Wells Fargo – Staging & Banking gold in the Old West

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In 1850, Henry Wells and William Fargo founded an express delivery service by the name of American Express. They aimed to exploit the boom that the United States was experiencing out West due to the Gold Rush. The American Express Board of directors, however did not think the bonanza would last.

Therefore, Wells and Fargo left American Express in 1852 to form Wells Fargo & Company. When Wells Fargo® opened their doors for business, they soon learned that the prospectors needed much more than just a delivery service. They needed a reliable postal service, a safe place to put their gold, and a place where they could redeem their gold for money. Wells Fargo® set up a system to accommodate those needs.

At the time, the U.S. Postal Service only delivered to certain larger towns in California and seldom to any boomtowns. Even when they did, service was unreliable at best. If a prospector’s wife sent a letter West via Wells Fargo®, though, it was sure to reach its destination.

Riding Shotgun

Getting gold and silver out of the ground was only the beginning of the difficulties faced by prospectors in the gold country. Roads were rough and undeveloped, there were long stretches of wilderness between towns, and law enforcement was virtually non-existent. All these hardships virtually unknown in America today made sending hard-won earnings safely back home extremely difficult.

Wells Fargo provided Americans out West with secure transportation. Outlaws soon realized there were two kinds of coaches that were too dangerous to rob: those with “U.S. Federal Government” written on the side, and those with “Wells Fargo & Co.”

Eventually, prospectors had gained so much confidence in the company that they used Wells Fargo® coaches to ship their most precious cargo out West: their families. Trustworthy Wells Fargo® agents purchased gold nuggets and dust while offering a fair price based on accurate scales. They also accepted gold deposits to prevent their clients from being robbed and issued paper gold certificates in return. These paper certificates made transporting assets over long and dangerous distances considerably safer and more convenient.

Wells Fargo also serviced the Comstock Lode in Nevada in 1859. This Lode was the source of much of the gold and silver found in the coins of the era. The banking business that Wells Fargo® is known for today grew out of the service of buying and safeguarding the prospectors’ gold. By 1918, Wells Fargo® had 57 banking offices in the state, and had merged with the Nevada Bank.

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