Western Union Company is an American financial services and
communications company. Its headquarters is in Meridian, Colorado,
although the postal designation of nearby Englewood is used in its
mailing address. Up until it discontinued the service in 2006, Western
Union was the best-known U.S. company in the business of exchanging
Western Union has several divisions, with products such as
person-to-person money transfer, money orders, business payments and
commercial services. They offered standard "Cablegrams", as well as
more cheerful products such as Candygrams, Dollygrams, and
Western Union, as an industrialized monopoly, dominated the telegraph
industry in the late 19th century. It was the first communications
empire and set a pattern for American-style communications businesses
as they are known today.[neutrality is disputed]
1.1 19th century
1.2 20th century
1.3 Involvement in early computer networking
1.4 End of telegrams
2 Specific services
Western Union Mobile
Western Union Connect
2.5 Sending and receiving funds
2.6 Transfer fees
2.7 Past services
4 Scam industry and money laundering
Money laundering and terrorist financing
5 Connection to military intelligence
5.1 Blocked transactions
6 Anti-competitive behavior
7 See also
8 Alternative providers
10 Further reading
11 External links
In 1851, the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph
Company was organized in
Rochester, New York
Rochester, New York by Samuel L. Selden,
Hiram Sibley, and others, with the goal of creating one great
telegraph system with unified and efficient operations. Meanwhile,
Ezra Cornell had bought back one of his bankrupt companies and renamed
it the New York &
Telegraph Company. Originally
fierce competitors, by 1856 both groups were finally convinced that
consolidation was their only alternative for progress. The merged
company was named the
Telegraph Company at Cornell's
Western Union was born.
Western Union bought out smaller companies rapidly, and by 1860 its
lines reached from the East Coast to the Mississippi River, and from
Great Lakes to the Ohio River. In 1861 it opened the first
transcontinental telegraph. In 1865 it formed the Russian–American
Telegraph in an attempt to link America to Europe, via Alaska, into
Moscow (This project was abandoned in 1867). The company
enjoyed phenomenal growth during the next few years. Under the
leadership of presidents
Jeptha Wade and William Orton its
capitalization rose from $385,700 in 1858 to $41 million in 1876.
However it was top-heavy with stock issues, and faced growing
competition from several firms, especially the Atlantic and Pacific
Telegraph Company—itself taken over by financier
Jay Gould in
1875.:196–201 In 1881 Gould took control of Western Union.
Wilbur Bold, a 12-year-old
Western Union messenger boy, Tampa,
It introduced the first stock ticker in 1866, and a standardized time
service in 1870. The next year, 1871, the company introduced its money
transfer service, based on its extensive telegraph network. In 1879,
Western Union left the telephone business, settling a patent lawsuit
Telephone Company. As the telephone replaced the
telegraph, money transfer would become its primary business.
Dow Jones Transportation Average
Dow Jones Transportation Average stock market index for the
New York Stock Exchange
New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) was created in 1884,
Western Union was
one of the original eleven all-American companies tracked.
Western Union operated a million miles of telegraph lines and
two international undersea cables.
The company continued to grow, acquiring more than 500 smaller
competitors. Its monopoly power was almost complete in 1943 when it
bought Postal Telegraph, Inc., its chief rival.
Former headquarters of WU, located at 60 Hudson, New York, NY, USA, in
the early and middle 20th century
Western Union offered the first charge card for consumers; in
1923 it introduced teletypewriters to join its branches. Singing
telegrams followed in 1933, intercity fax in 1935, and commercial
intercity microwave communications in 1943. In 1958, it began offering
Telex service to customers in New York City. In honor of
Valentine's Day 1959,
Western Union introduced the Candygram, a box of
chocolates accompanying a telegram featured in a commercial with the
rotund Don Wilson. On the 1970s version of Let's Make a Deal, hosted
by Monty Hall,
Western Union Candygrams (with a cash message inside)
were offered to contestants as a prize during a deal. In 1964, Western
Union initiated a transcontinental microwave system to replace land
During World War II, families with sons in military service dreaded
Western Union "boy on his bicycle" to arrive at their home with a
telegram from the War Department or the Navy Department. The message
began: The Secretary of War (for soldiers and airmen) or Secretary of
Navy (for sailors and marines), regrets to inform you that [name, rank
and serial number of the man in the military service] was killed in
action (or missing in action).
Western Union "Tourate" telegram service, 1939
Western Union became the first American telecommunications corporation
to maintain its own fleet of geosynchronous communications satellites,
starting in 1974. The fleet of satellites, called Westar, carried
communications within the
Western Union company for telegram and
mailgram message data to
Western Union bureaus nationwide. It also
handled traffic for its
Telex and TWX (
Telex II) services. The Westar
satellites' transponders were also leased by other companies for
relaying video, voice, data, and facsimile (fax) transmissions.
Western Union organized its international cable system
properties and its right-of-way for connecting international telegraph
lines into a separate company called
Western Union International (WUI)
which it divested that year to American Securities. In 1983, American
Securities sold WUI to
MCI Communications which renamed it to MCI
International and moved its headquarters from
New York City
New York City to Rye
Brook, New York.
In the 1970s, WUI installed and leased to the U.S. Department of
Defense (DOD) dedicated 50 Kbps high-speed telecommunications
facilities between the continental U.S. and Hawaii, Germany and the
United Kingdom to provide a test bed for the DOD's Advanced Research
Projects Agency (ARPA). This test bed provided ARPA with a proof of
concept for the technology of packet switching which later became the
Western Union partnered with E. F. Hutton & Co..
Western Union purchased a fifty percent interest in Airfone.
GTE in 1986 for $39 million in cash.
Because of declining profits and mounting debts,
Western Union slowly
began to divest itself of telecommunications-based assets starting in
the early 1980s. Because of deregulation at the time, Western Union
began sending money outside the country, re-inventing itself as "The
fastest way to send money worldwide" and expanding its agent locations
Example of a
Western Union Telegram, 1959. Note that the message text
is a continuous strip of paper which was cut and glued to the telegram
In 1987, Investor
Bennett S. LeBow acquired control of Western Union
through an outside of chapter 11 process that was a complex leveraged
recapitalization. The transaction was backed by a total of $900
million in high-yield bonds and preferred stock underwritten by
Michael Milken's group at
Drexel Burnham Lambert
Drexel Burnham Lambert as part of an
exchange offer. LeBow installed Robert J. Amman as President and CEO
who led a complete strategic, operational and balance sheet
restructuring of the company over the subsequent 6 years.
Mr. Amman executed a strategy of redirecting
Western Union from being
an asset-based provider of communications services, with a money
transfer business as a large but less important part of the business,
into being a provider of consumer-based money transfer financial
services. In so doing, Mr. Amman ran the company as two separate
companies. One business consisted of the money transfer business,
which was funded and operated to take advantage of the significant
growth opportunity. The second unit consisted of all the non-strategic
communications assets such as the long-distance analog voice network,
satellite business and undersea cable assets. In the 3-year period
through 1990 Mr. Amman was supported by Robert A. Schriesheim, also
installed by Mr. LeBow, as a special advisor who oversaw the
divestiture of the four non-strategic telecommunications assets for
about $280 million.
The official name of the corporation was changed to New Valley
Corporation in 1991, just in time for that entity to seek bankruptcy
protection as part of Mr. Amman's strategy to eliminate the
overleveraged balance sheet while continuing to grow the money
transfer business . The name change was taken to shield the Western
Union name from being dragged through the proceedings (and the bad PR
that would cause). Under the day to day leadership of Robert J.
Amman and the backing of LeBow, the company's value increased
dramatically through its years operating under chapter 11.
Following various restructurings that included negotiations with Carl
Icahn who became a large bond holder, Mr. Amman engineered the sale of
New Valley in a bankruptcy auction to First Financial Management
Corporation in 1994 for $1.2 billion where he became vice chairman,
and a year later merged with First
Corporation in a $6 billion
transaction. On January 26, 2006, First
plans to spin
Western Union off as an independent, publicly traded
company. Western Union's focus will remain money transfers. The next
Western Union announced that it would cease offering telegram
transmission and delivery, the product most associated with the
company throughout its history. This was, however, not the original
Western Union telegram service, but a new service of First
Western Union banner; the original telegram service was sold off
after New Valley Corporation's bankruptcy and now operates as
The spin off was completed September 29, 2006 and
Western Union became
an independent, publicly traded company again.
Involvement in early computer networking
Western Union telegrams were transmitted through a store and forward
message switching system. Early versions were manual telegraph
systems. Later systems using teleprinters were semi-automatic, using
punched paper tape to receive, store, and retransmit messages. Plan
55-A, Western Union's last paper tape based switching system
(1948–1976), was fully automatic, with automatic routing.
Western Union was a prime contractor in the Automatic Digital Network
(AUTODIN) program. AUTODIN, a military application for communication,
was first developed in the 1960s and became the precursor to the
Internet in the 1990s. The
Defense Message System (DMS)
replaced AUTODIN in 2000.
AUTODIN, originally named "ComLogNet", was a highly reliable service
that operated at 99.99% availability, using mechanical punched card
readers and tab machines to send and receive data over leased lines.
During the peak operation of AUTODIN, the
United States portion of the
network handled twenty million messages a month.
Western Union failed
in its attempts to engineer a replacement (AUTODIN II), leading to the
development of an acceptable packet-switched network by BBN (the
developer of the ARPANET) which became the foundation of today's
Internet. AUTODIN service ceased in 2000, years after it had become
A related innovation that came from AUTODIN was Western Union's
computer based EasyLink service. This system allowed for one of the
first marketable email systems for non-government users. In addition,
the system allowed the same message to be sent simultaneously to
multiple recipients via email, fax, mailgram, or telex services as
well as allowing messages to be sent from the integrated formats. With
the service, users could also perform research utilizing its InfoLink
application. EasyLink Services International
Corporation is now a
End of telegrams
As of February 2006, the
Western Union website showed this notice:
Western Union will discontinue all
Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may
cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage. If you have any
questions or concerns, please contact a customer service
This ended the era of telegrams which began in 1851 with the founding
of the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing
Telegraph Company, and
which spanned 155 years of continuous service.
Western Union reported
that telegrams sent had fallen to a total of 20,000 a year, because of
competition from other communication services such as email. Employees
were informed of the decision in mid-January.
Telegram service in the
United States continues to be available
In May 2009,
Western Union announced its intention to acquire Custom
House from Peter Gustavson. The deal closed in September 2009, with
Western Union purchasing Custom House for US$370 million. Its
acquisition led the company to be re-branded as
Western Union Business
In January 2011,
Western Union acquired 100% of Angelo Costa, a group
active in money transfer and services to immigrants. Angelo Costa has
a network of 7,500 points of sale in various European countries. The
agreement was signed for US$200 million.
In July 2011,
Western Union acquired Travelex's Global Business
Payments division for £606 million.
In October 2011,
Western Union completed the acquisition of Finint
S.r.l., one of Western Union's leading money transfer network agents
in Europe, counting more than 10,000 subagent locations across Italy,
Spain, and the United Kingdom.
In May 2015, rumors emerged over a proposed merger of Western Union
and its closest competitor MoneyGram, at a time when both companies’
revenue were declining. However,
Western Union denied this was the
case. In January 2017,
MoneyGram was instead acquired by Ant
Financial, Alibaba’s financial technology firm, for $880
Western Union outlet in Angeles City, Philippines
Western Union's website, westernunion.com, allows users to send and
receive funds to others, pay bills, locate
Western Union locations,
track transfers, and to purchase
Western Union NetSpend gift cards.
The website also attempts to spread fraud awareness using videos,
articles, and quizzes to do so.
As of September 2017, the domain westernunion.com ranks globally as
the 4,319th most visited website, according to Alexa Internet.
Internet became an arena for commerce at the turn of the
Western Union started its online services. BidPay was
Western Union Auction Payments" in 2004 before being renamed
back to BidPay. BidPay ceased operations on December 31, 2005, and was
purchased for US$1.8 million in March 2006 by CyberSource Corp. who
announced their intention to re-launch BidPay. BidPay was later
discontinued by CyberSource effective December 31, 2007.
Western Union Mobile
In October 2007,
Western Union announced plans to introduce a mobile
money-transfer service with the GSM Association, a global trade
association representing more than 700 mobile operators in 218
countries and covering 2.5 billion mobile subscribers.
The proliferation of mobile phones in developed and developing
economies provides a widely accessible consumer device capable of
delivering mobile financial services ranging from text notifications
Western Union cash delivery services to phone-based
remittance options. Western Union's mobile money transfer service
offering will connect its core money-transfer platform to m-bank or
m-wallet platforms provided by mobile operators and/or locally
regulated financial institutions.
Western Union Connect
The company launched the
Western Union Connect service in October
2015, following partnership agreements with major instant messaging
WeChat and Viber. The partnership allows users of WeChat
to send up to $100 to China, the US and 200 other countries, while
Viber users can send up to $100 for $3.99 plus exchange rate fees,
with that fixed fee increasing the more money is sent up a limit of
Sending and receiving funds
In order to send funds, a sender goes to a
Western Union office and
presents funds (plus fees) for "Next Day" or "Money in Minutes"
service. The sender provides his or her name and address, the
recipient's name, and a designated payment destination. Western Union
then provides the sender a 10-digit Money Transfer Control Number
(MTCN) that the sender must provide to the recipient. The recipient
then proceeds to a
Western Union agent office in the designated
payment location, presents the 10-digit MTCN, and a photo ID. Money is
then paid out to the recipient. In some locations, if a recipient
lacks identification documents, the sender and receiver can set up a
pre-arranged password. Funds are paid out in cash, although if payment
exceeds a local maximum or cash on hand, a check is issued.
Alternatively, a sender may forward funds to a recipient by using
Western Union's website or by phone. In some countries, the recipient
doesn’t need the MTCN number if one has sufficient identification.
Fees vary based on the sender and receiver's location, type of
transfer, and whether the money is sent from a counter location or by
WU phone parlors near Times Square, 2008
Along with satellite telecommunications,
Western Union was also active
in other forms of telecommunication services:
Common carrier terrestrial microwave networks
Business communications networks such as
Telex and TWX, which was
acquired from AT&T
Corporation and renamed
Telex II by Western
Landline-based leased voice and data communication circuits
Long distance telephone service
Airfone air-ground radiotelephone service from 1981 to 1986
Cellular phone service for a very short time in the early 1980s (the
phones were made by two-way radio manufacturer E. F. Johnson Company)
Most of these services were discontinued by
Western Union in the late
1980s due to a lack of profitability, with the company's divisions
providing said services being divested and sold to other companies,
such as the 1988 sale of WU's satellite fleet and services to Hughes
Space and Communications, and the sale of WU's
Airfone service to GTE
Western Union was a major shirt-sponsor of the
Sydney Roosters NRL
team from 2002–2003. The company still sponsors the team, but not as
a shirt-sponsor. Around the world,
Western Union sponsors numerous
community events that help support the diaspora communities that use
the global Money Transfer service. They also sponsored numerous WWE
and WCW pay-per-view events such as the No Way Out 1998 and Slamboree
2000. They sponsored
UEFA Europa League
UEFA Europa League from 2012 until 2015.
Western Union Foundation donates money to charitable
causes around the world. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the
Foundation donated US$1,000,000 to the relief effort.
The Denver Nuggets of the
National Basketball Association
National Basketball Association announced
Western Union will be their jersey sponsor for the 2017-18 NBA
Liverpool FC announced on August, 9, 2017 that
Western Union would
become their first ever sleeve sponsors, from the start of the 2017-18
Season. They signed a £25m deal for 5 years as Liverpool's sleeve
Scam industry and money laundering
Western Union advises its customers not to send money to someone that
they have never met in person. Despite its efforts in increasing
customers' awareness of the issue,
Western Union is used for
internet fraud by scammers.
Western Union has been required to maintain records of payout
locations of the individuals who may be laundering the money, though
this information may be obtained only through the use of a subpoena.
Hence advance-fee fraud and romance scammers continue to receive funds
Western Union confident in the knowledge that money lost to
overseas scammers is almost always unrecoverable. For this reason,
it is banned as a medium of payment through eBay, and
discouraged on other online auction websites.
Western Union admitted to allowing wire fraud in January 2017 and
agreed to pay $586m, for turning a blind eye as criminals used its
service for advance fee fraud. Scammers engaging in various 419
advance fee scams including offering fake job offers and lottery
prizes, were able to process transactions using
Western Union money
transfer, mainly by giving the agents a share of the earnings from
Western Union failed to investigate hundreds of thousands
of complaints victims filed.
Money laundering and terrorist financing
Central Bank of Ireland
Central Bank of Ireland reprimanded and fined Western Union
€1.75m in May 2015 because of failures in anti money laundering
practices which could have left the firm’s payment services open to
being used for money laundering and/or terrorist financing saying that
they were concerned that
Western Union "failed to have in place
sufficiently robust systems and procedures to train agents, to monitor
and identify suspicious activity in respect of smaller transactions,
and to maintain appropriate records" and "the splitting of payments
into many separate smaller payments is a common method used to launder
money. Similarly, terrorist financing is often carried out by small
Western Union agents also allowed Chinese immigrants to use the
service to send hundreds of millions of dollars, by sending the
amounts in smaller increments to avoid transfer reporting
requirements, to pay human smugglers.
Connection to military intelligence
There were allegations in the book, "The One Percent Doctrine: Deep
Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11" that Western Union
United States military intelligence with personal
Western Union has begun blocking transactions based on suspicion of
terrorist connections, as a part of the company's involvement with the
War on Terror. Currently, transfers sent from the Western Union
website require telephone confirmation of the sender's identity. On
occasion, the transfer will fail and customer service inform the
sender that the transaction "does not meet our requirements". If
details are requested, no information will be given other than the
fact that their disclosure is forbidden. Numerous customers have
reported this problem.
Anti-competitive behavior 
Western Union has been accused of engaging in anti-competitive
behavior in Africa as a result of a lack of competition on the
continent. According to a report by the Overseas Development
Institute, this allows
Western Union to artificially inflate its fees
for money transfers, charging what has been called an “Africa
charge” of 8% consistently “applied across countries regardless of
the size of the market, regulatory costs or market risk.”
However, the fees can be as high as 10% or more, depending on the
region. Africa’s remittance market remains the most expensive in
the world, and the region is estimated to incur excess costs of
$1.4 billion to $2.3 billion per year as a result of these high
The company has also been criticized for its use of exclusivity
agreements with banks in countries that receive remittances,
restricting competition and harming the consumer, by requiring the
consumer to conduct transactions via nominated banks. This also
allows for the imposition of above-average transaction fees.
In February 2016,
Western Union was questioned by the EU antitrust
regulator over its network of agents in order to establish whether the
company colluded with banks to push out smaller rivals from the money
transfer market.[clarification needed]
60 Hudson Street
60 Hudson Street – Former headquarters
Pangram – Used by WU to test teleprinters.
Pennsylvania v. New York — Question before the U.S. Supreme Court:
Western Union Money orders are supposed to escheat to the state
if not fully redeemed, what state is to get the money?
Western Union, 1939 schooner chartered by
Western Union Telegraph
Company, used in film as slave ship La Amistad
Western Union splice
Telegraph Building – Former Headquarters
Ria Financial Services
^ a b "
Western Union Our Corporate History".
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10-K)". sec.gov. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. February
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Administration: A History of Graduate Management Education at Cornell
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Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons. New York:
Basic Books. p. 263. ISBN 978-0-465-06886-9.
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Empires, New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.
Western Union Patent Agreement of 1879 Old
Telephones". oldtelephones.com. Retrieved 2017-06-21.
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Chicago: A.C. McClurg. pp. 81–84.
^ Phillip R. Easterlin, “
Telex in New York”, Western Union
Technical Review, April 1959: 47 figure 4
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Retrieved October 3, 2011.
^ Notice of the discontinuation of telegram services Archived February
20, 2006, at
Archive.is – From the
Western Union website
^ "Archive of original message". Archived from the original on
February 20, 2006. Retrieved August 30, 2016. . Accessed July 15,
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Telegram Edition". National
Review. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
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Costa to Western Union". January 2011.
Western Union to Acquire
Travelex Global Business Payments".
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Western Union Completes Acquisition of Finint S.r.l." October
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MoneyGram Merger Will Mean To Africa".
AFKInsider. 2015-05-07. Retrieved 2017-06-27.
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^ a b Constine, Josh. "
Western Union Brings Money Transfer And Its
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Western Union strike deal for global money
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Western Union joins fraud fight – BBC
^ David Derbyshire (March 3, 2007). "eBay-er Beware". National Post
(Canada). p. FW5.
Internet Crime Schemes –
Internet Crime Complaint Center
^ Ben Taylor; Khushwant Sachdave (October 29, 2005). "The ebay
racketeers". DAILY MAIL (London). p. 19. Three Romanian
immigrants who conned eBay customers out of nearly Pounds 300,000 were
behind bars last night. In the biggest
Internet fraud of its kind, the
gang fooled 3,000 bidders who they arrogantly described as 'idiots'
into paying for goods that did not exist. Victims from around the
world handed over sums of up to Pounds 5,000 for everything from
concert tickets to motorbikes through the money transfer chain Western
^ David Brown (December 18, 2005). "Fraudsters Targeted In New eBay
Crackdown". The People. p. 33. The auction giant will protect
customers by BANNING the use of online money transfers. Now eBay will
bring in the ban – backed by
Western Union and already in force in
the US – from January 15 in the UK. It will tell punters
to use secure payment systems that verify the identity of users, and
which can track both buyers' and sellers' accounts.
^ "Trust & Safety Blog -
Western Union and Trade Me members: A
terrible combination". Retrieved 15 May 2015.
^ a b "
Western Union admits to aiding wire fraud, to pay $586
^ "Central Bank fines
Western Union €1.75m". The Irish Times. 19 May
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Payment Services Ireland Limited". Central Bank of Ireland. 18 May
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Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11, Simon & Schuster,
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Western Union sucks – The NewsLog of Flemming
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Business – International Herald Tribune". The New York Times.
Retrieved November 27, 2009.
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development aid? Africa DW 18.05.2017". DW.COM. Retrieved
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time". International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
^ Moré, Iñigo. "Fighting exclusivity clauses in the market for
remittances" (PDF). Remesas.org.
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EURACTIV.com. Retrieved 2017-06-27.
Wolff, Joshua D.,
Western Union and the Creation of the American
Corporate Order, 1845–1893. New York: Cambridge University Press,
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Western Union.
Business data for Western Union: Google Finance
Telegram for America, a industrial film showing
Western Union telegram
Telegram Collection at the University of Mississip