Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The History of Wells Fargo

By Jennifer Uhlarik

A couple of years ago, a new bank came to our town. Wells Fargo. I say “new,” because it was new to our area, perhaps to our state. But Wells Fargo is hardly a “new” bank. It was first started in 1852, a product of the California Gold Rush. The founders, Henry Wells and William Fargo, started Wells, Fargo, & Co., in order to provide excellent banking services to the people of the West. Their first location was in San Francisco but they quickly developed an excellent reputation, which allowed them to spread to the other towns and mining camps in California and beyond.

Wells Fargo & Co. wasn’t just about the banking services, though. In addition to handling their customers’ money needs in a quick and reliable way, Wells Fargo also got into the express business—transporting anything of value via horse and rider, steamships, railroad, or, the most well known, the stagecoach.
Advertisement for Overland Mail Stagecoach travel.

In 1858, Wells, Fargo & Co. lent their backing to the new Overland Stage Line, which traveled 2,812 miles along the “Butterfield Route.” In 1861, the company took over the operation of the short-lived Pony Express, which lasted only until the start of the Civil War. By 1866, Wells Fargo had expanded to dominate all major Western stage routes from Nebraska to California.

The Butterfield Route, Overland Mail Company

As the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, Wells Fargo’s express business switched to a rail-based one, rather than stagecoaches, allowing it to reach more than just the western states and territories. By 1888, the company’s new motto became “Ocean-to-Ocean” to depict the fact it served customers from the East coast all the way to the West in 25 states. Their services included money orders, traveler’s checks, and money transfers via telegraph. And for the many mining communities, they provided guards to keep the gold, silver and other valuables safe. By the early 1900’s, the bank boasted over 6,000 locations nation-wide.

Original Wells Fargo location,
San Francisco, California
In 1905, Wells, Fargo, & Co. separated their banking and express businesses into two separate entities. The bank was rocked in 1906 when the San Francisco earthquake and fire struck. Thankfully, the bank president sent word that the read: “Building Destroyed, Vault Intact, Credit Unaffected.” From there, Wells Fargo rebuilt and became a powerhouse in the business all across the West.

As World War I began in 1918, Wells Fargo’s locations shrunk drastically—from about 10,000 locations (both bank and express offices) of back to a single branch in San Francisco. This was due to the U.S. Government taking over the nation’s express network as part of the War effort. The company survived—even thrived—the downsizing, and with a series of good choices, continued to be the innovative company it always had been. Wells Fargo threw its support behind the burgeoning auto, aviation, and film industries of the 1910’s and 20’s. The long unused stagecoaches began to make appearances in Western films, thus keeping the Wells Fargo name before the people. Sound management helped the company survive the Great Depression, saw it through World War II, and on into the modern era.

It wasn’t until the 1990’s when Wells Fargo expanded outside of California, and in the 2000’s, once again reached the point of being in service from “Ocean-to-Ocean.”



Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.


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2 comments:

  1. Very interesting. Thanks for the History lesson.

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

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