Friday, March 18, 2016

On this day in 1852, Wells & Fargo started a shipping company to the American West

On this day in 1852, in New York City, Henry Wells & William G. Fargo join with several other investors to launch their namesake business. The discovery of gold in California in 1849, prompted a huge spike in the demand for cross-country shipping. Wells & Fargo decided to take advantage of these great opportunities. In July 1852, their company shipped its first loads of freight from the East Coast to mining camps scattered around northern California. The company contracted with independent stagecoach companies to provide the fastest possible transportation & delivery of gold dust, important documents & other valuable freight. 

In 1857, Wells, Fargo & Co. formed the Overland Mail Company, known as the “Butterfield Line,” which provided regular mail & passenger service along an ever-growing number of routes. In the boom-&-bust economy of the 1850s, the company earned a reputation as a trustworthy & reliable business, & its logo–the classic stagecoach–became famous. For a premium price, Wells, Fargo & Co. would send an employee on horseback to deliver or pick up a message or package.

Wells Fargo Express Co. Deadwood Treasure Wagon and Guards with $250,000 gold bullion from the Great Homestake Mine, Deadwood, S.D

Wells, Fargo & Co. merged with several other stagecoach lines in 1866, to become the unrivaled leader in transportation in the West. When the transcontinental railroad was completed 3 years later, the company began using railroad to transport its freight. 

An express freight shipment of 30 coaches, April 15th, 1868 by Abbot Downing & Co Concord, N.H. to Wells Fargo Co., Omaha, Nebraska.

By 1910, its shipping network connected 6,000 locations, from the urban centers of the East & the farming towns of the Midwest to the ranching & mining centers of Texas & California & the lumber mills of the Pacific Northwest. 

Wells, Fargo & Co. 1868 display advertisement from The Salt Lake Daily Telegraph (Utah Territory)

After splitting from the freight business in 1905, the banking branch of the company merged with the Nevada National Bank & established new headquarters in San Francisco. During World War I, the U.S. government nationalized the company’s shipping routes & combined them with the railroads into the American Railway Express, effectively putting an end to Wells, Fargo & Co. as a transportation & delivery business.