|Wells Fargo location, Old Sacramento|
Like with many people and businesses, the California Gold Rush gave Wells Fargo it's big boost. One recognized truth about making money during the Gold Rush was that while some made a fortune prospecting for gold, others made a fortune catering to those searching for the ore. Wells Fargo is a very good example of this. Another company that grew during the gold rush days and is still around today is Levi Strauss. Levi Strauss produced their patented denim wear that was needed by miners who required durable wear that could take a beating. As far a gold miners were concerned, the Wells Fargo offices offered them a safe place to store their gold. When the California gold rush began, the statehood for California was still a year or two away and the issue of safety for ones valuable, gold for example, was needed. Wells Fargo offices provided a trusted and guarded place for a miner to store and ship out via express box his gold and gold dust. Locating and filing gold mining claims was one thing. Protecting and securing the claims assets was another thing.
Wells Fargo Express kept scales such as the one shown in this article to provide accurate weight measurements for the local miners who did bring in their gold. Wells Fargo used precision balance scales manufactured by Howard ans Davis in Boston. As a side note, Howard and Davis also made the banjo clocks which were seen in all Wells Fargo Express offices and banks.
|Howard and Davis Gold Scales|
Before the Civil War, starting back in 1857, Wells Fargo and other express companies joined together to form the Overland Mail Company. This new enterprise was aggressive to say the least, establishing regular twice per week mail service between St. Louis and San Francisco. This was about the same time that the Butterfield Overland Stage organized for it's route through the southwest U.S. The Butterfield route went from St. Louis through Arkansas, Texas, the New Mexico Territory and then on to San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.This route by all measures was a harder route to travel over. The old southern route was essentially desert travel. The central route had to not only cross the Rockies but also the formidable Sierra Nevada's to enter California. Financial complications occurred with the old Butterfield Stage Line which was renamed the Overland Stage Company. In March 1860, the Overland Stage Company was taken over because of the debt owed to Wells Fargo and as a result John Butterfield was forced out of the business. His stage line assets were taken over by Wells Fargo and Company. With their handsome Concord coaches along with their leather strap suspension system, the Wells Fargo Stage Line was fast becoming the major stagecoach line. There would be many years of growth from this point on.
|Wells Fargo Concord Coach model|
When the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, the mail and passenger landscape changed dramatically. Nevertheless, train tracks didn't go everywhere and Wells Fargo prospered by running their stages where the tracks weren't laid. They even contracted with independent stagecoach operators to carry their express boxes into more areas. In addition to this, Wells Fargo carried their express boxes on the rails themselves and with that became the largest express company in the world offering their services into new York. What was interesting with the Wells Fargo Express story is how they grew enormously by taking advantage of the ocean to ocean rail service. Instead of shrinking with the arrival of the transcontinental railroad they expanded. Instead of becoming smaller they actually grew larger.
|Wells Fargo & Co. Express Safe in background|
Wells Fargo maintains several museums throughout the country.The Wells Fargo express agent office shown here, built along the Sacramento River, is just one of many venues. The Old Sacramento office of course is very historic in it's own right for being so closely connected with the California Gold Rush and it's miners in the 1850's and the founding of Sacramento California.
There are nine Wells Fargo History Museums. The museums include real stagecoaches, real gold nuggets and many interesting exhibits. Admission is free to all the museums. In addition to the Wells Fargo Express office in Old Sacramento, museums are located in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland Oregon, San Diego, Minneapolis, Anchorage Alaska, Phoenix and Sacramento. Adding a stop at one of the museums during your next vacation or road trip is a great way to have a fun and historically enriching experience.
(Photos from author's private collection)