Marianne Babal is a Corporate Historian for Wells Fargo.
The crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd return each April as baseball teams everywhere open their new season.
While the national pastime has a complex — and sometimes murky — history, it is generally agreed that Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr., once a Wells Fargo team member, helped create the game that generations of fans have enjoyed. Abner Doubleday was once promoted as the inventor of the game, but this myth was debunked by the Mills Commission in the early 1900s. Cartwright is often labeled the “father of baseball.”
Born in New York City in 1820, Cartwright worked at the age of 16 for a Wall Street brokerage firm, and then as a clerk at Union Bank of New York. But it was during his work as a volunteer fireman that he made baseball history.
Cartwright, along with other volunteer firemen at the Knickerbocker Engine Company, played a game of ball on local vacant lots. These informal games led Cartwright and others to organize the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in September 1845, and the team played its first recorded game on Oct. 6 of that year.
The bylaws of the club listed 20 rules of play, including the distance between bases, the number of innings in a game, and the number of players on the field. Legend has it that Cartwright developed these rules, but as they say in baseball video replay reviews today, it is “inconclusive.”
Cartwright left New York and baseball behind in 1849 to join other forty-niners for the gold rush in California. Leaving soon after he arrived, Cartwright headed next to Hawaii, where he started a business as a commission merchant at the port of Honolulu — and where he would soon become a Wells Fargo team member.
Wells Fargo & Co. opened an office in Honolulu in 1853, and company messengers brought letters, gold, goods, and the latest newspapers to the island aboard steamships. Cartwright, the former Knickerbocker Engine man who had since been appointed chief engineer of Honolulu’s new fire department by King Kamehameha III, became Wells Fargo’s Honolulu agent in February 1861.
From the 1860s on, baseball became very popular, and teams sprang up everywhere. The major leagues are the apex of the game, but towns of all sizes formed teams that played for community pride, as did social clubs, churches, and businesses. Wells Fargo team members formed teams and played locally over the years.
Cartwright remained Wells Fargo’s agent in Honolulu throughout the 1860s, and he is credited in baseball lore with introducing the game to the Hawaiian Islands during that same time. The model Wells Fargo man, he was a distinguished member of Hawaiian society and Honolulu’s business community. Before his death in 1892, Cartwright served as an advisor to Queen Emma and executor of her royal estate when she died in 1885; as a diplomat, serving as Consul of Peru; and as a founder of the Honolulu Public Library.
In 1938, Cartwright was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in recognition of his contributions to the sport in its earliest days. His plaque in Cooperstown, New York, honors him as the “Father of Modern Base Ball.”