Hiram Sibley (1807-1888):
Image MAG Archives
Entrepreneur and capitalist, nurseryman and founder of Western Union, Hiram Sibley was born in North Adams, Massachusetts. He moved to Western New York around 1829-1830, and by 1835 he and his lifelong friend and partner Don Alonzo Watson had opened a machine shop in Sibleyville (now Mendon). He was elected Monroe County Sheriff in 1843 and began to invest in local nurseries in 1844.
Before the Civil War he was active in Republican (anti-slavery) politics.
After the invention of the telegraph in 1844, Sibley's interests turned to telegraphy and railroads. He organized and invested in patents and companies, consolidating his interests through the formation of Western Union in 1856.
During the Civil War, Western Union consolidated its hold on northern and western telegraph lines. Sibley traveled to Russia in late 1864 to negotiate with the Tsar for an undersea telegraph cable that would cross the Bering Strait from Alaska to Russia, uniting the Americas, Europe and Asia. The plan was stymied by the ultimate success after several failures of an Atlantic cable in 1866.
In his later years, he again invested in nurseries, purchasing the largest farm in the country and founding Hiram Sibley & Co., a seed company based in Rochester and Chicago. He was a prominent supporter of both the University of Rochester and Cornell University in Ithaca.