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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Belt Buckle Giveaways

Nowadays the plush pony is the star of annual new account promotions, but in the 1970s Wells Fargo belt buckles were all the rage. Graphic artist Michael Dolas designed a rectangular buckle featuring a stagecoach in 1973, and a few years later an oval buckle with an agent’s star was offered. Both are marked on the back as copyrighted by Wells Fargo and Company and were featured in regional print ads for store openings and stagecoach appearances.

A gold panning kit was offered to customers who opened a Gold Account (those gold-themed marketing geniuses) and is still available for purchase at your local Wells Fargo History Museum. Here are two ads from 1975 and 1977 featuring the belt buckles. I’m off to find the also advertised “ladies clutch purse” in the archives.

1975-New-Account-Buckle1-Offer

1975 Wells Fargo print advertisement (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

1977-New-Account-Buckle2-Offer

1977 Wells Fargo print advertisement (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

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Back to school? You never left!

Did you stop learning when you left school? I sure didn’t.

I am a student every day of the world around me. We learn something new every day, about our past, present, and future. It could be something as simple as finding a new route to work, or a new food you like, or you could find out about your own past, or visit a museum and learn how you fit in the world around you.

Slate and books for school in "the olden days" (Wells Fargo History Museum)

Slate and books for school in “the olden days” (Wells Fargo History Museum)

Here at Guided by History, and at the Wells Fargo History Museums we want to help you learn, but just as importantly, we never stop learning ourselves. As we write each post, develop each exhibit, and talk to each visitor, we are also learning—about you the visitor, and also more about what we are researching. (A Historian is not a content expert of everything ever produced!) Many of my posts here and the Wells Fargo Facebook page have resulted from visitor interactions that have sparked not only their interest, but my own as well.

Wells Fargo team members have always been students at work. As technology changes, so must the employees change with it. A company that places such emphasis on its heritage also needs to make sure that all its employees are well schooled in that heritage. In 1912 Wells Fargo created the Wells Fargo Messenger, an internal news magazine designed to inform employees about the company and the places where it operated. Through engaging content, beautiful artwork, and relevant topics, the Messenger made certain all team members were students Wells Fargo—our history and our future.

Wells Fargo today has an internal information channel that keeps all team members connected. Our history is popular content. History Museums are in corporate centers that team members engage daily. (They are some of our favorite visitors!) Today as a century ago, historical and contemporary information reminds everyone we are part of an ongoing 162-year commitment to customers’ success.

September 1912 Wells Fargo Messenger (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

September 1912 Wells Fargo Messenger (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

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Millions of Peaches

Summer is in full swing and this time of year is a fresh fruit and vegetable lover’s paradise.  Farmers markets are full of fresh, locally grown produce.  Being the mother of three young children I am always happy when I can provide them with wholesome treats.

That’s why I was so excited to discover that August is National Peach Month and has been so since June 15, 1982 when President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation 4947.

Alas, I do not live in a region that produces peaches.  As a matter of fact California, South Carolina and Georgia are the three top peach producing states in the U.S.  Luckily for my family shipping fresh produce around the country has been in practice for a very long time.

Wells Fargo first started helping the U.S. enjoy fresh produce all season long in 1888, when it was among the first express companies to ship fresh fruits and vegetables in refrigerated train cars. By 1918, Wells Fargo owned 175 refrigerated boxcars to ship produce across the U.S.

Novelty postcard, ca. 1912, peaches by Wells Fargo Express (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Novelty postcard, 1909, peaches by Wells Fargo Express (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

The September 1912 Wells Fargo Messenger stated that, “It is predicted that the largest crop of peaches ever produced in Oklahoma will be gathered this year.  All anticipate a heavy shipment by express.”

Image a time, before companies like Wells Fargo started shipping perishables, that you could only get locally grown fruits and vegetables. While I really try to support local growers, summer in Arizona can be tough for produce production.  I for one am glad that they ship produce from all over to my local market, that way my family is able to celebrate National Peach Month.

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Load a stagecoach for yourself in Minneapolis!

Visitors to the Wells Fargo History Museum in Minneapolis like to imagine how different things were in the early years of Wells Fargo. One of the easiest places to experience that difference is our replica stagecoach. Visitors are invited to climb inside, feel how it moves and get an idea of what it would have been like to travel in one. Still, they are often amazed by the idea that nine passengers would have fit inside, and that still more would have been seated on top.  It’s difficult to imagine the tight quarters which nineteenth-century travelers encountered.

Full stagecoach in mountains. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Full stagecoach in mountains. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Few people today travel in groups large enough to really encounter the closeness of a full stagecoach interior in our replica. So we have recently added an interactive exhibit called, “Load the Coach” comprised of a small model stagecoach complete with luggage and 18 dolls.  People are encouraged to fit all the dolls and luggage on and in the stagecoach. That’s right, when seats inside and on top of the coach were full, 18 people could ride on a Wells Fargo Concord Coach.

Load the Coach activity. Wells Fargo History Museum-Minneapolis

Load the Coach activity. Wells Fargo History Museum-Minneapolis

As the temperatures have risen this summer, reactions to “Load the Coach” have become stronger. Guests’ thoughts move to the discomfort that modern travel in the heat of summer brings, and marvel at how much more uncomfortable it would be squeezed closely together, and without air conditioning, water bottles, and electronic distractions.

Still, these coaches—despite their snug accommodations—were at the forefront of transportation.  While not immune to the difficulties of the journey, nineteenth-century stagecoach passengers enjoyed the luxury and speed the stagecoach brought to their adventures. Now, it’s up to our visitors to see that all the riders and packages find their place on board our “Load the Coach,” and they’ve been doing a marvelous job of it!

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Stationery not stationary

1855 Wells Fargo cover (Ryan Baum collection)

1855 Wells Fargo cover (Ryan Baum collection)

The stagecoach is Wells Fargo’s icon. It’s our Brand, our corporate identity that represents our commitment to customers, that we’re with you now and over time. Branding has been part of Wells Fargo’s identity since the very beginning: historic documents and stationery show how Wells Fargo branded itself in the past, and how we identified the Company and supported customers.

The stagecoach transported people and bullion, and something equally valuable in frontier days—information, letters and newspapers. Initial envelopes transported by express companies simply bore a hand notation or cancellation of the express company to impart that the cover of the letter (envelope) had been paid and was departing a specific town.

The US Post Office was often unable to keep up with demand for mail coverage in the interior of gold rush California, but the post office steadily improved its Congressional mandate.  A bill in 1852 further increased the Post Office’s ability to collect postage, by authorizing what we today refer to as “postal stationery,” envelopes with postage already printed on them.  The authorization included firm wording,  that any letters “delivered otherwise than by post or mail” shall pay government postage so long as it is “duly sealed…and the date of such letter….to be written or stamped, or otherwise appear on such envelope.” This clearly described any envelope (or “cover”) transported by an express company, including Wells Fargo & Cos Express.

Wells Fargo franked envelope, 1850s (Ryan Baum collection)

Wells Fargo franked envelope, 1850s (Ryan Baum collection)

Wells Fargo and other express companies  normally carried sealed envelopes with their branding, and with date stamps to demonstrate timeliness. Indeed, customers used express companies as the faster option for time-sensitive correspondence.

Wells Fargo began using postal stationery on which they printed their own “frank,” to show the express charges had also been paid.  This gave customers an all-in-one envelope that showed everything paid.  Wells Fargo’s initial franked envelope in the mid-1850’s was a woodblock design on plain envelopes with postage stamps added.  Shortly thereafter Well Fargo began to use postal stationery with a revised frank, whose essential design would be maintained for nearly forty years with only minor modifications.

1889 Wells Fargo cover with two locations (Ryan Baum collection)

1889 Wells Fargo cover with two locations (Ryan Baum collection)

Wells Fargo also had stationery for its own correspondence. Among my favorites is a shaded cover with an image of the building at Market and Montgomery Streets, headquarters from 1856 to 1876. The express and banking businesses had separate buildings over time, and stationery often displayed both. Just as business has not remained stationary over time, stationery also has changed.

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At the beach

Summer is at its mid-point. (Between the end of school, that is, and back to school.) You’re at the beach just about every day, right? Of course you are.

Mr. Weatherball at the beach (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Mr. Weatherball at the beach (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo’s Corporate Archives has a print ad from the 1950s featuring “Mr. Weatherball,” who personified Northwestern National Bank (Minneapolis and the midwest) and was used in a variety of ads in those years. In this one, Mr. Weatherball joins Maureen on the beach as reward for helping her finance a beach vacation.

Who says financial knowledge isn’t fun?

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Wealth over time

Wealth is accumulated over time for most people. The trick is to stick with some fundamentals, keep your eye on the ball, and involve professionals. Many of us, however, imagine ourselves striking it rich in one moment, making the big score and eliminating worry.

Here’s a terrific image from our historical collection. It’s an ambrotype, and dates approximately to the late 1850s, about the time Wells Fargo opened for business. The man holds a good sized nugget of ore, and the couple seems satisfied. They look to have hit it big, and are celebrating with some fine clothes and a portrait. Maybe they’ll book passage back East and buy that farm they’ve dreamed of. Whatever the reality of the moment, we are able 160-plus years later to participate in in, to actually celebrate it with them. We get it, which defies the great amount of time between us and that moment.

Ambrotypes were a photographic technology of the 1850s. I can’t date it any closer than that; any history sleuths out there who can find clues to date it more accurately?

California Gold Rush portrait, ca. late-1850s. (Wells Fargo historical collection)

California Gold Rush portrait, ca. late-1850s. (Wells Fargo historical collection)

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