American Red Cross and Wells Fargo

When disasters such as the earthquake in Napa Valley suddenly strike our communities, Wells Fargo supports the efforts of such long-established organizations as the American Red Cross to provide national and international disaster relief.  For over 125 years, the Red Cross has coordinated relief efforts to communities immobilized by disaster and supported our troops and their families.  Early on, Wells Fargo aided their efforts.

In 1909, a torrential downpour in northern Mexico resulted in flash floods with thousands becoming homeless overnight, many losing their livelihood when their farms were wiped out.  The American Red Cross representative was U S. Consul General Philip Hanna, who coordinated the donations from U. S. citizens to fund the relief effort and worked with the Mexican Red Cross to arrange for the delivery of food, clothing, blankets, and mattresses to the survivors.  A Red Cross hospital was organized where the sick received medical attention.  In the worst areas, there were no trains for weeks after the flood.  Wells Fargo lent its support by transporting food and Red Cross supplies free of charge to the victims of the flood and brought express shipments to the region free of charge for three months after the disaster.

Red Cross banner on motor truck (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Red Cross banner (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

In 1916, the Red Cross launched a national campaign to boost its membership to a million members with the goal of signing up 100,000 members in New York alone.  Many of our wagons and motor trucks carried Red Cross banners that urged people to help by becoming members.  Employees displayed Red Cross cards in office windows and placed pamphlets on counters for distribution to the public.

After the United States entered World War One in 1917, the Red Cross stepped up its efforts to support our troops abroad.  Wells Fargo actively encouraged its employees to support the Red Cross and many took first aid classes and devoted their evenings to making bandages and other hospital necessities for the war effort.  By June 1917, almost 1,000 Wells Fargo employees in Chicago had joined the Red Cross paying a total of $1,110 in dues.

Wells Fargo wagon poster, 1917 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Red Cross banner (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

By December 1917, Wells Fargo’s Red Cross membership drive continued through the holiday season with a new banner hanging from our Wells Fargo wagons and motor trucks.  Coinciding with this public outreach, Wells Fargo bolstered its employee membership drive by publishing an ad in its Messenger Magazine that reached 10,000 offices throughout the U. S. and aboard encouraging employees to support the Red Cross.

“No Wells Fargo [employee] need be told of what the Red Cross is, or what it has done- nor about what it is doing to-day on the battlefields of the greatest war in history. While the Government sponsors it, the Red Cross depends largely upon public support, to enable it to carry on its merciful work in tending the wounded and alleviating the suffering right behind the firing lines. . .  It costs only one dollar a year to be a Red Cross member – your nearest Red Cross chapter will be glad to receive your application. A heart and a dollar are indeed all you need.”

Today, the American Red Cross continues the work it started a century ago because it’s in our history to step up and help our communities.  So, the next time you see a flyer for a blood drive 21 floors up, what should you do?   I’m going to take a break and support the American Red Cross.


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A Key to the Zoo

My husband has fond memories of visiting the zoo as a child and using his plastic Trunkey the Elephant key to unlock special talking storybooks, audio exhibits with fascinating information about the animals. My son was thrilled to continue the tradition recently getting his own key. He learned all about giraffes that day and insists on keeping it in the drawer with our house keys.

The Wells Fargo Corporate Archives has its own zoo key, too. In 1987 the Wells Fargo Foundation funded a grant for 33 new multilingual story boxes at the San Francisco Zoo that provided surprising animal facts in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Tagolog. Co-branded keys were distributed to the first 5000 kids who attended each day of the Storybox Festival. I was so happy to discover such a fun example of Wells Fargo’s legacy of community support. Do you still have an old storybook key from your local zoo?


Wells Fargo San Francisco Zoo key, ca. 1987 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo San Francisco Zoo key, ca. 1987 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Article from Wells Fargo News, August 20, 1987 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Article from Wells Fargo News, August 20, 1987 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)


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Maynard Dixon Country

Christopher Adix is Museum Assistant at our Wells Fargo History Museum in Phoenix. He also works as a tour guide at Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and school of architecture). He lives in Scottsdale with his wife, three children and two dogs. When not working, Chris is camping and hiking, visiting other museums or vacuuming dog hair. This is Chris’s second post for Guided By History. (AW)

Chris Adix (Wells Fargo History Museum)

Chris Adix (Wells Fargo History Museum)

Maynard Dixon was born in Fresno, California in January of 1876.  Most of his life was spent in the southwest.   He began his career as an impressionist painter, and eventually became more of a modernist painter. He also did a series of social realism paintings, but mostly painted landscape scenes from the Southwestern United States.  One of his favorite places to paint was Zion National Park in southern Utah.  He maintained a summer residence in Mt Carmel, Utah for many years. For the past 15 years the restored home and studio in Mt. Carmel has been host to Maynard Dixon Country an art show-event, which brings artists and Maynard Dixon fans from all over to celebrate his life and work. This year’s event is being held on September 5-7th.

Maynard Dixon survived the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and for many years had a studio on Montgomery Street in that same city.  He was instrumental in finding an architect for the Golden Gate Bridge. A mural painted by Dixon can be found at the famous Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, and some of his works are currently on display at the Phoenix Wells Fargo History Museum. His final years were spent in Tucson, Arizona, home to the Maynard Dixon museum, where he passed away in November 1946.


"The Cowman", "The Sheepman".  Courtesy Wells Fargo History Museum, Phoenix

“The Cowman”, “The Sheepman”. Courtesy Wells Fargo History Museum, Phoenix

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Honor labor

As we approach the long weekend, we pause to salute everyone who works. Thanks, everyone—your labor makes us all better. Have a great weekend!

"Submarine" salvage machine arrives by Wells Fargo Express, 1915 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

“Submarine” salvage machine arrives by Wells Fargo Express, 1915 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

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Wells Fargo Mobile Response Unit

On Tuesday, Wells Fargo unveiled a new Mobile Response Unit in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Mobile Response Unit is a multi-functional, 75-ft. heavy-duty commercial vehicle created to assist customers impacted by a disaster.

Wells Fargo is a leading employer in the Carolinas (PDF) and the nation’s top home lender. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage servicing has a large presence in Charlotte and in Fort Mill; currently, the southeastern US is in the midst of hurricane season. With its new Mobile Response Unit, Wells Fargo will be able to respond even quicker than in the past.

Wells Fargo Mobile Response Unit (Wells Fargo Bank)

Wells Fargo Mobile Response Unit (Wells Fargo Bank)

The Mobile Response Unit is built on a semi-trailer truck, can be powered by self-contained generators, has private offices, computers cellular data feed with satellite backup, and even a kitchen and bathroom. With the Mobile Response Unit, Wells Fargo can mobilize to a disaster’s location in just a few days.

The decision to build the Mobile Response Unit was made after Wells Fargo responded to hundreds of customers who had homes damaged by disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, Oklahoma tornadoes and Colorado wildfires. In each instance, Wells Fargo mobilized to provide in-person mortgage assistance, insurance claim check processing, and tips to start the repair and recovery process.

Disaster preparedness is critical
Guided by History began eight years ago as a disaster preparedness blog. Over the years, we have returned frequently to that message. Only a couple days before the Mobile Response Unit was introduced, a 6.0 earthquake shook northern California.

During the unveiling ceremony in Fort Mill, Wells Fargo officials cautioned just how important it is for people to get as much prepared as they can before a disaster:

  • Make certain you are appropriately insured and understand your homeowners policy
  • Create an emergency kit with items such as water, canned goods, first-aid supplies, flashlight, batteries, radio and other items. Kits may also be available through your local American Red Cross chapter.
  • Safely store in water tight containers copies of your most important documents including: Loan, insurance policies, bank accounts, tax documents, wills, passports, birth and marriage certificates and photographs.

Wells Fargo enlisted SPEVCO, Inc. to help construct the Mobile Response Unit, to be based in the greater Winston-Salem area. It took more than 4,500 work hours to construct the Mobile Response Unit.


Explosive Summer Movies

Every summer it seems that Hollywood does its best to get audiences excited about the latest “Summer Blockbuster.”  I, like many of you, love a great summer action movie.  Car chases, catch phrases and over the top explosions are some of the best attributes of this particular genre.  But I wonder how many people know about the danger and adventure in shipping motion film?

Nitrate Film is notorious for being highly flammable if it isn’t stored and shipped in proper temperatures and conditions. During the hey-day of nitrate film usage, Wells Fargo shipped huge amounts of it from west coast to east coast and back again.  The company magazine The Wells Fargo Messenger has articles abound about the dangers of motion film cans and how to properly store and ship them in order to prevent combustion.

There have been a few occasions where vast amounts of historic film have been lost to fires that are believed to have started from nitrate film spontaneously catching fire. The United States National Archive and Records Administration lost millions of feet of film and George Eastman House lost 329 original negatives. Today’s theater designs are meant to contain a fire in a projection room should one begin.

I myself have been to the movies a few times this summer and have plans to see a couple more.  I am certainly thankful that today’s movies leave all the explosions to the screen and not the film.


Wells Fargo Messenger, November 1916 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo Messenger, November 1916 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

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Those Madison Avenue Men and Women

The cable series Mad Men was nominated this year for eight Emmy awards in acting, art direction, costumes, make up, hair styling, and more. Like so many people, I have been an avid viewer and am sorry to see it coming to an end. As an archivist, I salute the creators who have so thoroughly researched the style and content of the era to portray details with heightened accuracy, even flawlessly incorporating real corporations, people and events into the fictional storylines.

Sadly, the Wells Fargo Corporate Archives wasn’t one of the many repositories called upon to help with research, but the ongoing storyline about McCann-Erickson has me intrigued. The real McCann-Erickson was Wells Fargo’s advertising agency in the 1960s after our merger with American Trust Company. Was it really as dramatic behind the scenes as experienced by Don, Peggy and the gang? I look forward to the series’ final episodes.

These print ads from the early 1960s have great style and elegantly illustrate customers in conversation about relationships they enjoy with their bankers. While products are mentioned, the focus is entirely on connections with customers and the communities in which we work and live—something equally important today.

1961 Wells Fargo American Trust Company print advertisement (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

1961 Wells Fargo American Trust Company print advertisement (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

1961 Wells Fargo American Trust Company print advertisement (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

1961 Wells Fargo American Trust Company print advertisement (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

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At the Burroughs

After a busy Friday afternoon tallying accounts, the weekend probably couldn’t come soon enough for this bank employee standing at a Burroughs Adding Machine. This Team Member was photographed at a small-town Minnesota bank a century ago on August 21, 1914.

On the job in Minnesota, August 21, 1914 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

On the job in Minnesota, August 21, 1914 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

In the 1910s, women were leaving the restrictive Victorian era behind, both in dress and in embracing new opportunities. Increasingly freed by technology—whether by choice or necessity—from work at home, young women could train at vocational schools in office skills and equipment. Such as adding and calculating machines. Banks employed women as clerks, stenographers, telephone operators, and tellers. Increasing numbers of women entered the workforce, a trend that accelerated as American manpower joined the fight in Europe during World War I. Independence—financial and otherwise—gave women the means to buy ready-made and work-appropriate attire. In this image, the clerk wears a long, loose skirt layered in a Peplum style, and a loose-fitting cotton “shirtwaist,” a versatile and economical buttoned-up blouse. These were chosen for comfort and ease of laundering by legions of working women a century ago.

On the job in Minnesota, August 21, 2014 (Wells Fargo History Museum)

On the job in Minnesota, August 21, 2014 (Wells Fargo History Museum)

Bank record keeping and accounting became much easier (except for the standing in heels part) after former bank clerk William S. Burroughs patented a gear- and lever-operated adding machine in 1885. Wells Fargo and other banks and businesses quickly adopted the mechanical technology, and adding machines became standard office equipment for many years. These machines are “museum pieces” now, as new technologies (software!) have taken their place.

In our Minneapolis History Museum, visitors interact with an antique Burroughs machine every day, often commenting on how fun it is to try their hand at calculations done the old way. (We hauled it out just to make the historical connection across a century. To the day!)

Of course along with the changes in technology we have seen many changes in business attire. From new fabrics which are even easier to care for, to modern styles which are much more comfortable, today’s working woman can even wear pants if she is so inclined!

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Driving smart devices

Before mobile banking—banking via mobile device, that is—there was banking via automobile. In the 1960s, Wells Fargo customers could transact financial services from the convenience of their cars.

After World War II, American society experienced dynamic changes. People were on the move—South to North, Midwest to Southwest, city to suburb. Automobiles were produced and financed quickly, and it was a time of high mobility. Wells Fargo Bank understood that banking had to keep pace; technology adapted with drive-through service.

Wells Fargo also opened offices in more locations—with lots more parking spaces!

Drive-through banking ad, 1961 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Drive-through banking ad, 1961 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

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Wildfires in Washington

This summer’s wildfires raging throughout the West remind us that such challenges are difficult to face. July’s Carlton Complex burned through central Washington and surpassed the 1902 Yacolt Burn as the state’s largest recorded wildfire.

Map of 1902 Yacolt Burn (Image courtesy of USDA Forest Service)

Map of 1902 Yacolt Burn
(Image courtesy of USDA Forest Service)

Named after the town of Yacolt, this September wildfire decimated the area between the Columbia River and Mount St. Helens traveling 36 miles in 36 hours. At one point, the fire was 12 miles wide! Frank Barnes witnessed the Yacolt Burn and wrote, “The smoke darkened the sun so that, although we were fully one-hundred miles distant, we had to use lights to run our mill. All day, leaves would come floating through the air and when they would light on the lake, they dissolved into ashes. Many people believed the world was coming to an end. . .”

Moist, cool air normally flows from the ocean and brings rain to the area, but the wind had reversed direction and brought a hot and dry east wind—known as the Devil Wind. Temperature also played a role – topping off at 97 degrees in Portland on September 11. The wildfire that followed was so intense that the U.S. Army dispatched troops to protect property, and regional businesses halted shipping along the Columbia River. Wells Fargo’s Portland Agent Eugene Shelby relied on trains to ship customers’ goods during this natural disaster. To the north 180 miles, Wells Fargo’s Agent August Otto would have witnessed cinders a half-inch thick covering Seattle.

This “awful forest conflagration” disabled telegraph lines and destroyed schools, churches, and logging camps. Autumn rain finally extinguished the flames on September 13. When it ended, the devastating fire had claimed 38 lives, left 146 families homeless, and burned over 238,000 acres.

Snags from Yacolt Burn in the Columbia National Forest, c. 1920s (Image from USDA Forest Service)

Yacolt Burn snags in Columbia Forest, 1920s
(Image courtesy of USDA Forest Service)

No matter how prepared you are, fires burning out of control can destroy even the best defenses. Visit Firewise to learn more on how you can protect your home and look over your homeowner’s insurance to see what coverage you have in the event of a fire.

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