Discovery of gold in 1848 in the remote California foothills caused the greatest human migration in American history, and inspired a demand for a secure means to transport money.

Since 1852

At first this service was provided by lone expressmen who carried mail, parcels, gold, and bills of exchange as couriers. They traveled by sea or across the American continent on horseback or by mule or even on foot, breaking trails, crossing flooded streams, and braving attacks by wild animals and highway robbers.

The need for express services was so high that trailblazers were willing to risk constant danger to reap the rewards. In turn, scams were frequent, and newspapers warned readers to exercise caution in making their remittances to friends back in the eastern states. At the time, California regulated neither the express nor the banking business, so both fields cried out for experience and order.

“Wells, Fargo & Co. are but recently established in California, but in other parts of the Union their Express has gained an enviable reputation, which they will doubtless fully sustain here, as they possess every facility, and are men of responsibility and untiring energy.”

Daily Placer Times and Transcript, 1852.

By using the business connections of Henry Wells and William Fargo, Wells Fargo connected customers in California with families and business in many cities and towns.
In the early years, Wells Fargo was considered more reliable than the U.S. Postal Service for transcontinental mail and important business correspondence.
Banking was always an important part of Wells Fargo’s business, even in 1866, as this check written in New York shows. The Internal Revenue stamp, upper left, was required by the government to help pay for war debt.
Two successful express operators, Henry Wells and William G. Fargo, had closely followed what was transpiring in California as they continued to run their express service primarily in the state of New York.
At the turn of the 20th century, Wells Fargo’s New York express office handled customer transactions to Europe. On the wall behind the clerks, the company proudly displayed a picture of the modern steamship on which its packages were sent overseas and an “Express to Europe” sign.
On March 18, 1852, Henry Wells and William Fargo met with a group of investors and signed this document, forming a joint-stock company to extend banking and express services to customers in the West. Photo: Rob Prideaux.
A banjo clock by Howard & Davis was a fixture in many Wells Fargo offices. In rugged mining camps, Wells Fargo offices came to symbolize the kind of modern services that miners knew back home in “the States.” Photo courtesy: Rob Prideaux.
In 1852, they had methodically conceived a plan to provide express and banking services to California and, with an initial capitalization of $300,000, announced the formation of Wells, Fargo & Co. From the start, the company cultivated a reputation based on reliability, security, convenience, and trustworthiness.

Through the confidence that people placed in its services, Wells Fargo built a global business that played a pivotal role in people’s lives in towns and cities throughout the U.S. and around the world.