Wells Fargo 1852, more than just a Bank
When you think of Wells Fargo Bank, you think of a financial institute, but have you ever thought there might have been more to this company than just banking? Like, the largest transportation company in the world?
On March 18, 1852, Wells Fargo’s Henry Wells and William Fargo, and other investors, met in New York, where they signed articles of association to open a business in San Francisco and Sacramento as Wells Fargo and Company banking to begin on July 18, 1852. Wells Fargo provided financial services to pioneer miners, merchants and ranchers in the West. It wasn’t long after going into business; the company opened other offices in mining camps, towns and cities that were in need of their services. By the end of 1918 there were more than 10,000 offices across the country.
As if banking wasn’t enough for this newly vested company, knowing that America was a growing country, they knew they needed to prepare for the future. As the banking industry was growing in 1858, and offices were beginning to pop up across the country, the one thing still not in place was a source of transportation in order to handle financial transactions by the fastest means possible. At the time, these transactions were moving by steam and sailing ships, railroads, Pony Express, and what all of us have read about, the stagecoach.
Since Wells Fargo and Co. was dependant on carriers to handle their transportation needs during their early beginnings, soon they would develop their own reliable transportation across the continent. It wasn’t long before Wells Fargo became the largest stagecoach transportation company in the world.
In 1858, Wells Fargo, teamed up with other express companies to finance the Overland Mail Company. Named after their president John Butterfield, the Butterfield Line scheduled to run twice-weekly, moving passengers and mail service between St. Louis and San Francisco. The route was long, covering 2,757 miles of open land; Wells Fargo surveyed the route traveling through Fort Worth, El Paso, Tucson, and Los Angeles.
Working hard to keep up with the times and the growing of financial wealth, the Overland Mail Company rolled night and day stopping only to change horses and for their employees, to grab quick meals consisting of coffee, jerky and biscuits. Their travels had them on the road for 25 days, from departure locations in Missouri and California, encountering some pretty tough terrain made up of treeless plains, jagged mountains and scorching deserts. The dedicated employees made sure that the coaches and their contents arrived safely at the destinations.
During this era, these stagecoaches were built high and wide in order to handle the rough, rutted roads of a new country. This classic American vehicle was engineered in Concord, New Hampshire, by carriage builder J. Stephens Abbot and master wheelwright Lewis Downing for Wells Fargo & Co.
As any engineer of vehicles, you must take into consideration the terrain, weather conditions and the type of contents to be transported so that you can develop a well built product. These stagecoaches were made of curved frames to give strength to the body and a little extra elbow room for its passengers. Once the body was mastered, a great deal of thought went into the wheels which would carry it for miles and be able to stand up to decades of drenching mountain storms and parching desert heat. What made these coaches unique was not a steel spring suspension that we know today, but leather thoroughbraces made out of bullhide. This arrangement spared the horses from jarring and gave the stagecoach a (sometimes) more gentle rocking motion, leading Mark Twain to call it, “An imposing cradle on wheels” (Roughing It, 1870).
If you think these coaches were light in weight, how about weighing 2,500 pounds? At a cost of $1,100 each, they included leather and damask cloth interiors. Wells Fargo to this day still displays these coaches proudly during parades and in their History Museums across the country.
Wells Fargo & Co. also played another very important part in history; the capturing of Black Bart. The stagecoaches carried the famous Wells Fargo green treasure boxes, securing gold dust, gold bars, gold coins, legal papers and money drafts, which were stored underneath the driver’s seat. These boxes weighed as much as 150 lbs., making them sturdy and secure. They were made out of Ponderosa pine, oak and iron. They were highly sought after by highway bandits.
Not every strong box required an armed guard. Only the real security treasures were accompanied by a Wells Fargo shotgun messenger. These were the kind of men you could depend on. Those brave enough to try to steal these treasure boxes while in route, would find themselves staring down a double barrel shotgun. According to legend, that possibly could have included Wyatt Earp himself.
The Infamous Black Bart, a masked highwayman who was responsible for robbing 27 stagecoaches owned by Wells Fargo and other transportation companies, was finally apprehended by Wells Fargo’s detectives. He served four years in San Quentin Prison and then disappeared forever, without a trace.
So the next time you enter a Wells Fargo bank and see the picture of a stagecoach on their walls, you will have a better understanding of its history; that at one time. it was more than just a bank, it was the biggest transportation company in the world.
Photo reference: Wells Fargo Bank, Inc.