Autry National Center

The History of Wells Fargo & Company: Beginnings in the West

Gold created not only the state of California but also the company of Wells Fargo. The flood of prospectors seeking their fortunes near Sacramento caught the attention of two wealthy New Yorkers, Henry Wells and William G. Fargo. Already a part of the express business as directors of the American Express Company, Wells and Fargo opened their first office on Montgomery Street in San Francisco on July 13, 1852, in virtually the same location as their current headquarters. At the time, federal postal service to the West was notoriously slow and unreliable and by 1860, express companies—Wells Fargo the largest of all—transported 95% of the mail from California, Nevada, and Colorado.

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First Wells Fargo & Company office in San Francisco, 1852. Photograph used with permission of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

By promptly recognizing the transportation and banking needs of miners, Wells Fargo’s service in the West expanded rapidly into many California towns. Miners who found gold could quickly exchange gold dust for coins or gold bars locally, send their fortune to banks for deposit, or route it to their families back home. Wells Fargo established agencies in mining towns near fields to buy gold, while their express service securely transported the company’s purchases and miners’ wealth to urban areas. Many of the company’s early employees were disappointed gold-seekers or successful local business people whose work as agents and messengers offered them a steady and lucrative line of work.

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California portable miner’s gold scale, 1849-1855. Acquisition made possible by the Ramona Chapter, Native Sons of the Golden West, Autry National Center; 93.21.20

The History of Wells Fargo & Company

The history of Wells Fargo & Company is inseparable from the history of the American West. The stagecoach and galloping team of six horses—the symbol that is synonymous with Wells Fargo—recalls a time when the stagecoach was the dominant means of long-distance overland transportation and communication. Wells Fargo stagecoaches connected remote settlements to one another and American migrants in the West to their loved ones back home. The presence of a Wells Fargo office was a sign of stability and growth within emerging towns, signifying new reaches of American expansionism. Whether by steam, stage, rail, or road, the enterprise and efficiency of the Wells Fargo Express not only hurried parcels and people but also hastened American settlement of the Western interior. For seventy years, Americans in the West relied on the presence of Wells Fargo offices, agents, and services in their communities.

4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA 90027-1462 Phone: 323.667.2000

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