Alyssa Bentz is a Corporate Historian for Wells Fargo.
In 1850s California, Spanish-speaking families lived in every city and town. Some had lived in California for generations as citizens of the Spanish Empire — and later the Republic of Mexico — before California became part of the United States in 1850. Additional Spanish-speaking people arrived from Mexico, Chile, Peru, Argentina, and other Latin American countries as the discovery of gold in 1848 became international news.
When Wells Fargo opened for business in California in 1852, it offered in-language services and hired Spanish-speaking team members to meet the needs of its customers. As Wells Fargo’s network of express offices grew, it began offering additional Spanish-language services to customers elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world.
Connecting Spanish-speaking communities
Spanish-speaking customers in America depended on Wells Fargo’s worldwide network of banking and express offices when sending letters to distant relatives or business partners. In 1860, Wells Fargo opened its first office in Mexico in the port town of Guaymas. In 1883, with the expansion of the Mexican railway system, Wells Fargo y Cia provided rapid delivery of goods and mail throughout the country. By the turn of the century, Wells Fargo operated more than 300 offices and was the only U.S. express company with direct service to Mexico.
Wells Fargo also opened offices in other Latin American countries, including El Salvador, Cuba, and Panama. In each Latin American office, Wells Fargo hired many Spanish-speaking team members to work as agents, cashiers, and messengers.
Today, Wells Fargo continues to offer specialized services for Spanish-speaking customers. The company continues its long tradition of and commitment to helping Hispanic consumers and communities succeed financially by supporting home lending, access to capital, and initiatives that lead to sustainability and growth of small businesses, diverse suppliers, and community development.
Managers speaking Spanish
As a member of one of San Diego’s oldest Mexican-American families, José Guadalupe Estudillo was a native Spanish speaker. Around 1870, he started offering in-language service to customers as the Wells Fargo agent in town. He also served as county treasurer from 1864 to 1875 and California state treasurer from 1875 to 1880. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.
Dr. Henry R. Myles was born in Kentucky but moved in the 1850s to Los Angeles, where he managed the local Wells Fargo office. Realizing that many of his customers spoke Spanish, Myles learned the local language. He even created Wells Fargo’s first known Spanish-language ad in 1855. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.
In 1882, Wells Fargo General Superintendent John Valentine circulated this notice to all of the company’s offices to inquire about Spanish-speaking team members. This letter reflects Wells Fargo’s interest in recruiting multilingual team members to better serve customers. Photo Credit: Arizona Historical Society
Serving Spanish-speaking customers
Gen. Mariano Vallejo earned his title while leading Mexico’s forces in Northern California. When California became part of the U.S., he served on the committee to create the state’s constitution. As a rancher and businessman, he used Wells Fargo to move money. In this letter sent while traveling, he asks his son to send money by Wells Fargo. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.
In 1853, Josefa Cienfuegos came to Sacramento, California, from Guerrero, Mexico. She quickly became a community leader: raising money for the volunteer fire department, sending supplies to Union soldiers during the Civil War, and supporting Mexican forces during a French invasion. When Cienfuegos needed to move money, she turned to Wells Fargo. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.
Crisanto Castro moved to San Jose, California, as a teenager in 1841. He later inherited a prosperous ranch and became one of the leading citizens of the area. He donated part of his land to build public schools. When he needed to move money, he turned to Wells Fargo. This receipt shows a shipment of $50 in gold sent to a relative in Los Angeles. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.
This postcard notified Jose Felipe Chaves that Wells Fargo had a package for him at its office in Belen, New Mexico. Chaves operated a successful mercantile business in Belen, earning him the nickname “El Millonario.” Merchants like Chaves depended on Wells Fargo to securely receive money and packages from distant business partners. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.
Wells Fargo’s international presence
Wells Fargo supported businesses on both sides of the border by publishing a Spanish and English guidebook that advertised American and Mexican businesses. The guidebook also featured Spanish-language descriptions of Wells Fargo’s business. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.
In 1891, F. Jas Perez depended on Wells Fargo’s international network of offices when securely sending money from Chihuahua, Mexico, to Mrs. Simon Perez in Santa Cruz, California. The money arrived in this sealed envelope. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.
Wells Fargo agent J. C. Ybarra took pride in managing the company’s business in El Salvador, saying that the he and his fellow team members had the “honor of being considered as employees of a company which enlarged, in the commercial history of the New Worlds, the era of progress and prosperity.” Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.
Wells Fargo wagons pull up outside the company’s office in Mexico City around 1910. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.
Wells Fargo’s office in Cuba in the 1920s. When Wells Fargo ended its express business in the U.S. in 1918, business continued at international offices in Latin America and the Caribbean. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.
Wells Fargo’s Panama office in the 1910s. The company’s first office in Panama opened in 1852. When Henry Wells visited the Panama office while traveling to California in 1853, he remarked, “I have found our Agents [Hurtado y Hermanos] the very best men on the entire route …” Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.