Born May 20, 1818 in Pompey, New York, the eldest of 12 children born to William C. Fargo and Tracy Strong Fargo. Fargo worked the family farm as a boy, then at age 13 took a job delivering mail on horseback around Pompey. In 1841 Fargo took a job as freight agent for the Auburn and Syracuse Railroad, where he met Henry Wells, express agent for Pomeroy & Company. The following year, Fargo became an express messenger, carrying valuables by rail between Albany and Buffalo.
In 1845 Wells invited the young man to become a partner in a new company, Wells & Company, which operated between Buffalo, Detroit and Chicago. Soon Fargo formed his own express company, Livingston & Fargo; and in 1850 joined again with Henry Wells and others to incorporate the American Express Company. When Wells and Fargo could not convince their fellow directors of the American Express Company to extend their venture west to California during the Gold Rush, Wells and Fargo, along with other associates formed a new express company to serve the western frontier: Wells, Fargo & Company.
William Fargo served as Wells Fargo & Company president from 1870-1872, and as president of American Express Company (1868-1881). Upon William G. Fargo’s death, his brother James C. Fargo succeeded him as president of American Express Company.
A giant in the American transportation industry, William G. Fargo also invested in railroads, and served as vice president of the New York Central Railroad and a director of the Northern Pacific Railroad during that road’s expansion into the northern Plains. The town of Fargo, North Dakota was named for him in 1871.
Fargo’s railroad interests led him to invest in banking, as one of the original stockholders of the North Western National Bank, founded in Minneapolis in 1872 (and merger partner with Wells Fargo in 1998). Fargo’s influence also extended to his native upstate New York as owner of the Buffalo Courier, and two-term mayor of Buffalo, New York (1861-1865).