• A man with a clipboard is at a home as a woman signs the paper. A Wells Fargo wagon is outside. The poster says: Wells Fargo & Co Express.

How Wells Fargo became known as the ‘modern Santa Claus’

Posted on May 21, 2020

By treating packages with care, hiring more people, providing easy access to ship gifts, and extending hours, Wells Fargo became known as the ‘modern Santa Claus’ in the early 20th century.

Today, the sight of delivery vans and trucks circling neighborhoods and dropping millions of boxes on consumers’ doorsteps has become another tradition of the holiday season. A century ago, Wells Fargo wagons delivered gift packages in thousands of cities and towns, surprising and delighting adults and children of all ages. The company spread so much holiday cheer that it proudly advertised its express delivery service as a “modern Santa Claus.”

A man with a clipboard is at a home as a woman signs the paper. A Wells Fargo wagon is outside. The poster says: Wells Fargo & Co Express. “The Modern Santa Claus.” Money Orders, Travelers Checks, Holiday Packages. Carriers to all parts of the World.

This 1912 poster shows a wagon driver delivering a package just in time. In this holiday eve scene, presents arrived in a blue Wells Fargo wagon, not a red sleigh.

The men and women of Wells Fargo were reminded to “treat every parcel as if it were intended for you or yours.” The company magazine Wells Fargo Messenger described how every employee could contribute to the spirit of the holiday season in December 1917:

“Think of the disappointment when the treasured packages fail to arrive on time! Recall your own chagrin when the Christmas present you bought at the store arrived in broken condition! So it is safe to say that every Fargo man can make a direct contribution to the happiness of the Yuletide Season. Whether he is the driver who receipts for a package, the man in the depot who waybills and weighs it, the messenger in the car who records, or the agent at destination — he is an important link in the human chain that safeguards the transportation of every shipment by express.”

Three black and white photos show a man pushing a cart with packages onto a loading dock, a man packing packages in a large trunk, and a room where men sort packages while facing a conveyer belt and other men hold packages.

Handling the Christmas rush of packages at a Wells Fargo depot office in 1917.

In New York City, headquarters of the company’s express operations, Wells Fargo delivered some 30,000 packages daily during the holiday season. A local newspaper described the avalanche of holiday goods:

“At the long pier in Jersey City, the eastern terminus of Wells Fargo and Company, trains from all parts of the country are arriving, laden with Christmas presents for New Yorkers, and with the aid of this modern Santa Claus the vast tide of incoming Christmas traffic is speedily unloaded and distributed by hundreds of express wagons up and down the city streets.”

To meet demand, the company had to ramp up its workforce, unloading train cars and sorting and loading parcels on hundreds of wagons. An army of wagon drivers and wagon helpers assured each special package found its way to the intended recipient. In New York, the company increased its workforce by 50% for the holiday season and deployed dozens of extra wagons to meet the rush.

New customer service efforts

This all-out focus on customer service was no accident. In 1912, the U.S. Postal Service expanded its parcel post service to handle larger packages, accepting items greater than four pounds in weight for the first time. With this increased competition, Wells Fargo and other companies in the express business had to earn customers’ loyalty through superior service. Wells Fargo adapted and found new ways to please customers. It established branch offices inside department stores, offering shoppers a one-stop experience of choosing their gifts and sending them by express to loved ones immediately. In Portland, Oregon, Wells Fargo employees set up a service counter in the basement of Meier and Frank and seven other downtown stores. In Los Angeles, Wells Fargo could be found in Aisle 8 of the Ville de Paris department store.

A brochure with holly border. On the right is an illustration of a man facing a woman in an open doorway as a child holds a package. It says: Santa Claus of the 20th Century, Wells Fargo & Co Express. On the left is an illustration of a man placing packages in an open trunk. It says: With Speed and Safety — that is how you want your holiday packages to travel. If your gift does not arrive on time and in sound condition, its holiday value is lost. You wish to feel certain that it gets there —safe and soon. Send your Gifts in a Safety Truck —Via the Fargo Way. Wells Fargo & Company Express.

Since not all Yuletide shippers were regular express customers, Wells Fargo provided brochures on how to pack, wrap, and address parcels so gifts would reach their intended destination without loss or damage.

Extended hours made doing business with Wells Fargo even more convenient in the hectic holiday season. In Phoenix, Wells Fargo kept its office open until 7 p.m. daily and its depot office all night. In San Francisco, seven neighborhood branch offices opened early and stayed open late from Dec. 18 to 25. In Long Beach, California, open hours extended from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Sunday. In Austin, Texas, agent Ira P. Lockridge figured his seven wagons delivered several thousand gifts every day and announced that the Austin office would open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Dec. 25. Even the smaller town of Marion, Ohio, added an extra wagon for duty, making three total in town.

In snowbound Bisbee, Arizona, Wells Fargo resorted to using a sled to deliver the goods, despite the weather. A local newspaper reported: “The real Santa Claus in Bisbee — where there is no competition from the postman — is the Wells Fargo man and its Bisbee Santas are the busiest individuals in town these days.”

A black and white photo shows wagons pulled by one or two horses lined up in front of two-story brick buildings.

Express wagons filled with crates of fruitcakes line up outside the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas.

Wells Fargo delivered perishable gifts and holiday treats, too. The Fresno, California, agency in 1913 estimated it shipped out 500 more boxes of dried fruit — raisins, figs, oranges, and olives — than the local crew had handled the previous season. The Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, sent 20,000 fruitcakes to customers all across the country in just one shipment in 1914.

Spreading all this holiday cheer took a lot of work. When the big day finally arrived, Wells Fargo men and women sat down to a well-deserved family dinner, feasting on turkey and all the trimmings given to each by the company in thanks for helping make so many wishes come true.

An illustration shows a man handing a gift to a child while another man sits. They are all in front of a Christmas tree. Below the illustration it says: My Santa Claus. I’ve been busy all morning, I’ve been good as gold all day; I ran about for Mother And never asked to play. And now at last it’s ended; Tomorrow I can be Just Johnny Carter Maynard With Christmas and a Tree. A big and kind expressman Is bringing me the toys. He’s the very latest Santa; He’s awful good to boys. He seldom breaks a package, He handles them with care, He plays they’re for his kiddies And sees I get my share. He makes me very happy, He causes no delay; My daddy says that is because —They come the Fargo Way.

Artist Edward Hopper illustrated a happy Christmas delivery in the Wells Fargo Messenger magazine in December 1916. Photo: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Wells Fargo Christmas labels

Not even Santa could deliver every package on the eve of Dec. 24, so Wells Fargo agents and wagon drivers supplied package labels and stickers urging recipients to wait to open their holiday surprises.

A package label has a holly border, candle, and diamond-shaped red and blue Wells Fargo & Co Express logo. It says: A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Package label, 1910s. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

A package label has a red border that reads: The Sender Requests That You DO NOT OPEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS, Wells Fargo & Company Express.

Package label, 1910s. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

A package label shows an illustration of a toy train moving by trees and a toy soldier. The label says: I’m sending you something by Wells Fargo Express — Prepaid — but you mustn’t open it until Christmas.

Package label, 1910s. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

A package label shows an illustration of a man in a blue suit walking as he holds a package and birdcage with a bird in it. The label says: I am sending you by Wells Fargo Express prepaid a Holiday Gift. Please do not open Until Christmas.

Package label, 1910s. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.


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