The Evolution of Money Transfers Across the Ages

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A Brief History

People bartered before money came into play in 610-600 B.C. when the Lydians created the coin. Paper money was created by the Tang Dynasty in 618-907 A.D. Since money came into existence, people had to figure out a way to transfer that money to others, and we explore that here.

Digging Deeper

Just Traveling

The reality is the transfer of money or goods has been in existence for a long time, and it happened in the most non-technical way: traveling. People who needed to transfer goods or money traveled to make sure those goods got to the right destination.

This occurred during emergencies, or when large governments traded resources using various modes of transportation, such as horses or boats. It is obvious that this kind of money transfer was unsustainable, and it limited people in many ways. Traveling could take days, weeks, or even months depending on the destination.

A Signed Paper

Technically, money transfers had not happened yet, and it would be a long time before it came into play. Now, a check is not necessarily a transfer, but it was a different way of carrying money from place to place. Checks also allowed people to mail various amounts of cash from one place to another, as long as there was a bank and mail service.

The first check was written in 1659 by a Nicholas Vanacker. That first check was made out to a tune of £400, but it was still completely written out. The first printed check did not come until 1717. Still, it is clear that this mode of transferring money from one place to another was limited since the number of banks around the world was scarce at the time, and mail was not as reliable as it is today.

The Birth of the Telegraph

The birth of the first real electronic money transfer happened in 1918 when the telegraph was used to move currency from one place to another. The first institution that was able to do this was the Federal Reserve Banks, but soon after many other institutions and telegraph business began to do the same, which was the beginning of companies like Western Union.

Regular folks were able to do all sorts of things much faster, like send money from the United States to Colombia with just a few clicks. Money transfers definitely became much more commonplace, but there were still a few limitations dealing with access. There was still a need to figure out a way to transfer money in a more effective way so that the recipient could receive funds if they were not near a telegraph company.

Breakthrough in Electronic Transfers

Money transferring continued to change with the introduction of ATMs or Automated Teller Machines and debit cards or credit cards. These types of cards were not necessarily the same as money transfers, but people certainly used them for these purposes. For example, those who had a shared account and needed money as they traveled could have the other party send money from the United States to Colombia if they needed it. All the person had to do was deposit money into the account.

These machines were a lot easier to build, so it gave people much more access. Credit cards came out in the early 1920s, but the first ATM did not show up until 1967 though it was still in its early stages then, so it still took a second before people were able to use them how people use them today. Again, access was still a bit of an obstacle, but things have definitely gotten much better.

Jump to Modern Day

The beginning of the internet began in 1983 when networks were linked though the internet as most people know came about in 1990 when the World Wide Web was created. All you have to do is jump a few decades later, and now we have one of the most effective money transferring systems that has ever existed. People don’t need tellers, telegraphs, or to mail money to another person.

Someone could send money from one place to another place as long as the receiving person is connected to the internet, and some form of the internet is available virtually everywhere in today’s modern world. Money transfers can be done from one transferring company to an email, a debit card, a visa card, or just another branch. These transfers are safe and happen pretty much instantly. People in remote areas can receive electronic money that could be used without even going anywhere to receive the amount in cash. Electronic money can be used online without any problems at all.

There is no telling how much money transfers are going to evolve. The next big thing is cryptocurrency when it comes to currency. The possibilities are endless, which continues to make this industry a fascinating one to pay attention to with anticipation.

Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever transferred money?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Weatherford, Jack.  The History of Money.  Crown Business, 1998.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (, of a coin of Alyattes of Lydia, circa 620/10-564/53 BC, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


About Author

Abdul Alhazred

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad." "How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland