Wells Fargo has a history of supporting music in our communities. Wells Fargo delivered many musical instruments along its express lines. Wells Fargo’s express office in Santa Cruz sold tickets for concert seats to the local opera house. Wells Fargo even loaned money to an Italian opera troupe in 1855.
In 1870, the violinist Camilla Urso visited San Francisco and mesmerized crowds with her concerts. The concerts were such a raving success that she organized a music festival to benefit San Francisco’s Mercantile Library. This music festival featured hundreds of students and musicians from around California and Nevada. Students were let of school to attend the event. The festival lasted five days drawing crowds of 10,000 to 15,000 daily. Wells Fargo supported this event by carrying sheet music, letters, and other equipment free of charge.
Wells Fargo also appeared in an opera. In 1910, when Puccini’s Gold Rush opera The Girl of the Golden West opened, Wells Fargo’s agent Ashby was heroic. If you enjoy opera, Portland’s Wells Fargo History Museum will host a free, pop appearance by the Portland Opera on Tuesday, September 29 from 12-12:30.
Wells Fargo office, Silver City, Idaho (Image from Wells Fargo Archives)
Wells Fargo was founded in 1852 by Henry Wells and William Fargo. Primarily an express company, banking was a secondary operation. In 1906 the bank was spun off and sold to Isaias Hellman, an immigrant from Germany.
Isaias Hellman immigrated to Los Angeles, California from Reckendorf, Germany in 1859, part of a wave of Jews who left Germany seeking better economic opportunities than those allowed to them at home. In L.A. he found a fledgling community of about sixty families, about ready to found their own cemetery, and eventually other cultural institutions. He used this community to help fit in with the traditions of the new country, and as advisors for his first general store and later banking empire. Together they made a new life, adapting traditions of the old world to the customs of their new home.
Hellman himself would use what he learned from his compatriots to become one of the most prominent storekeepers in Los Angeles, before expanding into banking. After informally holding gold and money in his store safe, Hellman began formal account keeping after an argument with a depositor. Eventually he founded or managed several banks in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and was called upon by Wells Fargo to take over the bank when the express company chose to exit that field in 1906. He merged it with an existing bank to make the Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank—which was eventually shortened to Wells Fargo Bank.
Hellman would continue to be an influential member of all realms of life in California until his death in 1920, serving on the boards of various religious organizations, and also as a trustee of the University of California.
For more on Isaias Hellman I highly recommend Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California. You can read more about this book in this earlier post.
From 1848-1852 California’s population increased by an estimated 250,000 people. While towns and cities emerged, most people spent some time off the beaten track, chasing gold in the far reaches of the Sierra Nevada foothills. When Wells Fargo came to California in 1852, it opened offices in the towns and cities, but it also expanded into those far flung areas where migration had outpaced infrastructure.
Stationery used by California miners, 1850s. (Wells Fargo historical collection)
One of the things that is hard to convey when talking about this period in our early history, is just how astonished people were with Wells Fargo’s determination to go where their customers needed to do business. You can look at maps and lists of offices growing from year to year, but people’s reactions are often left in between the pages of history.
An article in the Sacramento Union on October 8, 1855, gives a little insight into the impression left by Wells Fargo in the 1850s:
The great express house of Wells, Fargo & Co. is extending its business everywhere there is a possible opening, and to many places where there was none until they cut the way. We expect before long to learn that they have a regular flying express to the moon, and that the man in it is their agent…
Wells Fargo has a long history of “cutting the way” for our customers. We now have an ATM in Antarctica—who knows, maybe the moon is next!
List of Wells Fargo Express offices, 1860. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)
Labor Day is this weekend, and many people will take Monday off to commemorate the holiday. It’s traditionally the end of summer, as you know by the groans of school kids everywhere.
Teller line, 1940s. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)
Labor Day marks the contributions to society of everyone who works. Wells Fargo’s Corporate Archives has many images of people who have worked for Wells Fargo Express, and the many entities that have joined Wells Fargo Bank over 160+ years. We celebrate their efforts, now and over time.
Wells Fargo Express office, New York City, 1918. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)
And we hope your long weekend is your opportunity to celebrate your own efforts!
Lincoln National Bank & Trust Co., Ft. Wayne, Ind., ca. 1967. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)
Wells Fargo is pleased to return for a fifth year as a Charter Sponsor of the National Book Festival. The fifteenth annual National Book Festival will be held at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (doors open at 9 a.m.) this Saturday, Sept. 5.
Wells Fargo Historians in period costume. National Book Festival, 2014.
Our Reading First activity area is expanded this year. Wells Fargo historians in period costumes will read and share a large assortment of children’s books, in both English and Spanish. Wells Fargo is pleased to be teaming up with Gallaudet University/ Gallaudet Interpreting Service, to provide ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters at this year’s Book Festival.
Some lucky kids will also get to read and learn about the Wells Fargo Ponies, and get to take home their very own plush pony.
Wells Fargo Stagecoach with Plush Ponies. National Book Festival, 2014.
Wells Fargo Hands on History activities are all new for 2015. Activities include a gold panning station, an area where everyone can meet the Wells Fargo Pony, and an Express Mail Center where kids can record all their fun at the festival, and send a post card home to friends and family.
The Wells Fargo Stagecoach will again make an appearance and will include an interactive area where kids can build a stagecoach bank and learn more about Wells Fargo’s history.
In the “Let’s Read America” exhibit area this year, festival-goers can take photos and win prizes, and record a testimonial in our video booth. Wells Fargo’s all new Together Experience invites festival-goers to participate in a virtual maze challenge interactive game.
The event is free and open to the public. Don’t miss it!
August is efficiency month!
Efficiency has been a “buzzword” used quite a bit recently, almost too much, but the concept of being more efficient has been around for hundreds of years. Mathematical calculations have definitely been something that inventors have been trying to make more “efficient” for quite some time.
Today we use calculator apps, digital spreadsheets, and still some stand alone desk calculators to do this work for us. In the past, this was much more difficult work. Handwritten calculations were time consuming, took a lot of paper, and were prone to error. The slide rule, a prominent shortcut for complex calculations, required using complex formulas to achieve its work.
As time plowed on, new innovations for calculations came about. The oldest of these (and one you might have played with as a child) was the abacus with its series of beads on wires or placed in grooves. My father even claimed that a colleague on an abacus was able to keep up while he used the mechanical adding machine. For calculations too complex for a desktop adding machine, bankers used the Burroughs. You can see adding machines of various sorts at most of our museums.
The mechanical adding machine and the Burroughs still required paper tapes, and complex mechanics to do simple calculations. Paper jammed, levers broke, significant hand strength was required to make it work, making a more efficient and simpler machine a priority. The continually shrinking size of computers led to the invention of the desktop and later pocket calculators. We keep this one by the museum desk for quick calculations.
The dog days of summer are upon us and many parts of the United States are experiencing temperatures in triple digits. Summer is about high heat and finding ways to cool off. 250 Wells Fargo employees cooled off during the summer of 1916 at a “watermelon feast” outside Los Angeles that included athletic games, dancing, and music. Wells Fargo’s express business even transported watermelon. The Express Gazette mentioned that Wells Fargo shipped watermelon and cantaloupe as part of its daily “Melon Special” in 1906.
What made it possible for Wells Fargo to ship fresh fruit and vegetables from farms in the West to kitchen tables in the East? Refrigeration was the answer. Imagine a time when there were no refrigerators, and people had to eat fruit and vegetables right away or else it went bad. Refrigerators preserved food for longer periods of time.
Wells Fargo’s express refrigerator cars
(Image from Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)
In the early 1880s, rail lines reached everywhere, and ice-cooled refrigerated cars became common. Wells Fargo had 150 refrigerated railcars by 1913. With them, Wells Fargo developed markets for carloads of agricultural produce. At scheduled points heading east and west, Wells Fargo employees lowered large blocks of ice from the roof into cooling compartments at each end of the car. Wells Fargo even developed an experimental ventilation system on its express railroad cars that harnessed wind power rather than iced refrigeration. This made it cheaper to bring fruit and vegetables to the markets.
By 1913, Wells Fargo’s fleet of 150 refrigerator cars traveled 4.5 million miles, heading to Chicago and New York markets carrying strawberries, loganberries, raspberries, cherries, grapes, apricots, asparagus, lettuce, peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and spinach. And, of course, Wells Fargo carried watermelons. Today, we celebrate National Watermelon Day; so, buy some watermelon on your way home. If you don’t eat it all, then it can always last a little longer in the fridge.
One of the most trying times in Wells Fargo Bank’s history was perhaps just after Isaias Hellman took over, when the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire leveled thousands of San Francisco buildings. In the era before electronic records, paper records kept track of how much money was in your bank account, how much you owed on a loan, and any other financial information your bank might need. Luckily the vault survived with minimal damage, and most records were saved.
Massive iron gate manned by armed guards 24 hours a day protects vital bank records from theft and damage. It is opened only for authorized personnel. From the Wells Fargo Archives
Entrance to labyrinth of caverns 225 feet below a mountain in western Pennsylvania where microfilm and paper duplicates of irreplaceable Fidelity records are stored for safe-keeping against natural or man-made disaster. From the Wells Fargo Archives
However the mid twentieth century introduced a new threat to records preservation, the nuclear bomb. Capable of obliterating everything for miles around, the traditional vault was no longer disaster proof. In 1969 Fidelity Bank of Philadelphia (now part of Wells Fargo) began preparing for such a possibility. They searched for a new storage center that was as protected as possible from nuclear damage. Far from town—but close enough for daily shipments—and protected from radiation. This process was documented in the in-house magazine, the Fidelphian (Fidelity’s version of the Wells Fargo Messenger). A massive former limestone mine run by the National Storage Corporation, now Iron Mountain Corporation was extremely suitable. The facility was located over 200 feet below ground, protected by armed guards and metal gates. While some paper records were kept, most were photographed and stored in a medium called microfilm in a nod to changing times—today most of that information is kept digitally in remote servers. This information wasn’t secret, but published in the employee newspaper as a form of reassurance.
Luckily a nuclear explosion has never occurred, but backup data centers help recover from natural disasters as well. Scroll back through the blog, and you will be treated to posts like this https://blogs.wellsfargo.com/guidedbyhistory/2006/03/running-out-of-money/ about the 1989 earthquake, and others (https://blogs.wellsfargo.com/guidedbyhistory/tag/1906-quake/ ) about the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.
Rest assured that even though we don’t want disasters to happen, Wells Fargo has policies in place to prevent disruption and recover any issue.
Here is another post from Nelson Baltazar.
Maurice Peairs and Ida: The Boy Who Used Wells Fargo’s Express Service
Wells Fargo’s legendary express service was known for its rapid and reliable mail and package delivery, however, Wells Fargo also shipped unique and lesser known items during its heyday and live animals was one of them. I recently stumbled upon an old company novelty-a book marker that featured a black and white picture of a 9-year-old mid-western boy who used the company’s express service to ship his calf, Ida, as a donation to the Red Cross. Here’s what young Maurice said before handing his calf over to the reliable hands of Wells Fargo’s Express Service:
“Sending my calf Ida by Wells Fargo express. Should arrive early tomorrow. Will feed her just before shipping. Be sure she is fed on arrival and three or four times a day with sweet milk.”
This cute story appeared in the August 1917 edition of the Wells Fargo Messenger, the company’s historical turn-of-the-century publication. Wells Fargo helped people in many ways during in the olden days and this tradition continues today-transporting a young boy’s donated calf was certainly one of those unique occasions. The story of young Maurice and his calf was highlighted in this souvenir bookmarker.
Kenia Galaviz (Wells Fargo History Museum)
Kenia Galaviz is a Museum Assistant in Los Angeles. She has a Bachelors in History and Creative Writing from UCR, where she helped found an organization dedicated to assisting foster youth. She speaks Spanish fluently and is currently tackling a new language: Japanese. “Hajimemashite!” (CR)
Many years ago, Henry Wells & William Fargo embarked on a risky venture in creating Wells Fargo & Co in Gold Rush California. And like these hopeful individuals so too did the prospectors of old arrive with their tenacious optimism coupled with staunchly held beliefs in search of promised riches. Some of these beliefs belonged to the more superstitious variety; a curious one being that of the “Tommyknockers”.
The story was brought over to America by the Cornish, who believed that the knockers were little dwarf-like creatures, similar to leprechauns, who would bring either good or bad luck to a miner. They were tiny, about two feet tall, and on some accounts were also said to be green. One description that is prevalent is that they were dressed in miner’s garb.
The Tommyknockers get their name from the ominous tapping and knocking sounds that men would hear inside the mines. Some men attributed the sounds to these creatures hammering away in order to cause cave-ins or other type of accidents that were wont to happen 40 feet below the ground. According to these fearful men, death awaited the miner who had the misfortune of hearing the knocking first. The less superstitiously inclined would dismiss those claims with the real explanation: that the stressed walls and wood beams were the culprits of the noise. However, this apparently did not deter the persistence of the folklore as it frightened some men to such an extent that they demanded the closure of certain mines for the simple fact that they were “haunted”.
With time the legend evolved, as these things do. People came to believe the small dwarves were miners who died in the shafts, their spirits forever dwelling underground. They warned miners of doom heading their way, or simply committed mischief as a way of vengeance for being disrespected. To appease these spirits miners would leave the last bite of their food and sometimes even dolls resembling miners, in the caves.