The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration
About Us

« Back to "Archives" menu


Morse telegraph register Western Union Telegraph Company Records

400 cubic feet
by Robert S. Harding and Alison Oswald

Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C;.; 202-633-3270;
© 2001, second edition, by the Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.



Scope and Content Note
Series 1: Historical and Background Information, 1851-1994
Series 2: Subsidiaries of Western Union, 1844-1986
Series 3: Executive Records, 1848-1987
Series 4: Presidential Letterbooks and Writings, 1865-1911
Series 5: Correspondence, 1837-1985
Series 6: Cyrus W. Field Papers, 1840-1892
Series 7: Secretary's Files, 1844-1987
Series 8: Financial Records, 1859-1995
Series 9: Legal Records, 1867-1968
Series 10: Railroad Records, 1854-1945
Series 11: Law Department Records, 1868-1979
Series 12: Patent Materials, 1840-1970
Series 13: Operating Records, 1868-1970s
Series 14: Westar VI-S, 1974, 1983-1986
Series 15: Engineering Department Records, 1874-1970
Series 16: Plant Department Records, 1867-1937, 1963
Series 17: Superintendent of Supplies Records, 1888-1948
Series 18: Employee/Personnel Records 1852-1985
Series 19: Public Relations Department Records, 1858-1980
Series 20: Western Union Museum, 1913-1971
Series 21: Maps, 1820-1964
Series 22: Telegrams, 1852-1960s
Series 23: Photographs, ca. 1870-1980
Series 24: Scrapbooks, 1835-1956
Series 25: Notebooks, 1880-1942
Series 26: Audio Visual Materials, 1925-1994
Materials for Interfiling, Series 1 to Series 26 (list of archival materials not processed)

Related Materials


In 1832 Samuel F. B. Morse, assisted by Alfred Vail, conceived of the idea for an electromechanical telegraph, which he called the "Recording Telegraph." This commercial application of electricity was made tangible by their construction of a crude working model in 1835-36. This instrument probably was never used outside of Professor Morse's rooms where it was, however, operated in a number of demonstrations. This original telegraph instrument was in the hands of the Western Union Telegraph Company and had been kept carefully over the years in a glass case. It was moved several times in New York as the Western Union headquarters building changed location over the years. The company presented it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1950.

The telegraph was further refined by Morse, Vail, and a colleague, Leonard Gale, into working mechanical form in 1837. In this year Morse filed a caveat for it at the U.S. Patent Office. Electricity, provided by Joseph Henry's 1836 "intensity batteries", was sent over a wire. The flow of electricity through the wire was interrupted for shorter or longer periods by holding down the key of the device. The resulting dots or dashes were recorded on a printer or could be interpreted orally. In 1838 Morse perfected his sending and receiving code and organized a corporation, making Vail and Gale his partners.

In 1843 Morse received funds from Congress to set-up a demonstration line between Washington and Baltimore. Unfortunately, Morse was not an astute businessman and had no practical plan for constructing a line. After an unsuccessful attempt at laying underground cables with Ezra Cornell, the inventor of a trench digger, Morse switched to the erection of telegraph poles and was more successful. On May 24, 1844, Morse, in the U.S. Supreme Court Chambers in Washington, sent by telegraph the oft-quoted message to his colleague Vail in Baltimore, "What hath God wrought!"

In 1845 Morse hired Andrew Jackson's former postmaster general, Amos Kendall, as his agent in locating potential buyers of the telegraph. Kendall realized the value of the device, and had little trouble convincing others of its potential for profit. By the spring he had attracted a small group of investors. They subscribed $15,000 and formed the Magnetic Telegraph Company. Many new telegraph companies were formed as Morse sold licenses wherever he could.

The first commercial telegraph line was completed between Washington, D.C., and New York City in the spring of 1846 by the Magnetic Telegraph Company. Shortly thereafter, F. O. J. Smith, one of the patent owners, built a line between New York City and Boston. Most of these early companies were licensed by owners of Samuel Morse patents. The Morse messages were sent and received in a code of dots and dashes.

At this time other telegraph systems based on rival technologies were being built. Some companies used the printing telegraph, a device invented by a Vermonter, Royal E. House, whose messages were printed on paper or tape in Roman letters. In 1848 a Scotch scientist, Alexander Bain, received his patents on a telegraph. These were but two of many competing and incompatible technologies that had developed. The result was confusion, inefficiency, and a rash of suits and counter suits.

By 1851 there were over fifty separate telegraph companies operating in the United States. This corporate cornucopia developed because the owners of the telegraph patents had been unsuccessful in convincing the United States and other governments of the invention's potential usefulness. In the private sector, the owners had difficulty convincing capitalists of the commercial value of the invention. This led to the owners' willingness to sell licenses to many purchasers who organized separate companies and then built independent telegraph lines in various sections of the country.

Hiram Sibley moved to Rochester, New York, in 1838 to pursue banking and real estate. Later he was elected sheriff of Monroe County. In Rochester he was introduced to Judge Samuel L. Selden who held the House Telegraph patent rights. In 1849 Selden and Sibley organized the New York State Printing Telegraph Company, but they found it hard to compete with the existing New York, Albany, and Buffalo Telegraph Company.

After this experience Selden suggested that instead of creating a new line, the two should try to acquire all the companies west of Buffalo and unite them into a single unified system. Selden secured an agency for the extension throughout the United States of the House system. In an effort to expand this line west, Judge Selden called on friends and the people in Rochester. This led, in April 1851, to the organization of a company and the filing in Albany of the Articles of Association for the "New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company" (NYMVPTC), a company which later evolved into the Western Union Telegraph Company.

In 1854 there were two rival systems of the NYMVPTC in the West. These two systems consisted of thirteen separate companies. All the companies were using Morse patents in the five states north of the Ohio River. This created a struggle between three separate entities, leading to an unreliable and inefficient telegraph service. The owners of these rival companies eventually decided to invest their money elsewhere and arrangements were made for the NYMVPTC to purchase their interests.

Hiram Sibley recapitalized the company in 1854 under the same name and began a program of construction and acquisition. The most important takeover was carried out by Sibley when he negotiated the purchase of the Morse patent rights for the Midwest for $50,000 from Jeptha H. Wade and John J. Speed, without the knowledge of Ezra Cornell, their partner in the Erie and Michigan Telegraph Company (EMTC). With this acquisition Sibley proceeded to switch to the superior Morse system. He also hired Wade, a very capable manager, who became his protege and later his successor. After a bitter struggle Morse and Wade obtained the EMTC from Cornell in 1855, thus assuring dominance by the NYMVPTC in the Midwest. In 1856 the company name was changed to the "Western Union Telegraph Company," indicating the union of the Western lines into one compact system. In December, 1857, the Company paid stockholders their first dividend.

Between 1857 and 1861 similar consolidations of telegraph companies took place in other areas of the country so that most of the telegraph interests of the United States had merged into six systems. These were the American Telegraph Company (covering the Atlantic and some Gulf states), The Western Union Telegraph Company (covering states North of the Ohio River and parts of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Minnesota), the New York Albany and Buffalo Electro-Magnetic Telegraph Company (covering New York State), the Atlantic and Ohio Telegraph Company (covering Pennsylvania), the Illinois & Mississippi Telegraph Company (covering sections of Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois), and the New Orleans & Ohio Telegraph Company (covering the southern Mississippi Valley and the Southwest). All these companies worked together in a mutually friendly alliance, and other small companies cooperated with the six systems, particularly some on the West Coast.

By the time of the Civil War, there was a strong commercial incentive to construct a telegraph line across the western plains to link the two coasts of America. Many companies, however, believed the line would be impossible to build and maintain.

In 1860 Congress passed, and President James Buchanan signed, the Pacific Telegraph Act, which authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to seek bids for a project to construct a transcontinental line. When two bidders dropped out, Hiram Sibley, representing Western Union, was the only bidder left. By default Sibley won the contract. The Pacific Telegraph Company was organized for the purpose of building the eastern section of the line. Sibley sent Wade to California, where he consolidated the small local companies into the California State Telegraph Company. This entity then organized the Overland Telegraph Company, which handled construction eastward from Carson City, Nevada, joining the existing California lines, to Salt Lake City, Utah. Sibley's Pacific Telegraph Company built westward from Omaha, Nebraska. Sibley put most of his resources into the venture. The line was completed in October, 1861. Both companies were soon merged into Western Union. This accomplishment made Hiram Sibley leader of the telegraph industry.

Further consolidations took place over the next several years. Many companies merged into the American Telegraph Company. With the expiration of the Morse patents, several organizations were combined in 1864 under the name of "The U.S. Telegraph Company." In 1866 the final consolidation took place, with Western Union exchanging stock for the stock of the other two organizations. The general office of Western Union moved at this time from Rochester to 145 Broadway, New York City. In 1875 the main office moved to 195 Broadway, where it remained until 1930 when it relocated to 60 Hudson Street.

In 1873 Western Union purchased a majority of shares in the International Ocean Telegraph Company. This was an important move because it marked Western Union's entry into the foreign telegraph market. Having previously worked with foreign companies, Western Union now began competing for overseas business.

In the late 1870s Western Union, led by William H. Vanderbilt, attempted to wrest control of the major telephone patents, and the new telephone industry, away from the Bell Telephone Company. But due to new Bell leadership and a subsequent hostile takeover attempt of Western Union by Jay Gould, Western Union discontinued its fight and Bell Telephone prevailed.

Despite these corporate calisthenics, Western Union remained in the public eye. The sight of a uniformed Western Union messenger boy was familiar in small towns and big cities all over the country for many years. Some of Western Union's top officials in fact began their careers as messenger boys.

Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century the telegraph became one of the most important factors in the development of social and commercial life of America. In spite of improvements to the telegraph, however, two new inventions--the telephone (nineteenth century) and the radio (twentieth century)--eventually replaced the telegraph as the leaders of the communication revolution for most Americans.

At the turn of the century, Bell abandoned its struggles to maintain a monopoly through patent suits, and entered into direct competition with the many independent telephone companies. Around this time, the company adopted its new name, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T).

In 1908 AT&T gained control of Western Union. This proved beneficial to Western Union, because the companies were able to share lines when needed, and it became possible to order telegrams by telephone. However, it was only possible to order Western Union telegrams, and this hurt the business of Western Union's main competitor, the Postal Telegraph Company. In 1913, however, as part of a move to prevent the government from invoking antitrust laws, AT&T completely separated itself from Western Union.

Western Union continued to prosper and it received commendations from the U.S. armed forces for service during both world wars. In 1945 Western Union finally merged with its longtime rival, the Postal Telegraph Company. As part of that merger, Western Union agreed to separate domestic and foreign business. In 1963 Western Union International Incorporated, a private company completely separate from the Western Union Telegraph Company, was formed and an agreement with the Postal Telegraph Company was completed. In 1994, Western Union Financial Services, Inc. was acquired by First Financial Management Corporation. In 1995, First Financial Management Corporation merged with First Data Corporation making Western Union a First Data subsidiary.

Many technological advancements followed the telegraph's development. The following are among the more important:

The first advancement of the telegraph occurred around 1850 when operators realized that the clicks of the recording instrument portrayed a sound pattern, understandable by the operators as dots and dashes. This allowed the operator to hear the message by ear and simultaneously write it down. This ability transformed the telegraph into a versatile and speedy system.

Duplex Telegraphy, 1871-72, was invented by the president of the Franklin Telegraph Company. Unable to sell his invention to his own company, he found a willing buyer in Western Union. Utilizing this invention, two messages were sent over the wire simultaneously, one in each direction.

As business blossomed and demand surged, new devices appeared. Thomas Edison's Quadruplex allowed four messages to be sent over the same wire simultaneously, two in one direction and two in the other.

An English automatic signaling arrangement, Wheatstone's Automatic Telegraph, 1883, allowed larger numbers of words to be transmitted over a wire at once. It could only be used advantageously, however, on circuits where there was a heavy volume of business.

Buckingham's Machine Telegraph was an improvement on the House system. It printed received messages in plain Roman letters quickly and legibly on a message blank, ready for delivery.

Vibroplex, c. 1890, a semi-automatic key sometimes called a "bug key," made the dots automatically. This relieved the operator of much physical strain.

Scope and Content Note

The collection is divided into twenty-six (26) series and consists of approximately 400 cubic feet. The collection documents in photographs, scrapbooks, notebooks, correspondence, stock ledgers, annual reports, and financial records, the evolution of the telegraph, the development of the Western Union Telegraph Company, and the beginning of the communications revolution. The collection materials describe both the history of the company and of the telegraph industry in general, particularly its importance to the development of the technology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The collection is useful for researchers interested in the development of technology, economic history, and the impact of technology on American social and cultural life.

Series 1: Historical and Background Information, 1851-1994

Go to container list for Series 1

The corporate history of Western Union consists of a bound volume which contains the history and organization of the Western Union Telegraph Company and of all subsidiaries which have been consolidated, merged, purchased, leased or controlled by Western Union. A corporate genealogy can be found within the corporate history volumes. These genealogical charts depict Western Union as it existed on December 31, 1914. The charts are lettered A though Q, showing the development of the present company through the acquisition of subsidiary telegraph companies. For each subsidiary the record indicates the date of incorporation, and whether the subsidiary was leased or sold to Western Union. See Series 2: Subsidiaries, 1844-1986 and Series 7: Secretary's Files, 1844-1987, for additional information about the subsidiary companies. Volumes titled A Brief Outline of Technical Progress Made by Western Union detail the technological development and progress of the company between 1910 and 1950, and other small histories include the Story of Western Union, the Short History of Western Union and the Western Union Telegraph Company A Retrospect, 1851-1901. These narratives provide brief sketches and historical background of the company. Included in this series are two narratives handwritten by Charles Brown. Of note is Brown's work titled "My experiences in the plains in 1861 in assisting the construction of the first telegraph lines across the continent."

Series 2: Subsidiaries, 1844-1986

Go to container list for Series 2

This series consists of records of subsidiary companies owned and/or operated by Western Union. Since its re-incorporation in 1856, Western Union acquired hundreds of miles of telegraph line and incorporated them into a unified system. Western Union's acquisition methods included purchase, consolidation, conveyance, and arranging satisfactory terms of lease. Outright purchase did occur for smaller companies that could not compete with Western Union, with companies that accumulated large debt, and with companies under foreclosure. Examples of subsidiary companies which were purchased by Western Union (both directly and indirectly) include: The American Rapid Telegraph Company, purchased in 1894; the American Union Telegraph Company, purchased in January 1881; The Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company; The Central Union Telegraph Company; and the New England Telegraph Company purchased in September 1875.

Mergers were typically either the result of skillful negotiations with competing companies or the formal acquisition of non-operating entities (in which the "competing companies" had no operating assets, operating revenue, or employees). In the latter situation, Western Union usually purchased a majority of the shares of capital stock, becoming the de facto manager of the company. Examples of companies which merged with Western Union include: Independent Telegraph Company; Kansas Telegraph Company; and the New York State Printing Telegraph Company. Examples of companies in which Western Union owned a majority of capital stock include: the Baltimore & Ohio Telegraph Company; New Jersey and New England Telegraph Company; New York Postal Telegraph Company; New York State Printing Telegraph Company and the Pacific Telegraph Company.

Companies typically entered into leasing agreements with Western Union to avert ruinous competition. The rental amount was based upon a percentage of outstanding stock issue or other mutually agreed upon stipulations. Although some leases were made "in perpetuity" others could be revoked upon expiration, particularly if a competing company was not satisfied with the outcome of an agreement. Administration and maintenance of the line could be continued by the competing company or assumed by Western Union, depending upon the agreement. Examples of companies which (directly or indirectly) leased to Western Union include: American District Telegraph Company, 1867; Gold & Stock Telegraph Company, December 1881; Magnetic Telegraph Company, 1866; Philadelphia Local Telegraph Company; and the United States Telegraph Company, February 1866.

Not every company represented in this series was acquired directly Western Union. Many companies were previously purchased by, consolidated with, or leased to other companies that Western Union, in turn, acquired. One example of this is the Washington and New Orleans Telegraph Company, which incorporated in March 1847 in Virginia. In 1856, the company was leased by the Magnetic Telegraphic Company. The American Telegraph Company (of New Jersey) acquired the Magnetic Telegraph Company in October 1859 by exchange of stock. Ultimately, the American Telegraph Company (which included the Magnetic Telegraph Company lease of the Washington and New Orleans) was leased to Western Union in 1866.

This series primarily contains minute books of directors and stockholders, articles of incorporation, and by-laws. Other administrative records include account books (ledgers, stock transfer books, journals, and cash books), correspondence, and other subject files. Most of the information is fragmentary. Companies such as Gold & Stock Telegraph Company, the Philadelphia Local Telegraph Company, and the Postal Telegraph Cable Company contain more extensive documentation, but are not comprehensive. Because of the complexity associated with leases, holds, and consolidations, an effort was made to cross-reference subsidiary companies. However, the cross references are not comprehensive. The notation "see" refers to companies that are/were known by another name through re-incorporation or acquisition. Some records contained within minute and account books were removed. Such records appear in the container list immediately following the book entry in which they originated. The records should be consulted with the respective book. Unless otherwise noted, the series is arranged alphabetically by company name. See also Series 7: Secretary's Files, 1844-1987, specifically files about subsidiary companies, 1913-1975, and the dissolution of subsidiary companies, 1920-1959.

Series 3: Executive Records, 1848-1987

Go to container list for Series 3

The Executive Records include eleven series:

1. The Articles of Association, By-Laws & Incorporation, 1851-1987
2. Charter Books A and B, 1848-ca. 1881
3. Minutes, 1864-1943
4. Statement of Directors for Stockholders, 1865
5. Executive Orders, 1866-1873
6. Minutes of the Western Union Distribution Service Inc., 1939-1978
7. Annual Reports of the Presidents, 1965; 1869-1984
8. Annual Reports of Western Union Corporation, 1969-1985
9. Annual Report of Stockholders, 1950-1970
10. Annual Reports of Divisions, 1866-1869
11. Company goals and organization, 1856-1958; 1965

The copies of articles of association and incorporation, 1851-1970, were maintained and certified by William G.H. Acheson (Secretary for Western Union) and are true and corrected copies together with all amendments. The majority of the documents deal with certificates of incorporation, but certificates of increase and capital stock and certificates of merger are also present. An index accompanies the Articles of Association and a second copy of the Articles of Association can be found in Series 7: Secretary's Files, 1844-1987. The Charter Books, A & B, 1848-c. 1881, contain acts, charters, and articles of incorporation for several telegraph companies. For additional information on the New York and Mississippi Valley Telegraph Printing Company see Series 2: Subsidiaries, 1844-1986. There is an alphabetical index of companies represented in the books. The Executive Orders, 1866-1873, consist of five volumes. These orders are arranged chronologically and the subject of the order (s) is provided. All orders are signed by then President of Western Union, William Orton. The Annual Reports have been divided into three separate subseries: Annual Reports of Presidents, 1873-1968; Annual Reports of Western Union Telegraph Company, 1970-1984; and Annual Reports of Western Union Corporation, 1969-1984. This distinction in annual reports is made because in 1969, the Western Union Corporation was formed and by January, 1970, the Corporation acquired all outstanding shares of the Western Union Telegraph Company. The Western Union Telegraph Company is the only subsidiary of the Western Union Corporation to date. See also Series 26: Audio Visual Materials, 1925-1994, for selected microfilm of Board of Directors Meetings, Executive Committee Meetings, and Subsidiaries.

Series 4: Presidential Letterbooks and Writings, 1865-1911

Go to container list for Series 4

The Letterbooks are divided into three smaller subseries:

1. Presidential Letterbooks, 1865-1893
2. Miscellaneous Letterbooks, 1887-1911
3. Writings, 1872-1890

The Presidential Letterbooks document the tenure of William Orton (November 3, 1865 to April 20, 1878) and Norvin Green (July 20, 1877 to January 12, 1893). There are twenty-one letterbooks for William Orton and eleven letterbooks for Norvin Green. An alphabetical index to surname of the addressee/recipient accompanies each volume. The miscellaneous letterbooks of 1887-1911 are divided into four volumes. The letterbook of Frank B. Rae, a Western Union employee and George W. Huddleston, a manager outlines tools and other supplies and repairs needed; details some personnel suggestions about firing, wage increases and hiring; and requests approval and subsequent payment of overtime for specific personnel. There are a few letters on similar subjects from A.P. Lauckhart. Jay R. Page and E.G. Scheckler's correspondence documents requests for supplies and repairs to equipment. There are letters from E G. Scheckler to F. H. Tubbs (Western Union Superintendent) protesting his "acting" status and salary. There are some letters about personnel, orders to outside companies, and requests for permission to string wires from property owned by others. The majority of the correspondence is internal to the company and pertains to operating matters.

Series 5: Correspondence, 1837-1985

Go to container list for Series 5

The correspondence is arranged into five subseries:

1. President Norvin Green, 1887
2. Vice President's and General Superintendent's, 1888-1923
3. Amos Kendall and Samuel F. B. Morse, 1837-1888
4. General Correspondence and forms, 1857-1935
5. Correspondence and forms, 1857-1935
6. Internal memos and forms, 1888-1948
7. Miscellaneous correspondence, 1890-1985
8. Employees correspondence, 1917-1919

The vice presidential and general superintendent correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent. The correspondence of Charles Buckingham, General Counsel for Western Union, relates to patents, patent hearing dates, and some financial accounts. Included are typed Edison patents specifications, printed Essick specifications, Theodore M. Foote specifications, and correspondence from Morris S. Hopkins of Baldwin, Hopkins and Peyton, a law firm acting on patents for the Western Union Telegraph Company. Other correspondence to Buckingham relates to Edison patents, the manufacture of printers for Australia, requests from an auditor for review and approval and bills rendered, and lost or misplaced patents. Correspondence from and to A. A. Knudson, an electrical engineer deals with a patent for a printing telegraph and notes from Charles A. Judson about money owed him. The Judson and Hyland correspondence details a gift to Western Union of Cyrus Field's dining room furniture on which the charter for the original Atlantic cable was signed. R. Harris correspondence details the collecting of message forms, the use of less expensive copier paper, and specifications for customer bill heads.

Letters from H.C. Nicholson are concerned with experiments, including the "Quad" telegraph and several about a proposal of the Postal Telegraph regarding the trunk line from New York to Chicago.

A partial letter of October 7, 1896, to the Smithsonian Institution describes the original Morse telegraph. An extensive report to the Spanish Legation, 1872, describes problems in connection with retrieving and repairing an underseas cable from Key West to Havana and includes expense accounts. The miscellaneous correspondence, 1848-1949, contains references to many types of equipment, cables, the line between New York and Chicago, the Telegraphone, and trials on the Telegraplex system. Other subjects include Telegraphones on the P and R railroad, the Northern Pacific railroad, the L and N and D railroads, photographs of the Missouri Pacific office, the history of the underground cable, a description of the District of Columbia time service and of the Simmons unit; and telegrams of congratulations on the 100th anniversary of the first public demonstration of the Morse telegraph.

The correspondence of Amos Kendall (1789-1869), a lawyer, politician and former U.S. Postmaster General and Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872) is arranged chronologically and is primarily outgoing correspondence from Kendall to Morse.

The employee correspondence, 1917-1919, consist of letters written by Western Union employees serving in the military during World War I. Letters are arranged alphabetically.

Series 6: Cyrus W. Field Papers, 1840-1892

Go to container list for Series 6

Cyrus Field (1819-1892) was a New York paper merchant and warehouseman. Field assisted in laying the first transatlantic cable and he organized the New York, Newfoundland and London Electric Telegraph Company to lay a cable across the Atlantic in 1854. The Field papers consist of drawings and illustrations, specifically the Great Eastern, illustrated magazines, publications, and newspaper clippings.

Series 7: Secretary's Files, 1844-1987

Go to container list for Series 7

Eight individuals held the Office of Secretary. This series contains records of six secretaries: A.R. Brewer (1881-1908), A.F. Burleigh (1917-1930); Lewis McKisick (1931-1940); G.B. Satterlee (1941-1956); William G.H. Acheson (1957-1970); and R.C. Hostetler (1971-1980). The series is divided into twelve subseries:

1. Secretary's Office Notebook, 1953-[1987?]
2. Articles of Association and Incorporation, 1851-1970
3. File about Certificate of Incorporation, 1952
4. Files about by-laws, 1914-1980
5. Secretary's historical files, 1933-1977
6. Files about the library, 1920-1967
7. Files about subsidiary companies, 1913-1975
8. Files about the dissolution of subsidaries, 1844-1959
9. Files about the stock exchange offer, 1944-1953
10. Miscellaneous file, 1944-1964
11. Files about University Computing, 1968
12. Files about Computer Sciences Corporation, 1968

The Secretary's office notebook, 1953-[1987?] includes a brief history of Western Union and lists the names and dates of employment of all chairman of the board, vice chairmen of the board, presidents, vice presidents, treasurers, secretaries, executive committee members, and directors. Also included are the presidents, vice presidents, secretaries, assistant secretaries, treasurers, assistance treasurers, comptrollers, and directors of the Western Union Corporation.

The secretary's historical files, 1933-1977, were maintained by G.B. Saterlee and contain correspondence and other printed materials regarding restatements of certificate of incorporation, by-laws, New York Transportation Corporation Law, articles of association, charters, and extracts from minutes.

The certified copies of articles of association and incorporation, 1851-1970, were maintained and certified by William G. H. Acheson and are true and corrected copies together with all amendments. The majority of documents deal with certificates of incorporation, but some certificates of increase in capital stock and certificates of merger are present. An index accompanies the copies of articles of association.

Files about the by-laws, 1914-1980, contain correspondence and memoranda relating to the amendment of and revisions to the by-laws, adoption of resolutions, and marked-up copies for the printer. The files about subsidiary companies, 1913-1975, contain an array of materials regarding the dissolution of companies, memoranda, income tax due from leased companies, proxies, unclaimed deposits, agreements, and Board of Directors Minutes. Some of the materials deal with the Commercial Telegraph Company, Lynchburg & Abingdon Telegraph company, Washington & New Orleans Telegraph Company, and the Chicago & Milwaukee Telegraph Company. There is one file folder of memoranda from 1952 which contains revisions of the certificate of incorporation.

The file about the library, 1920-1967, includes correspondence--internal and external--reference requests, and reports regarding the establishment of the library in 1920 and its future role within the company. The correspondence and reports reflect statistical information about library use, staffing issues, and acquisition matters.

Files about the dissolution of subsidiary companies, 1920-1959, contain correspondence in connection with the dissolution of certain subsidiary companies of Western Union. There is also a chart of Western Union, 1844-1920, created by A.R. Brewer depicting constituent parts of Western Union as represented by its holdings or leases of other companies that operated as part of the Western Union system. See Series 2: Subsidiaries, 1848-1986, for additional documentation.

The miscellaneous file of the secretary dates from 1944 to 1964 and consists primarily of correspondence and printed materials regarding a variety of topics. Materials include information about the anniversary of the telegraph, observance of the centennial of the first transcontinental telegraph, Western Union's involvement in the 1964 World's fair, and biographical sketches about company employees. The file also contains the negative and a reproduction of a half tone photo of Rosewell Hart Rochester.

Series 8: Financial Records, 1859-1995

Go to container list for Series 8

Materials relating to Western Union's finances are organized into thirteen subseries:

1. Activities of the Accounting Department, 1941
2. Stock Transfer Books and Ledgers, 1859-1880
3. Trial Balance Volumes, 1880-1908
4. Ledgers of subsidiary company accounts, 1910-1920
5. Journal of Accounts and Explanation, Vol. O, July-December 1910
5a. Reports of Committee to Examine Assets in the Treasury and the Treasurer's Accounts, 1882-1908
6. Minutes of Records, Expenditure Committee, 1889-1909
7. Cash and tax ledgers, 1896; 1932-1944
8. Statistical Notebooks, 1886-1908
9. Financial Statements, 1945
10. Income Tax Returns, 1918-1937
11. Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 1943-1948
12. First Financial Management Corp., 1993-1995
13. Miscellaneous, 1879-1948

The stock transfer books, 1859-1880, report the re-issuance of stock certificates at the office of the Registry of Transfers in New York City. Western Union acquired the registry books from the respective registrars of Western Union stock (i.e. the Union Trust Company, registrar from June 16, 1865 until approximately January 1, 1871 and the Farmers Loan & Trust Company, registrar from December 6, 1870 to January 1, 1885) after they ceased to act as registrars. The Union Trust Company was unable to find their registry book which covered the period June 16, 1885 to August 17, 1866. Because Western Union ordered the discontinuance of the registrar of transfers and transfer agency for the city of New York between August 17, 1866 and January 21, 1869, no records exist for this period.

In January, 1865, the Executive Committee of Western Union directed the establishment of a New York transfer agency and the listing of the stock on the New York Stock Exchange. Beginning in 1865, to reflect changes in stock value, Western Union shareholders surrendered their stock certificates to a registrar who, after canceling existing certificates, countersigned the new certificates and delivered them to a designated transfer agent also in New York City. The agent acknowledged receipt of the new certificate(s) from the registrar.

Information appearing in the stock transfer books include the dates when surrendered certificates were delivered to the registrar; the delivery dates of new certificates to entitled stockholders; dates of cancellation; the location of the office that originally issued the surrendered certificates; the number of certificates and shares both surrendered and reissued; the names of the individual(s)/organization(s) to whom certificates were originally issued, surrendered and transferred to; and the transfer agent's acknowledgement of receipt.

The ledgers, 1910-1920, include subsidiary accounts for the period 1910 to 1911 and 1916 to 1920. There are federal account books in addition to regular Western Union Company account books for the years 1918 to 1919. The ledgers are arranged numerically by account number. Only the first volume, 1910 to 1911, is indexed.

The Records of the Expenditure Committee, 1889-1909, report on a wide variety of financial matters, including staff, construction, maintenance, and sundries. Staff considerations include general employment costs, costs incurred in the employment of additional labor, and salary changes. The committee itemized sundries such as inaugural funds, painting costs, and light expenses with in each volume. The minute books cover the period May 1889 to December 1909. The collection does not contain the ten volumes preceding May 1889. All available volumes are indexed.

Western Union maintained separate ledgers for tax purposes, based upon an auditor's monthly statements of revenue. Tax ledgers, 1932-1944, are arranged alphabetically by state/province.

The statistical notebooks, 1886-1908, consist of small notebooks that provide a wide range of statistical and financial information regarding Western Unions and its numerous subsidiaries. The notebooks for the period 1886 to 1897 contain percentages of increase and decrease in office receipts, office expenses, abstracts from semi-annual reports, daily traffic tabulations, rates per word for press service, miles of post, and wire prices. There is an index for the notebook dated 1886 to 1887. The notebooks dated 1901to 1908 were maintained by R.C. Clowry, the President and General Manager of Western Union (1902-1910). Indexed alphabetically by subsidiary, there is information relating to notes on capital, amounts Western Union owes, amounts outstanding, and indication if lines are leased or absorbed, and the percentage of investment. Estimates for construction, repairs, test office receipts, treasurer's estimates, and money transfer information is also included.

Miscellaneous items in this series include two publications titled Relationship of AT & T Company to the Telegraph Business, 1933, which contain statistical data on the effect on the telegraph business of the competition of the AT & T Company. This report was prepared by Chester McKay, a vice president with Western Union, and provides financial statements detailing gross operating revenues and a supplemental narrative explanation. The Remarks Incident to Review of the Summons & Complaint in the Case of Bertram R. Smith vs. Western Union and Gold & Stock, 1948, was produced by the accounting department in conjunction with the legal case regarding stock ownership.

Series 9: Legal Records, 1867-1968, 1971

Go to container list for Series 9

This series contains a wide variety of legal agreements-- contracts, deeds, leases, and licenses and property/real estate--which document the company's legal activities from approximately 1867 to 1960. The materials are richest in 19th century files created before the company's legal department instituted standard procedures and paper formats. There are ten subseries:

1. Agreements (alpha-numeric arrangement), ca. 1880-1930
2. Agreements (alphabetical arrangement), ca. 1880-1930
3. Facility Licenses, 1914-1916
4. Pole Licenses, 1913-1916
5. Property Leases, 1872-1963
6. Real Estate Materials, 1867-1960
7. Telephone Contracts, 1851-1921, n.d.
8. Correspondence about leased wires and rental fees, 1889-1917
9. Cable Divestment Materials, 1874-1960s
10. Miscellaneous, 1770-1953, 1971(not inclusive)

The bulk of the agreements are from the 1880s to the 1920s. The agreements primarily pertain to patents and the ownership (lease and sale), establishment, and maintenance of telegraph wires, poles, and land. The correspondence found with the agreements addresses terms and payments. Broad geographic regions of the United States are represented by the agreements which cover the east, west, northwest (including Alaska), south, and midwest. There are some foreign contracts between Western Union and British and Canadian companies. All foreign agreements include English translations.

The majority of agreements are trifolded and arranged by an alpha-numeric sequence. Each file corresponds to one company, individual, city or government agency and can include multiple agreements or drafts of the same. Most alphabetical letters in the sequence include documents that are organized chronologically; other letters are organized alphabetically by company name. Still other letters may begin with a chronological organization scheme and shift to an alphabetical arrangement midway. Documents within the alpha-numeric sequence are not organized sequentially; where P contracts end, Q contracts do not begin. The alpha-numeric system may have been two systems at one time; two files labeled N122, for example, one trifolded and one flat, do not correspond to the same company. This phenomenon occurs within N, O, and P sequences, in which trifolded files have been boxed separately from flat files.

Property Leases and Real Estate Materials contain documentation on properties owned by Western Union in New York City and one real estate volume that contains records of deeds, and mortgages that relate to Western Union property. Typical information includes the date the indenture was made and recorded, the parties, the sum agreed upon, a description of the land, names of witnesses, and any special terms of agreement. The Federal Valuation of Land Lines Property of Western Union, 1913-1932 consists of 6 volumes (volumes 1-5 and 7) that describe briefly the history of the Federal Valuation of Land Lines Property of Western Union by the Interstate Commerce Commission. The information includes presidential correspondence of Theo N. Vail, memoranda, clippings, photostats, schedules of properties used by Western Union, organizational charts, copies of important instructions and orders, inventories of the company's properties and statements showing expenses and investments. This is a very comprehensive work.

Series 10: Railroad Records, 1890-1945

Go to container list for Series 10

The railroad records are divided into six subseries:

1. Correspondence, 1896-1945
2. Narratives, n.d.
3. Pole & Wire Materials, 1890s, n.d.
4. Lists of Contracts, General Agreements, and index, 1931, 1939, n.d.
5. Railway Passes, ca. 1890-1920
6. Contracts, n.d.

The narratives contain various writings about railroads, Western Union, and the telegraph in general while the pole and wire materials consist of a compilation of statistical data.

The lists of contacts contain alphabetical listings of railroad companies with whom Western Union conducted business. These lists reveal the name of the railroad, date of the contact, date of expiration, and other names the railroad used.

Railway Passes/Franks and Identification Cards, ca. 1890 to 1920, are arranged alphabetically by the name of the railroad with additional passes for the Art Institute of Chicago, Wells Fargo, Postal Telegraph and Western Union. The cards belong to a variety of Western Union employees from electricians to presidents. The cards entitled officers, agents of the railroad, and other companies with which Western Union had contractual relations to travel between all points on the company's lines within the United States. Restrictions exist in designated territories and were noted by the railroad company issuing the card. The card was countersigned either on the front or back and in some instances was not good for sleeping cars and was not transferable. Most passes expired yearly and were renewed.

Series 11: Law Department Records, 1868-1979

Go to container list for Series 11

This series is divided into two series:

1. Minutes of the Law Committee, 1883-1909
2. Law Department Publications, 1868-1979

The Western Union Law Department Records consist of Law Committee meetings minutes, April, 1883 to December, 1909, and printed legal documentation, 1868-1979. The Law Committee Meeting Minutes document the committee's work on reviewing and reporting lawyer's bills, claims, and contracts.

The bulk of the printed materials date from 1900-1930s. There are local, state, circuit, appeal, district, state supreme and United States Supreme Court publications. The legal cases involve individuals, the United States, the Federal Communications Communication, the Interstate Commerce Commission, railroad companies, and other telegraph companies against Western Union Telegraph Company. The Law Department assigned, in some instances, a number to each case. This number is located in the upper right corner of a publication. This was done to keep various parts of a case together and for accessibility. Some publications are annotated, presumably by Western Union attorneys. Multiple copies of some publications exist, this is noted parenthetically in the container list. Abbreviations were used in preparing this series: WU=Western Union; FCC=Federal Communications Commission; and ICC=Interstate Commerce Commission. This subseries is in storage off-site. Contact Archives Center for terms of access.

Series 12: Patent Materials, 1840-1970

Go to container list for Series 12

The patent materials are arranged into nine subseries:

1. By patentee, 1840-1914
2. By patent number, 1900-1954
3. Miscellaneous patents, 1846-1908
4. Patent application files, 1954-1966
5. Contract Department correspondence regarding patents, 1927-1945
6. Invention records and submission forms, n.d.
7. Hazeltine Electronics Division Correspondence, 1960-[1963?]
8. Western Union Transcontinental Microwave System, 1961-1962
9. Litigation materials, 1851-1887

Many of the patents in this series trace the development and improvements in the telegraph (and some telephone) apparatus between 1840 and 1954. The patentee subseries is arranged alphabetically by inventor: Charles Buckingham, Thomas A. Edison, Elisha Gray, Samuel F.B. Morse, George Phelps, Joseph Stearn, John Skirrow, and Charles Wheatstone. The numbered patent specifications, 1900-1954, are Western Union Telegraph Company patents. They are organized by type of improvement or invention. Among the patents represented in this subseries are those relating to: signalling systems; switching systems; automatic message exchange system; multioffice systems; storage systems; facsimile systems; oscillator systems; frequency transformation systems; printing telegraph systems; reperferators; repeaters; oscillators; generators; radio antennas; rectifiers; condensers; detectors; static reducers; and batteries. Most of the miscellaneous patents are for improvements to the telegraph, though there are several for electric time-controlling systems and electric clocks.

Series 13: Operating Records, 1868-1970s

Go to container list for Series 13

1. Telephone directories, 1929; 1950-1959
2. How to operate booklets, 1918
3. Money transfer service/money order books, 1905-1939
4. Operator code books/cipher books, 1880-1917
5. Rate and wire mileage information, 1863-1957
6. Tariff and cable information, 1871-1975
7. Rules and regulations, 1866-1937
8. Equipment catalogs, manuals and specifications, ca. 1894- 1956

The Operating Records consist of materials that were produced for and used by Western Union employees for daily operations. These records cover an array of operational activities such as equipment operating instructions and cable code books for cable operators and manuals for specific departments.

The Money Transfer Service/Money Order Books, 1905-1939, instruct operators in the "proper way to send money" and include the names of offices authorized to receive and pay telegraphic money orders. The Operator code books were assigned to operators and each had a specific operating number.

Tariff and Cable information contains the Tariff Check Ledger of July 1874 to May 1877, includes tariff information for Highlands, New Jersey, other areas of New Jersey and parts of New York. The Tariff Bureau book of 1871-1872, contains statements arranged according to states, the amount of business conducted between the states and territories and also the business rates between important offices. There is also additional information about individual states in "remarks."

Series 14: Westar VI-S, 1974, 1983-1986

Go to container list for Series 14

This series is divided into 3 subseries:

1. Correspondence, 1985-1986
2. McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Corp., 1983-1985
3. Miscellaneous documents and drawings, 1974, 1984-1986

Series 15: Engineering Department Records, 1874-1970

Go to container list for Series 15

The Engineering Department developed equipment and systems and facilities for the company and carried out technical research. This department was directly responsible for the maintenance and repair of ocean cables and maintaining the company's cable ships and cable stores depot. The series is divided into eight subseries:

1. Organizational Materials, 1922-1970
2. Central Office of Engineering Correspondence, 1902-1945
3. Cable Station Correspondence, 1873-1922
4. Cable Logs, 1910-1966
5. Agreements and Contracts, 1919; 1945
6. Specifications for Western Union, 1913-1960
7. Specifications for other companies, 1909-1955
8. Miscellaneous Materials, 1865-1964

Series 16: Plant Department Records, 1867-1937, 1963

Go to container list for Series 16

The Plant Department was responsible for constructing, reconstructing and maintaining domestic telegraph plants; maintaining pole lines, wires and aerial and underground cables; installing and repairing equipment; and operating telegraph buildings. The series is divided into eight subseries:

1. Correspondence, 1916-1940
2. Instructions, 1916-1960
3. Specifications, 1913-1953
4. Inside Plant Catalogues, 1917-1929
5. Outside Plant Catalogues, 1920-1929
6. Equipment, 1867-1936 (not inclusive)
7. Wire and Pole Line Materials, 1874-1915
8. Miscellaneous, 1899-1963

Plant Instructions consist of two volumes. Volume one contains a numerical and alphabetical index to the various instructions that were issued. The numerical index provides the plant instruction (P.I.) number and a title description, while the alphabetical and cross index of active plant instructions, plant general letters, and plant stencils provides a subject description and reference number. Only numbers 1 to 26 and 41 to 52 of the plant instructions are available. Also, there are Instructions and Rules Pertaining to the Construction and Maintenance of Outside Plant, 1915. These instructions--numbers 20 and 21--are rules and instructions for the guidance of district foremen, general foremen, and section linemen.

Series 17: Superintendent of Supplies Records, 1888-1948

Go to container list for Series 17

Series 18: Employee/Personnel Records, 1852-1985

Go to container list for Series 18

This series is divided into eleven subseries:

1. Western Union Employee History, 1910-1932
2. Employee Membership Cards and Passes, 1885-1940
3. Employee Handbooks, 1912-1971
4. Employee Stock Subscription, 1914-1928
5. Employee Wage Cards, 1914-1922
6. Minutes of Employees' Benefits Fund Committee, 1912-1949
7. Job Classification, Contracts, and Agreements, 1941-1973
8. American School of Correspondence, 1911-1921
9. Service Records, 1883-1931
10. Employee Awards, Citations, Commendations, 1915-1945
11. Employee Signatures and Autographs, 1871-1898, 1909-1949 (includes clippings and obituaries)
12. Telegraph Associations, 1852-1929

The Employee Relations Department, also known as the Industrial Relations Department, administered benefits programs, handled personnel and training matters, and employee communications through house organs such as the Western Union News.

The Employee Benefits Plan Booklets, 1912-1971, tell the story of Western Union pensions and benefits plans. Established in 1913, the plan for employees' pensions, disability benefits, and death benefits was a comprehensive non-contributory plan. This plan appears to have experienced several names changes from "Provisional Pension Plan" to "Plan for Employees Pensions Disability Benefits and Insurance" to Plan for Employees Pensions Disability Benefits and Death Benefits." One booklet, dated 1929, pertains specifically to the Postal Telegraph Cable Company.

Employee Stock Subscription plan materials (1914-1928) include correspondence and printed plans. The correspondence and the plans themselves set forth the regulations and restrictions for employees to purchase stock.

Employee Wage Cards, 1914-1922, consist of twelve shoeboxes. These records were maintained by the Western Union Cable System. They are arranged according to "live" and "dead" files, European side, North American Side, and Cable Office Errors. The records are then divided by geographic location (Ballenskelligs, Bay Roberts, Canso, Duxbury, Glasgow, Halifax, Hammels, Havre, Hearts Content, London Training School, London Western Union House, Liverpool, Manchester, North Sydney, Paris, Penzance, Penzance Training School, Rye Beach, St. Pierre, and Valentia.). The geographic locations are divided by job titles. Within job titles, the cards are arranged alphabetically by surname. There are two types of cards-an employee wage card and an employee service card. Both cards contain the same type of information--first name, surname, date of birth, sex, station employed at, dates of employment, title, monthly rating, special monthly payments, special allowances if any, and general remarks--but they differ in size. Remarks typically contained information about a death, resignation, drawing pensions, or job performance.

Download partial listings of employee information.

Box 566 and Box 567
European Side (Liverpool; Paris; Valentia; Penzance Training School; Assistant General Management Office; Havre; London; Glasgow; Ballenkelligs)

European Side (Valentia; Paris, St. Pierre; Duxbury; Hearts Content; New York; Hammel; Canso; Miami; North Sydney; Bay Roberts)

Box 569
European Side (Assistant General Management office-London; Glasgow; Havre; London Training School; London Western Union House)

Box 570
European Live (Liverpool; Manchester; Paris)

Box 571
Old Dead File/Out of Service (New York; Hammels; Duxbury; Rye Beach; Halifax; North Sydney; Bay Robert; Hearts Content; St. Pierre; Hammels-employees out)

Minutes of Employee' Benefits Fund Committee, 1912-1949, consist of reviewed applications for sickness and accident disability benefits, life insurance, and pensions. The committee also determined the applicability of the plan to employees in special circumstances. Western Union established the committee following its 1913 adoption of the Plan for Employees' Pensions, Disability Benefits and Death Benefits as a comprehensive non-contributory plan. The first five volumes (volumes A to E) are indexed with each book. Minutes for the periods July 1920 to May 1925 or January 1937 to March 1942 do not exist.

Job Classification, Contracts, and Agreements, 1966-1973, consists of six handbooks. These handbooks contain wage schedules, job titles, job descriptions, and pertinent employee information set forth in the official contract with Western Union. There is one handbook that deals specifically with an agreement between Western Union and the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO.

The American School of Correspondence, 1911-1921 subseries consists of published "instruction papers" on a variety of topics such as Banking and Banking Law, Direct Current Motors and Telegraph Repeaters. The "instruction papers" were prepared by Western Union divisions such as the Engineering Department or the Commercial Department and faculty members at various colleges and universities in the United States.

Service Records, 1883-1931, consists of four oversized bound volumes numbered one to four; one miscellaneous volume from 1907-1931, and service cards for seamen who served on various cable ships. These bound service records are organized alphabetically according to the name of city and/or town. For example, Grand Fork, North Dakota is followed by Great Falls, Montana. The majority of cities and towns represented are located in the mid west. An alphabetical index of cities for each volume precedes the records. These records, like the employee wage cards, provide similar information--name of office, date office opened, date office closed, name of employee, designation of occupation, rate of pay, date employed, date left service, and remarks. The smaller miscellaneous volume, 1907-1931, is also arranged alphabetically by city/town, but contain only the name of the employee and what appears to be the date employment began. The volume deals with personnel serving in California and Arizona. The service cards, 1921-1922, are arranged alphabetically by cable ship name. The cards contain the name of the seaman, address (name of the cable ship), date of service, date salary became effective, job title, and rate of salary per month.

Employee Clippings contains employee signatures/autographs which consist of two small volumes of collected employee signatures, one dating 1871-1898, the other 1909-1949. The latter volume of signatures appears to be have been assembled for the purposes of the Western Union Museum. The signatures include a wide variety of employees, from presidents to telegraph operators.

*Researchers should consult Series 27: Notebooks, Subseries 7, for an employee work diary of 1942.

Series 19: Public Relations Department Records, 1869-1978

Go to container list for Series 19

The Public Relations Department, formerly known as the Sales Department, promoted the company through sales, advertising, and marketing, and rate research. This series is divided into fourteen subseries:

1. Now Our Next 100 Years, 1952
2. Marketing Materials, 1959-1965
3. Sales Materials, 1941, 1966
4. Newsclippings, 1869-1956
5. Newsclipping Binders, 1918-1975
6. Newsclipping Books-Numbered, 1958-1962
7. Newsclipping Books--Unnumbered, 1864-1967
8. Press clippings, 1927-1939
9. Miscellaneous clippings, 1894-1954
10. Publicity clippings, 1959-1966
11. Articles, 1935, 1944
12. Advertisements, n.d.
13. Posters (British), 1858-1936, n.d.
14. Western Union House Organs, 1867-1980
15. Publications by other companies, 1928-1937, 1963

The newsclipping books, 1958-1962, were created by Western Union's Public Relations Department to bring to the attention of local editors news about Western Union and to obtain publicity. Each newsclipping book consists of photocopies and contains a preface page stating the nature of the clipping(s) and highlighting certain articles. There is no index accompanying these books. Some newsclipping books are devoted to a subject. This is noted parenthetically in the container list. Several of the books bear a stamped number and the books have been arranged according to this number. The majority of the newsclipping books belonged to Mr. Love, Comptroller for Western Union.

The newclipping binders, 1918-1975, are originals and appear to have been produced by the Public Relations Department. Like the newsclipping books, the clippings have been assembled according to topics of interest to Western Union.

The publicity clippings, 1959-1978, were created by the Public Relations and Advertising Department and consist of three folders of photocopied material which is a representative collection of newspaper stories and magazine articles about Western Union services and people

House Organs were publications produced in-house by Western Union for internal dissemination only. These included: Commercial Suggestions, a weekly pick-up of sales ideas on "how the other fellow did it" and "how you can do it." Journal of the Telegraph, formerly known as Telegraphic Journal of New York, began on December 2, 1867 and ceased December 20, 1914. The Telegraph & Telephone Age, established in 1883, was a semi-monthly journal dedicated to commercial and railway telegraph, telephone, and submarine cable interests and radio telegraphy. Western Union News was introduced in July, 1914. It was edited by and for employees and provided up-to-date research information forum for more personal and social related matters. Western Union Technical Review began in July 1947.

Series 20: Western Union Telegraph Museum, 1913-1971

Go to container list for Series 20

This series is divided into seven subseries:

1. History of the Western Union Museum, 1937
2. Correspondence, 1925-1961
3. Acquisitions to the Western Union Museum, 1937-1940
4. Exhibit Information, 1936-1940
5. Brochures and Pamphlets, 1933-1947
6. Catalogues, 1934, 1942
7. Miscellaneous, 1944-1964

Series contains materials related to the Western Union Telegraph museum, a separate entity within the Western Union Telegraph Company. These materials are of several types. The material was placed in the museum from other divisions or departments of the company and was created by the museum itself. The Western Union Company placed many records into the Western Union Telegraph museum. The provenance of many items is unclear and often inconsistent. Many of the manuscript materials are similar to other materials in the collection. Most of the materials in this series have been marked as museum objects, i.e., they have been given museum identification numbers. Much of this material was assembled and either attached or placed together in notebooks. However, some items in this series are not marked as museum items and it is unclear whether those unmarked items are museum items or company records that came to the museum when the material was transferred.

The correspondence of the Western Union Telegraph museum deals with donations of old telegraph equipment to the museum, 1925-1961. All correspondence concerning donations is arranged in the order it was received by the museum. Other correspondence represented in this subseries concerns Western Union Telegraph museum donations to other museums. These include the Franklin Institute, 1933; the Smithsonian Institution, 1913-38, 1959-61; and the U.S. Army Signal Corps Museum, 1954-1956. One folder contains correspondence regarding donations to other museums, 1933-1943. This subseries also contains correspondence of Samuel Morse, 1937-1938, and Henry Sayre Potter, 1930s, regarding paintings for the museum. There is also correspondence with several movie studios seeking the museum's help with several motion pictures, 1938-1939. Also included is correspondence concerning telegraph history. The miscellaneous folders contain correspondence concerning many aspects of Western Union museum administration and business. Acquisitions to the museum consists of notebooks detailing museum acquisitions, 1937-1940. The exhibit information contains a notebook on work and material in museum exhibits, 1936-1940 and a New York Museum of Science and Industry exhibit newsletter. The brochures and pamphlets consist of a variety of German language brochures with a Netherlands and Smithsonian guide. The catalogues in this series describe a variety of telegraph equipment.

Series 21: Maps & Charts, 1820-1964

Go to container list for Series 21

Indexed maps, 1918-1964, provide the locations of owned, leased, and controlled pole and wire lines. The series is divided into six subseries:

1. Bound Maps, 1916-1931
2. Valuation Maps, 1915-1941
3. Indexed Maps (originals), 1918-1964
4. Indexed Maps (copies), 1918-1964
5. Plant and Engineering Department Maps, 1946, 1952
6. Miscellaneous Maps, 1820-1953

Series 22: Telegrams, 1852-1960s

Go to container list for Series 22

The Telegrams series consists of material documenting the telegram forms used by the Western Union Telegraph Company and other telegraph companies. This series is arranged into fourteen subseries:

1. Western Union cable/telegraph system background, n.d.
2. Western Union telegram books, n.d.
3. Western Union telegrams-specialty, n.d.
4. Western Union miscellaneous telegrams, 1870-1960s
5. Western Union delivery and message envelopes, 1865-1941
6. Western Union wired telegrams, 1857-1954
7. Western Union advertisements for telegram services, 1872-1942
8. Telegrams scrapbooks, 1850s-1940
9. Commercial Cable Company, n.d.
10. Commercial Pacific Cable Company, n.d.
11. Morse American Telegraph Company, n.d.
12. Postal Telegraph, 1889, 1930s-1942
13. Other companies, 1852-1938
14. International telegrams, n.d.

The advertisements, product booklets and pamphlets provide substantial documentation on the types of telegram services Western Union offered. Several types of telegraph service were available including-full rate telegrams that were transmitted at any hour; day letters which were slightly deferred telegrams; cablegrams which were sent standard rate using plain or cipher cable messages at any hour; overnight telegrams, accepted at any hour up to 2 am for delivery the following day; cable night letters for overnight service of business or social communications; photograms which were facsimiles of original communications as prepared by the sender and were transmitted electrically and photographically reproduced; and sing-o-grams delivered in song. Additionally, information pamphlets and booklets describing training and careers as Western Union messengers and the dependability of Western Union Time Service and its clocks is found in this series. Of note is the art work represented in the mast head of many telegrams. In many instances, Norman Rockwell is the artist.

In some instances, copies of blank forms for holidays or specialty telegrams were collected and assembled into small albums. Loose telegram forms were interfiled according to subject/specialty. There is some duplication and overlap. Researchers should consult the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana for its series on "Telegraphs."

Series 23: Photographs, ca. 1870-1980

Go to container list for Series 23

The photographs contain a wide variety of images representing all aspects of Western Union and the telegraph industry. The series is divided into thirteen subseries:

1. Western Union Buildings, 1900-1965
2. Poleyards and Construction, 1901-1939
3. Western Union Albums (numbered), 1856-1953
4. Cable Station Albums, 1917-1961
5. Cable Ship Albums, 1924-1954
6. Miscellaneous Albums, 1912-1954?
7. Equipment, 1866-1957
8. People, 1869-1940s
9. Samuel F.B. Morse, 1840s, n.d.
10. Cable Photographs, 1925-1942 (facsimile)
11. Wire Photographs, 1922-1936
12. Slides, n.d.
13. Oversized Photographs, 1870-1962

Subseries 1 has photos of Western Union buildings from all over the world, dating from the nineteenth century until 1965. Buildings which are identified include those in North Sydney, Nova Scotia, New York City, Key West, FL, Rochester, N.Y., Hamilton, Ohio, Morristown, N.J., Sacramento, CA, Cumberland, Md., and Sandesville, GA, among others. Unfortunately, most of the photoprints are not captioned.

Poleyards and Construction, contains two folders of photoprints of telegraph poleyards, where poles are prepared for service. There are also photoprints of the locations where the finished poles were used. Some of the locations represented are: Minneapolis, Minn.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Nashua, N.H.; Slidell, La.; Rutherford, N.J.; Tacoma, Wash.; Miami, Fla.; and Elizabethtown, N.J. Folder three contains specifications and photoprints for pole line construction.

Western Union put many photographs into albums. The albums themselves have been taken apart, but the order has been preserved. These albums cover a wide variety of subjects, including antiquated telegraph instruments; Telefax switching systems; switchboard, plugs, and jacks; office interiors; tickers; "Western Union Automatic Telegraph"; and miscellaneous equipment.

The cable station photographs, 1917-1961, are arranged alphabetically by location and include Western Union stations in the United States, Europe, and Caribbean. Also included in this subseries are negatives of the cable stations. The cable ships photographs include Western Union ships-Robert C. Clowry, C.S. Colonia, C.S. Cyrus Field, C.S. Lord Kelvin, C.S. Neptune, C.S. Dellwood, C.S. Silverado-and other unidentified ships.

Telegraph equipment includes: early telegraph tickers, 1866; the Western Union cable boat Robert C. Clowry, 1903; switching systems; "Multifax," c. 1940; equipment from World War II; Varioplex equipment; Carrier systems; Mono Pulse Printing Telegraphic Sets; and Deep-Sea Cable exhibit material. There is also a great deal of unidentified miscellaneous equipment which is not identified.

Western Union "People" consists mostly of messengers and many individuals are not identified. Photographs of Western Union presidents are found in the subseries, including J.L.Egan, John W. Mackay, William Orton, Norvin Green, R.C. Clowry, Newcomb Carlton. Additionally, there are several images of Samuel F.B. Morse. There is a photoprint of a group of telegraphers present at the Battle of Gettysburg, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of that battle. There is also a folder of photos of drawings of Pony Express riders.

The Samuel F.B. Morse photographs consists of Morse Family images and some correspondence.

Cable Photographs, contain many news images transmitted via the facsimile process in the 1920s through the 1940s. These news photos can be found throughout the subseries. There are also many other photos, some in albums, that were transmitted by facsimile, but were not for newspaper use. The majority of facsimile photographs are from Europe and many of the subjects concern World War II such as the bombings in London, the British Royal Family, Adolph Hitler, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and other military and political leaders.

The oversized photographs cover a wide range of topics from portraits to equipment to interior building views. There are some architectural drawings in this subseries for Western Union storefronts and advertisements.

Series 24: Scrapbooks, 1835-1956

Go to container list for Series 24

The scrapbooks, 1835-1956, contain both loose and bound materials, consisting mostly of news clippings. Loose pages from a scrapbook of C.H. Murphy contain information on Western Union's time service and clocks. Two small scrapbooks, titled "The Little Traveller," were kept by an unnamed Western Union employee who visited the company's offices in the West. There are photoprints of various Western Union offices and employees, with comments by the author and those he visited. There are two scrapbooks of Edward C. Brown, one in loose form, the other bound. The loose material contains memorabilia and news clippings announcing his retirement in 1938 after 51 years of service as Western Union's general supervisor of messenger equipment. The bound scrapbook contains news clippings that depict messenger boys' encounters with the law.

There is one scrapbook attributed to Samuel F.B. Morse, 1835-1858. It consists of newsclippings and other articles assembled by Morse.

Series 25: Notebooks, 1880-1942

Go to container list for Series 25

Series 25 includes a few personal and many laboratory notebooks from employees and engineers of Western Union. The series is divided into six subseries:

1. H.W. Drake, 1880-1933
2. H.P. Gilbert, 1928-1932
3. J. Schmid, 1926-1931
4. Apparatus Engineer's Office Laboratory Notebook, 1915-1924, 1928
5. Unsigned Laboratory Notebooks, 1919-1936
6. Personal Notebook, 1942 (employee work diary)

The numbers noted in the container list presumably refer to some Western Union Museum identification number. H.W. Drake's notebooks kept at 195 Broadway contain materials lists; equipment costs; descriptions and drawings of telegraphic equipment; lists of telegraphic line routes; accounts collected for telegraphic service (Central Division, 1880s); accounts of revenues; compensations for employees, expenses, receipts and rates; a comparative statement of remittances from various railroads, 1881-1892; electrical diagrams and blueprints; and a Vacuum Tube Investigation Daily Record Book #2.

H. P. Gilbert's laboratory workbooks consist of laboratory reports on the results of tests of meters, rectifiers, relays, jacks, tubes, call boxes (with photoprints of the test results), and shellac. Included are negatives, some deteriorating. J. Schmid was an engineer working at the Hudson Street office. His notebooks contain laboratory reports on batteries (Waterbury "Tele" Cells, Waterbury Battery Company, Waterbury, Conn.); test results on call box knobs, relay test tables, rectifiers, signal lamps, time service units, keepers and magnets, clocks, 400-w Call Circuit Register, relays (with photoprints of test results), motor generator set, wire samples, bells and buzzers, lamp-type resistance units, plugs, cords, microfarad meters (Jewel & Weston), volt-ammeters, diamond flasher buttons, and dry cells. There also are two notebooks of the Apparatus Engineer's Office at 195 Broadway consisting of calibrations of electrostatic voltmeters and test results on switches, relays, repeaters, zinc and iron electrodes in different cells, sounders, and quadruplexes. Also included are oscillograms.

Other notebooks of unknown origin contain tests on dry cells, transmission studies, and entries from Selector Maintenance Cards turned over by the Repair Shop after removal from the field. The cards include reasons for the return of the equipment.

Series 26: Audio Visual Materials, 1925-1994

Go to container list for Series 26

This series consists of 16mm films, 3/4" videotape cassettes, 35mm film elements, and 1/2" VHS videotape cassettes. The bulk of the series is 16mm film. The series is arranged in six subseries:

1. Employee Training Films, 1925-ca. 1980s
2. Public Relations/Promotional Films, ca.1929-1993
3. Television Commercials, ca. 1974-1991
4. Acquired Films, ca. 1946-1989
5. Films Documenting Corporate Activities, ca. 1928-1994
6. Microfilm, n.d.

Employee Training films includes films from the 1920s to the 1940s depicting how Western Union wanted its telegraph operators to do their jobs, how to work accurately and efficiently in order to maintain speed of operation, detailed operation of complex telegraphic equipment, and more recent sales and customer service employee incentive films.

Public Relations/Promotional Films, c. 1929-1980s, includes consumer awareness segments from NBC's "Today" show and WNBC-TV in New York featuring Betty Furness reporting on Mailgram, Telegram, and Money Transfer; and numerous films and videos which emphasize Western Union's wide variety of services, its modernity, and ability to keep up with the changing communications field. Heavily featured are films from the 1970s and 1980s on Westar, the first telecommunications satellite (launched in 1974), and its influence on Western Union service. Several films and videos depict early facsimile machines in the 1940s and 1950s, and two films depict underwater cable laying operations.

Television Commercials, ca. 1974-1991, emphasize the ease of use of the company's services, the firms modernity and competitive edge in the telecommunications market; the return of the singing telegram in the 1980s; videoconferencing; satellite communications; and several recent Spanish language commercials.

Acquired Films, ca. 1946-1989, includes several videotape copies of the 20th Century Fox production of WESTERN UNION [1941], films produced outside Western Union using Western Union footage or mention Western Union or its products, and depictions of various aspects of the history of telegraphy.

Films Documenting Corporate Activities, ca. 1928-1994 contains films made at the building site of Western Union's old New York headquarters during construction; videotapes of various company executives addressing employees on the company's financial situation, restructuring plans, and consequences of the AT&T divestiture in the 1980s; short compilation videos looking back nostalgically at the history of Western Union through archival photographs and footage; films depicting office operations; and a parody of Gone with the Wind about the corporate buyout of Western Union in 1994.

The microfilm contains selected reels for Board of Directors Meetings, Executive Committee Minutes, and Subsidiaries. See Series 3: Executive Records, 1848-1987 for additional materials regarding these executive functions.

Additional moving image about Western Union Telegraph Company can be found in the Industry on Parade Collection (AC # 507). This includes Cable to Cuba! by Bell Laboratory, AT & T, featuring the cable ship, the C.S. Lord Kelvin, and Communications Centennial! by the Western Union Company.


This collection originated as a portion of the Western Union Telegraph Museum begun in 1912 by H.W. Drake, an electrical engineer of the Western Union Company. He collected old telegraph instruments and other apparatus for their historic value and for their use in commercial and advertising displays or exhibits. Later these collected devices were instrumental in settling patent litigation for the company. He also collected the ancillary archival materials that comprise this collection. In 1930, when Western Union's general headquarters moved from 195 Broadway to 60 Hudson Street, a small room was set aside to house the growing collection of artifacts and papers.

In 1933 Western Union was represented in an exhibit at the Century of Progress exposition in Chicago. Many instruments from the collection of the Western Union Museum were included in the exposition. To fully detail the history of the telegraph, many original instruments were borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution and replicated. These reproductions helped improve Western Union's collection. When the fair ended, the objects were returned to the renamed Western Union Engineering Museum. In the early 1930s internal memoranda were sent to Western Union divisional plant superintendents urging them to save old telegraph instruments. Soon thereafter old instruments arrived from Western Union's divisions around the country. Engineering Department laboratories in particular sent many objects. By 1936 over five hundred artifacts had been collected. The museum was maintained by J. Schmid and volunteers from the Engineering Division.

In 1969, Western Union officials decided to close the Museum and to use its space for offices. The objects and archival material were to be stored in a warehouse in Allentown, Pennsylvania. At that time Smithsonian curators suggested to Western Union that certain material be transferred to the Smithsonian rather than to storage. It was hoped that this would ensure the preservation and availability of at least some items. At this time J.E. Stebner, the Western Union Museum curator, donated many items to the Smithsonian, believing that they would be permanently preserved and used in relating the story of communication.

In January, 1971, Western Union officials proposed a transfer of the Western Union Museum to the National Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History) under an indefinite loan agreement in the hopes of making the materials more readily available for exhibition purposes and for use by historians. In September, 1971, the collection was received by the Museum as a gift and was deposited in the Division of Electricity (now part of the Division of Information Technology and Society). Additional materials documenting the company's activities were donated through Warren Bechtel, a former Western Union employee. Materials were donated and transferred to the Archives Center in 1986; November 1993; March, April and June 1996 and May 2001.

Related Materials

Artifacts (apparatus and equipment) were donated to the Division of Information Technology and Society, now known as the Division of Work & Industry, National Museum of American History.

Western Union International Records form part of the MCI International, Inc. Records at the Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Delaware.

First Data Corporation, Greenwood Village, Colorado, holds the records of First Data Corporation and its predecessors, including Western Union, First Financial Management Corporation (Atlanta) and First Data Resources (Omaha). Western Union collection supports research of telegraphy and related technologies, and includes company records, annual reports, photographs, print and broadcast advertising, telegraph equipment, and messenger uniforms.


Last Update: 22 Feb 2012

:: Home :: About Us :: Centerpieces :: Events :: Resources :: Video & Audio ::
:: Press Room :: Blog :: Newsletter :: Site Map :: Facebook :: Flickr :: Twitter ::