Opening a branch in style
Alyssa Bentz is a Corporate Historian for Wells Fargo.
In June 14, 1958, children gathered at the new Wells Fargo branch in Hayward, California. The opening of a branch was not always an exciting event, but this one was going to have star power. The children waited with anticipation as the team of horses came down the street pulling an old mud wagon, a type of stagecoach build for more rugged roads. Seated on the front box next to the driver was TV star Dale Robertson. He played the beloved Wells Fargo Agent Jim Hardie in the popular television western Tales of Wells Fargo (1957-1962). The TV show had just run its first season and had reached #3 in the Nielsen ratings. TV was still relatively new for many families, and the novelty of having their hero brought into the living room every week made Robertson more familiar than even the best known movie stars. The branch opening was a chance to meet him in-person and get his autograph.
Western themed branch openings were a phenomenon in the 1950s-1960s, reflecting the popularity of westerns like Tales of Wells Fargo. Many banks hired local drivers and rented stagecoaches to encourage excitement and show that their bankers were fun-loving members of the community.
But, Wells Fargo’s unique history made the stagecoaches more than just a gimmick, it was a representation of the bank’s history and reputation. During the 1860s, Wells Fargo managed the nation’s largest stagecoach company, connecting communities from New York to California and many places in between.
Wells Fargo had a long history of celebrating at local parades and events using stagecoaches. In the 1910s, decades before any other bank thought to use a stagecoach at a sponsored event, Wells Fargo stagecoaches toured communities across the U.S. At the time, Wells Fargo was a national express company as well as a California based bank. It bought historic stagecoaches and recruited its wagon horses to pull the historic vehicles for special occasions. From July 4th events, city founding day celebrations, and work horse parades, people across the nation enjoyed watching the Wells Fargo stagecoach in action in their hometowns. Wartime changes to the express industry led to the end of Wells Fargo as a national company in 1918. The bank in California continued to use stagecoaches occasionally at community events over the following decades.
The 1958 event featuring Dale Robertson’s arrival by stagecoach was a pivotal moment in Wells Fargo’s use of stagecoaches. Starting in 1958, Wells Fargo started arranging and promoting regular stagecoach appearances. It hired local drivers and bought reproduction coaches made by expert craftsmen. As other banks stopped hiring stagecoaches for branch appearances, Wells Fargo started organizing more. The live action stagecoach made branch openings and bank sponsored events entertaining for customers, but also reflected the bank’s history and its long standing reputation of security and service.
Today, the Stagecoach Experience program has continued to grow with annual audiences in the millions every year. At parades and events, Wells Fargo presents its “living logo,” a symbol of Wells Fargo’s shared history with communities across the nation and around the world.