Wade was one of the founders of the American commercial telegraph system, a system which was instrumental in the "opening" of the West, and in the industrial development of this country. Starting with a small telegraph line between Detroit to Jackson in 1847, Wade quickly developed other lines. By 1856, after numerous consolidations, Wade was made the general agent of the Western Union Telegraph Company. By 1862, Wade had expanded to the west coast, thereby putting out of business the firm operating the pony express and preparing the way for the transcontinental railroad. In 1866 he was made president of the now-enlarged Western Union, but ill health soon forced his retirement.