10 Companies That Completely Reinvented Themselves

Western Union
People walk past a Western Union office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Western Union is so popular for remittances that agencies use its money transfer statistics to track the global movement of migrant labor. MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Md., in 1844, introducing the world to long-distance communication. Entrepreneurs rushed in to capitalize on this revolutionary technology, laying miles of telegraph lines to connect America's young cities. One of those fledgling telegraph companies was the New-York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company, founded in 1851. The company soon merged with competing telegraph networks and changed its name to Western Union [source: Western Union].

At the peak of popularity, Western Union sent out more than 200 million telegrams in 1929 [source: Frierman]. That business declined with the advent of cheaper long-distance phone service and was finished off by the Internet. Fortunately, the company has always had diverse interests. It started its wire money transfer business back in 1871 [source: Western Union].

The company also introduced a fax service in 1935, launched the first commercial communications satellite in 1974 and started one of the first commercial e-mail services, EasyLink, in 1982. Today, Western Union is the world's largest money transfer service with more than 515,000 agent locations in 200 countries [source: Western Union]. The company sent its last telegram in 2006 [source: AP].