Various lines competing with Western Union in early times

[Trade Journal]

Publication: Electrical Review

New York, NY, United States
vol. 9, no. 14, p. 7, col. 1-2

Various Lines Competing in Early Times

with the Western Union.


A Western correspondent says that in view of the near completion of the Mackay-Bennett postal telegraph line to this coast, a brief recital of the previous opposition to the Western Union Company from East to West may not be devoid of interest. As old pioneers will remember, the first telegraph line on the Pacific coast was the California State, which afterwards merged into the Western Union. George H. Mumford was for a time general superintendent, and was succeeded by James Gamble. During the "sixties" the Atlantic and Pacific States Company was formed, the stock being principally taken up by San Francisco stockbrokers, and the main business done being between San Francisco, Virginia City and other Nevada mining towns, although the line took in numerous other towns in California and Nevada. The Western Union bought this company up and had no other opposition on the coast until the building of the Union and Central Pacific railroad lines, when a complete circuit from New York to San Francisco was effected. This was brought about by a consolidation of the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company and the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railway wires. The Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company had a line extending from New York to Omaha. Here they made connection with the Union Pacific, and at Ogden with the Central Pacific. Besides this there was the Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph Company, running from Chicago east, the Southern and Atlantic Company, running east and south, the Boston and Franklin throughout the New England States, and the Dominion lines through Canada.

In the service from the Pacific coast these companies were all used; that is, if a message was started from San Francisco, it would go by the Central Pacific line to Ogden, then over the Union Pacific to Omaha, then over the Atlantic & Pacific, if they had an office at the objective point; if not, to the Pacific & Atlantic; if to Canada, to the Dominion Line; if South, to the Southern & Atlantic; if to the New England States, to the Boston & Franklin; and if there was no other way, in order to reach its destination, the Western Union Company at the most convenient or nearest office to which the message had to be transmitted.

Cable messages were taken and transferred to the Western Union Company at New York, and by that company to the cable company, answers invariably being handled all the way by the Western Union. In 1876, however, the United States Direct Cable Line was laid, and the opposition was thereby enabled to handle cable telegrams from San Francisco, Omaha, Chicago, New York or other points, both ways.

On the connection being made from east to west, which was in the year 1869, the Union and Central Pacific Railroad Companies proceeded to build additional wires, from time to time, other than required for railroad purposes, and also extended to principal points off the line of their roads, and in large cities and towns, offices independent of those in the railroad station or uptown offices, strictly speaking, for telegraph purposes were established to do nothing but press and commercial telegraphing. The Central Pacific constructed a line to Virginia City, Nevada, and followed one with all the railroads they built, namely, from Sacramento along the Oregon line, from San Francisco to San Jose, Gilroy, Watsonville, Hollister, etc., and eventually through the San Joaquin Yalley to Los Angeles, and across the Colorado desert to Yuma, Arizona, where a connection was made with the military line. At Winnemucca, Nevada, a connection was made with a line built by mining speculators to Silver City, Idaho, South Mountain, Boise City, Baker City, etc. At Ogden, Utah, connection was made with the Deseret Telegraph Company, running to Salt Lake and other adjacent points; thence to Pioche, Nevada (then a great mining camp), Bullionville and twenty or thirty other towns. To these points the opposition had the first connection, the Western Union Company subsequently building the line to Pioche by a more direct route.

True, the Western Union Company could transfer messages to the Deseret Company at Salt Lake for Pioche and so on, but like the old cable snap the answers would come back by the Central Pacific division of the Atlantic and Pacific Company.

About the middle of the year 1877 Jay Gould, who was interested in Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company stock, and also in Union Pacific Railroad stock, became largely interested in Western Union securities. This was the breaking up of the "opposition." First the Pacific and Atlantic Company was gathered in, then the Southern and Atlantic, Boston and Franklin, Atlantic and Pacific, Union Pacific,and United States direct cable line. This left the Central Pacific all alone with its Western connections. The company refused to sell its wires, but in the month of December, 1877, agreed to lease them. The lease was effected, and December 31, 1877, the Western Union Company took charge, and opposition was a thing of the past. The lease of the "C. P." wires naturally gave the lessee virtual control of all the other small companies it connected with on this coast. Subsequently the Mutual Union Company started, then the American Union, both of which were soon gathered in. Now we are to have Mackay's postal system as another competitor.


Keywords:Western Union Telegraph Company
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:July 2, 2009 by: Bob Stahr;