American Express operates in over 130 countries around the globe. Learn more about our presence throughout the world.
Established in 1850 in New York, American Express Company was among the first and most successful express delivery businesses to arise during the rapid westward expansion of the United States. The U.S. Postal Service at the time was slow, expensive and nonexistent in many areas. Nothing larger than a letter-sized envelope could be sent by mail, and certainly nothing valuable, as a fair number of deliveries were lost or stolen enroute.
The express companies served as a lifeline to the growing nation. Intrepid expressmen, typically on horseback or driving stagecoaches, traversed from the eastern cities to the western frontier, transporting correspondence, parcels, freight, gold and currency, among countless other goods. American Express quickly earned a reputation as the best in the fledgling industry –
the company that delivered, literally.
Although in its early years American Express was not itself a financial services company, its largest and most consistent clients were banks. Delivering the banks’ typically small parcels – stock certificates, notes, currency and other financial instruments – was considerably more profitable than transporting larger freight. Soon the company would scale down its parcel and freight delivery business in favor of creating and selling its own financial products.
INNOVATION AND EXPANSION
In 1882, American Express launched the money order business, which proved an almost instant success. The company introduced the world’s first traveler’s cheque in 1891 and within ten years was selling more than $6 million in cheques annually.
As millions of immigrants began to enter the United States through Ellis Island in the late 1800s, another business opportunity arose after uncovering several examples of flagrant swindling among the independent moneychangers on the premises, the U.S. Immigration Department awarded a contract to American Express in 1905 to provide official currency exchange services. Over the years, countless newcomers completed their first business transactions in the United States at the American Express teller’s window on
In 1915, the company entered the travel business and soon was undertaking tours to Europe, South America, the Far East, West Indies and other destinations around the globe. American Express became synonymous with luxury tours and travel, and continued to emphasize this part of the business over the next several decades – despite the fact that it was not profitable. The sale of travelers cheques and money orders – and, more specifically, the float on them and the prudent and profitable investment of
that float – generated the revenue that supported this phase of the company’s travel endeavors.
THE CARD ERA
American Express issued its first charge card in 1958. Within five years, more than 1 million cards were in use at approximately 85,000 establishments within and outside the United States. Soon, the company began introducing local currency cards in markets outside the United States, adding programs that made it possible for cardmembers to extend payment on large travel expenditures, and launching additional products, such as the American Express Gold Card in 1966. Within ten years, the card business was growing steadily and generating a healthy profit. In the decades to come, the company would develop an unrivaled card
portfolio and enviable customer base. More than 34 million American Express Cards were in use across the United States by the close of the century.
GROWTH AND RENEWAL
The 1984 acquisition of Investor Diversified Services (IDS) initiated American Express’ transformation from what had become known as a card and travel company into a true financial services power. Adding to the momentum was a range of strategic partnerships American Express formed in the 1990s and early 2000s with selected airlines, banks, retailers and other key
businesses. Such alliances have proven highly successful, enabling partner companies to efficiently leverage their brands and business strengths while providing premium products and services to mutual customers. More than 150 years after it was established, American Express has never been more competitive. It is a world leader in providing charge and credit
cards to consumers, small businesses and corporations. It is the world's largest travel agency, offering travel and related consulting services to individuals and corporations around the world.
As it has throughout its long and varied past, American Express continues to deliver valuable and innovative services to its customers. It remains committed to its longstanding core values. And, as it was in 1850, it is poised to seize new opportunities in a rapidly changing industry and world.