a national monopoly to dominate wire communication. There was competition, fighting, friction.  It took five years before Western Union became that monopoly.  

QUESTION:  In 1976, Western Union partnered with what famous company?  (Hint:  When he talked, people listened.)
A)  60 Minutes
B)  E.F. Hutton
C)  Kay Jewelers

Western Union kept growing from there, introducing the first stock ticker in 1866, and the money transfer system by 1871.  They could not stop or take control of the development of telephone, but maintained their influence in many other ways, and remained highly influential.  In 1933, the first singing telegram was performed by Western Union employees, but World War II found families dreading the appearance of the Western Union man, who as often as not showed up at the homes of parents whose sons died fighting for his country.  

This horrible association was eventually replaced, though, and by the '60s they popularized the Candygram.  1974, Western Union introduced their Westar satellites - the first non-governmental satellites designed to improve communication.  Almost inevitably, Western Union began to struggle, as technology outpaced their purpose.  In 2006, they officially stopped telegram service after 155 years.  Money transfers became their primary function.  As they expand into international markets, they became very involved in the War on Terror, striving to ensure national security by minimizing the risk of assisting to fund terrorist attacks.

QUOTE:  The radio was an improvement on the telegraph, but it didn't have the same exponential, transformative effect. - Alison Gopnik

ANSWER:  B)  E.F. Hutton