Alyssa Bentz is a Corporate Historian for Wells Fargo.
Wells Fargo customers today have a variety of colorful options when ordering a new checkbook or debit card, but it wasn’t always that way. The color and choice revolution started with Wells Fargo’s scenic stagecoach checks, introduced in the summer of 1967.
In the early 1900s, checks — operating as bank stationery rather than works of art or expression — typically featured a plain background and very little stylistic detail. Banks issued one standard check design for all customers.
Wells Fargo realized there was customer demand to revolutionize the rather dull field of bank checks. In a first attempt to address this need, the company redesigned its checks in 1964, and began featuring a subtle white silhouette of an illustrated stagecoach against a blue or tan background in 1965. These checks drew attention from customers for having an element of fun, but the two-toned color scheme and muted design still didn’t stand out and set them apart from check options at other banks.
Everything changed when Wells Fargo released its first scenic stagecoach check in 1967. The full-colored check was a photo reproduction of a real stagecoach rolling over golden hills. The attention to detail and use of multiple colors stunned customers and competitors alike. Considered “almost too pretty to cash,” according to a customer in a 1967 press release, the checks became an instant hit. Never before had a check been so vibrant or so popular.
Advertised on billboards, television, and in magazines, the scenic stagecoach checks were so admired that people nationwide asked about purchasing them, even though Wells Fargo was only operating in California at the time.
Other banks soon followed Wells Fargo’s lead and began offering a variety of colorful checks that encouraged self-expression. As several newspapers, including Connecticut’s Hartford Courant, noted in 1971: “Since Wells Fargo Bank adorned its checks … with a picture of a stagecoach, checks have grown more colorful. Now they are printed with peace symbols or military insignia, depending on the customer’s viewpoint. Beach scenes, pop art, and floral patterns compete with sunsets, views of historical buildings, and famous landmarks on the face of multihued checks.”
The scenic stagecoach check started a frenzy of design creativity and Wells Fargo continued issuing new, attractive options for customers. While the options have grown since then, with designs featuring pets, sports teams, and other options, the scenic stagecoach design is still one of the options available to customers when ordering checks or new debit cards. What started as an attempt to make checks more fun opened the door for a lot more variety and choice.