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The first telegraph system in the United States was completed in 1844. Originally used as a way of managing railroad traffic, the telegraph soon became an essential means of transmitting news around the United States. The Associated Press was formed, in 1848, to pool telegraph expenses; other "wire services" soon followed.

Many telegraph companies were formed in the early years of the business, but by 1856 Western Union Telegraph Company had become the first dominant national telegraph system. In 1861, it completed the first transcontinental line, connecting San Francisco first to the Midwest and then on to the East Coast. As worldwide interest increased in applications of the telegraph, the International Telegraph Union was formed, in 1865, to establish standards for use in international communication. In 1866, the first transatlantic cables were completed.

The telegraph era came to an end after WORLD WAR II, with the advent of high-speed transmission technologies that did not use telegraph and telephone wires. By 1988, Western Union was reorganized to handle money transfers and related services.

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