November was the 125th anniversary of Washington’s statehood when Congress passed legislation enabling Washington to become a state. The road to statehood patriotically began on July 4, 1889, when 75 elected representatives gathered in Olympia and drafted a state constitution that Washington citizens voted on and approved in October. President Benjamin Harrison signed the bill that made Washington a state on November 11th.
Before Washington was a state, Wells Fargo served the Washington Territory as early as 1857. At that time, most settlers in the territory lived west of the Cascade Mountain Range, on or near the coast. It was in coastal logging towns that Wells Fargo opened offices in Olympia, Port Townsend, and Whatcom Bay (present-day Bellingham).
Whatcom Bay, WA (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)
Local merchants came to rely on Wells Fargo, and in many cases, Wells Fargo’s agents owned businesses. By 1859, Wells Fargo had opened for business in Steilacoom and Seattle, where the merchant Henry Yesler pulled double duty as a Wells Fargo agent. When Yesler arrived in the village of Seattle, he recognized the potential of the tremendous forests surrounding the town and built a sawmill, which became a main source of employment in the community. Yesler arranged for the delivery of mail, packages, and the latest newspapers with news from the States. The Puget Sound Herald newspaper expressed gratitude in 1859; “Wells, Fargo & Co. were first in the field with letters and papers by the steamer, today. They have our thanks. . . “
During the 1860s, gold discovered around Boise-then part of the Washington Territory- brought miners and farmers to eastern Washington, and Wells Fargo opened an office in Walla Walla, an important supply point for the mines. Agent E. L. James purchased gold dust, took deposits, and offered convenient bank drafts and checks to make it easier to move money over long distances. Wells Fargo even shipped goods and letters for the military at Fort Vancouver and Fort Walla Walla. In 1863, Lieutenant William Hughes wrote to Lieutenant Colonel Maury at Fort Vancouver and asked “to receive reports of your progress from time to time, sent through the express of Wells, Fargo & Co., at Walla Walla.”
Railroads expanded business and settlement in the Washington Territory and greatly increased Wells Fargo’s ability to move customers’ money, packages, and mail. The Northern Pacific Railroad extended its track into Washington in 1883, providing a direct rail connection to points east. When Washington became the nation’s 42nd state, Wells Fargo had nearly 40 offices linked by stagecoach, steamship, and rail in such towns as Spokane Falls, Tacoma, and Yakima.
Colman Building in Seattle (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)