Wells Fargo History Museum

Bandits, Buffalos, and Business

Remember when it used to take 30 days to cross the country? No, you do not. Nor do you remember when banking transactions took a similar amount of time, or when packages and letters occasionally never reached their destination due to bandits, swollen rivers, and buffalo stampedes. These are hallmarks of an era long since passed, and you can only catch glimpses of them through the films of John Ford and the paintings of N.C. Wyeth. Or, you can go to the Wells Fargo History Museum on Montgomery St. in San Francisco.

This free museum takes all people, young and old, back in time to the days when the red and straw colored Wells Fargo stagecoaches transported money, goods, and people across the rugged and dangerous West. Visitors will learn about the history of the Wells Fargo company: its humble beginning in 1852, its operation of a stagecoach armada by 1866, its reputation as a the only trustworthy exchange company for the gold-crazy miners in the late 19th century, and its continuing existence as one of the world’s largest financial institutions.

When we look at the Wells Fargo Company now, we may forget they used to represent an American spirit of progress, tenacity, and adventure. There was a time when their Concord stagecoaches could be seen charging down the windswept valleys of California or Nebraska’s desolate plains. Wells Fargo also relied heavily on the Pony Express during both organizations’ early years. When the railroad began cutting its way across the nation, Wells Fargo quickly folded this new technology into their network, retaining their reputation as the fastest and most reliable express company in America.

It wasn’t until 1918 that the Wells Fargo empire shrank considerably. War raged in Europe, and the American government decided to strengthen itself by nationalizing all express operations. The four leading companies — including Wells Fargo — merged to create American Railway Express, and Wells Fargo became a banking company. Only a year earlier, Wells Fargo boasted of more than 80,000 miles of railroad serving over 10,000 offices. Now, the Wells Fargo name vanished from the rails completely, and only one office, in San Francisco, remained. Since that time, Wells Fargo’s tenacity has enabled it to thrive in the multinational banking world.

The Wells Fargo History Museum stands as a monument to the company’s vibrant history, and provides magnificently preserved artifacts from Wells Fargo’s storied history. The museum stays open weekdays, from 9:00am to 5:00pm. More information can be found at www.wellsfargohistory.com, or by calling 415-396-2619.

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