A look back at 2014

Wells Fargo is a global financial services company, serving customers in more than 130 countries, but our corporate heritage remains deeply rooted in our Vision and Values. Each day in the San Francisco History Museum, I have the chance to put those values into practice with every visitor.  One of our Vision and Values states,“ We want our team members to have fun… ‘Fun’ for us means enjoying our work, enjoying the people we work with, enjoying the difference we make in the lives of our customers and communities..” Looking back in 2014, teams from all 11 of our history museums got to do that in so many different ways. Here are a few highlights.

August, National Book Festival in Washington DC: Wells Fargo Historians dressed in period costumes, and visitors enjoyed activities from financial literacy to art. I learned a lot that day!  I observed one delightful little boy diligently coloring a picture of a safe. His was red on the outside (like our stagecoach!), with something very colorful inside. He told me, “It’s a JOY-BEE! A JOY-BEE doesn’t sting you, it gives you JOY!” I applauded his wonderful art, and he handed it to me and said, “I want YOU to have it!”  My name is JOY-cee, sounds very much like JOY-BEE—how could I resist such a caring gift? He then signed his name with a flourish and gave it to me. Our fun and JOY-filled exchange will be with me forever!

Aidan's gift to "Joy-bee" (Wells Fargo History Museum)

Aidan’s gift to “Joy-bee” (Wells Fargo History Museum)

September, California Capital Book Festival, Sacramento: A month later and 3000 miles away, I had another special experience. Two young children visited our activity tables. Yasna gave me her colorful drawing of our stagecoach; the delight in her eyes captured the essence of what we strive to create for our visitors every day!

Yasna's art from Activity table at California Capital Book Festival (Wells Fargo History Museum)

Yasna’s art from Activity table at California Capital Book Festival (Wells Fargo History Museum)

December, San Francisco History Museum: During the holidays, many families come to visit our museums. One family of 5 had come together to celebrate the holidays, traveling from 3 different cities. The father had  brought his two daughters, now in their mid-20s, to our museum since they were small. They purposely came back to one of their favorite family destinations—our History Museum! The daughters remembered coming here on a 4th grade field trip. (Wells Fargo has been providing free, educational field trips to schools since the 1930s.) Now, one of the daughters teaches Special Education, and the other works for a museum in Washington DC, and their mother teaches Kindergarten. Our conversation reminded me again of a statement from our Vision and Values: “Our vision has nothing to do with transactions…it’s about building lifelong relationships one customer at a time.” This family was a perfect example of the influence Wells Fargo history can have in relationships that extend beyond museum walls, beyond geography: The experiences of real people, in real life.

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Second of Exchange: When Business is History

John Sipple holding the original documents (Image courtesy of John Sipple)

John Sipple holding the original documents (Image courtesy of John Sipple)

Recently Historical Services received a research request from team member John Sipple with Wells Fargo Wealth Management, who was interested in knowing more about a set of documents he owns, including an 1862 Second of Exchange and a personal letter.  As someone who sees transcribing old letters as a personal challenge that must be conquered, I was more than willing to take on the task.  The following is the transcribed letter.

San Francisco December 20-1862

Dear Brother Luther

I shall send you with this a draft for $350 drawn by Wells Fargo & Co. and payable in coins in Boston.  I bargained for a draft payable in gold coin and I presume this will be.

I want the amount dispersed of as follows.  1st to pay you the $2 of your____ with me.   2nd to let Joseph have $50.  Mother, Susan Sophia and to Clara $20 each, and Harriet $25.  If you pay them in gold you will have $195 left.  And when I tell you thus I paid 5 per cent for the drafts.  You will see thus.  Just get your $200 and a little more.  I want to make mother and the rest of them a present but as I cannot send anything I send the money and they can use it as they think best.  I send more to Joseph and Harriet as I suppose they need more.  If you sell this draft you will please pay them what their shares come to in paper money.

We have just heard of the terrible affairs at Fredericksburg and I am sick.  It seems to me this is the greatest blunders or the greatest disaster of the war.  I am afraid Fremont will be placed as the head of Military Affairs and then we shall be in a fair way to the union frontier than ever.

You spoke of going to the war.  I think I am glad to go.  If any of our family go.  I am not sure but I am glad to go and I may go if men come by the hundreds and I think I could stand the labor and exposure better then you could.  I have been thinking of this matter for some time.

This defeat will be a bad introduction to the Presidents Emancipation Proclamation but I do not despair.  I hope ____ will not be thought of till we grant us our victors.

My best love to our dear mother and you all at home,

Your_____ bro


Mr Luther C. Blake



Of course if you sell the drafts you will have to indorse it.

L.C. Blake

After researching the family we discovered that our letter writer, Mr. Maurice Blake was born on October 20, 1815 in Otisville, Maine. He became a lawyer in California and practiced law there. In 1857, he became a member of the California State Assembly and served until 1858. After this he became the 19th Mayor of San Francisco and served for two years.

One of my favorite aspects of these documents is how they mention such historically significant events as the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Emancipation Proclamation.  Not only that but they are a great reminder of how important Wells Fargo was to so many people who sent money back home to their families.

So as it turns out these documents had more historic significance than was first suspected.  That’s one of my favorite things about research; you just never know who or what you might find.

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University of Oregon College Football

Tonight is all about college football as the Ohio State Buckeyes and the University of Oregon Ducks faceoff for the NCAA championship. Before college bowls, national rankings, and now playoffs, college football was a regional contest. College football in Oregon and the rest of the United States started gathering public interest by the end of the 19th century.

(University of Oregon’s first college football game  Image from Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries)

(University of Oregon’s first college football game
Image from Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries)

In 1894, the University of Oregon won its first college football game by defeating Albany College, now present-day Lewis & Clark College. The University of Oregon played other regional teams including Willamette University, Portland University (Portland State University today), and a college up the road in Corvallis named the “Oregon Agriculture team.” In what is now known as the Oregon Civil War, Salem’s Capital Journal newspaper reported in 1895 that the visiting Oregon Agricultural College suffered a resounding defeat of 46 to 0 to the University of Oregon “Webfoots.” The team mascot was a not a duck, but rather a web-footed man with a large “O” on his sweater.

By 1900, interest in college football continued to grow nationwide and the University of Oregon travelled to Berkeley, California to play its first out of state game. As college teams formed, athletic departments needed football equipment, and Wells Fargo shipped football equipment to colleges such as Miami University in 1906. Football games became large community events with bands, parades, and flowers – many colleges called on Wells Fargo to ship flowers for game day.

Interest in football was not just limited to watching college football, but participating through clubs that sprung up among professional groups such as seamen’s associations and express companies. The 1906 Express Gazette wrote: “With the close of the baseball season, expressmen seem to have taken up the more strenuous sport of football. The American and Wells, Fargo, & Co. employees at Jamestown, N. Y. have two such teams, which played an exciting game Nov. 4, ending in a victory of 5 to 0 in favor of the American team.”

Reading Oregon’s historic newspapers, the intensity of early college football comes alive.   The Dalles Daily Chronicle published a letter that described the excitement of a football game between Portland University and the University of Oregon in 1895. “On Saturday evening (my husband’s) voice was not far different from a bullfrog’s. Why? Oh! We went to the football game! We had to shout, for Portland University students were so well organized, had so many horns, and yelled . . . so loud, that we had to help Eugene. It was simply wild excitement. Old men yelled till they were purple in the face, and professors of both universities, forgetting dignity, thought they were kids.”

Perhaps tonight’s game will be “wild with excitement” and one for the record books.

(1907 football game at Kincaid Field  Image from Special Collections  & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries)

(1907 football game at Kincaid Field.  Image from Special Collections & University Archives,  University of Oregon Libraries)



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Order in the Chaos of World War One: Wells Fargo in Europe

On June 28, 1914, the archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, is killed in Sarajevo by a terrorist. This however is seen as an act of war, and within quick succession, battle lines are drawn. France, Great Britain and Russia, declare war on Germany, and Austria- Hungary (for more on “The Great War, check out this website from PBS). Stuck in the middle are Wells Fargo business operations, and an untold number of Americans.

Wells Fargo & Co.'s office in London, England

From the Wells Fargo Archives

World War One began quickly—although the underlying tensions had been simmering for years. There was not much time to prepare for the massive disruption that occurred. Americans stuck abroad were safe from government reprisal (the United States remained neutral until 1917), but most found themselves having some difficulties due to the war. Orderly operations of Wells Fargo offices throughout Europe helped Americans through the chaotic early days of the war. Banks and other facilities closed for several days, leaving Wells Fargo travelers cheques one of the few things that could easily be converted to needed cash, to purchase all sorts of goods, including food. The stories here, as well as some others, are described in the October 1914 Wells Fargo Messenger (the internal newsletter).

Wells Fargo agents went above and beyond their responsibilities. A prominent American financier, Mortimer Schiff, was forced to part with his dog because England would not allow the entry of pets without a permit. Schiff left the dog with a customs agent in Boulogne, France, while he traveled to London. When he arrived, he informed Wells Fargo of his situation, and the London office was able to secure the permit, send an agent to retrieve the dog, and reunite pet and owner in time to sail for New York.

Like Mr. Schiff, most Americans were able to leave Europe relatively quickly, but found that their luggage was unable to travel with them; space on trains and other modes of transport was limited because of troop movements. Luggage from France and Great Britain was sent for and forwarded as space became available; however luggage from Germany and Austria had a much more convoluted route. Unsolicited, Wells Fargo & Co, enlisted Edward Page Gaston—ordinarily an employee of Funk and Wagnalls publishers and not Wells Fargo—to travel through Germany, asking at all hotels about American baggage. Gaston eventually made his way to Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, which was a neutral country. At least 2,000 pieces of luggage were shipped unsolicited by Wells Fargo to the United States, using these special luggage tags.

Lost baggage tags

From the Wells Fargo Archives

Wells Fargo’s foreign office then set about finding owners in the United States and reuniting them with what must have been thousands of dollars worth of baggage.

Throughout its history, in countless instances, Wells Fargo has been a rock of stability in an otherwise chaotic situation, providing needed services for its customers with a minimal amount of disruption.

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On to the next year

We had a fabulous year, but today 2014 comes to a close and tomorrow starts a new year full of possibilities. We are excited to kick off the New Year in the annual Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, California. It is one of the biggest and most exciting events of the year so come on down and see the stagecoaches decorated with beautiful flowers… we may even have a surprise!

Wells Fargo Stagecoaches in Tournament of Roses parade 2014

Wells Fargo Stagecoaches in Tournament of Roses parade 2014

up close view of the flower decorations on the Wells Fargo Stagecoach

up close view of the flower decorations on the Wells Fargo Stagecoach

Our new year’s resolution for the stagecoach is to see a few more cities this year, so if you have a fun event coming up that’s not already on our schedule, let us know in the comments!

We hope you have a safe and happy New Years, see you in 2015!

Wells Fargo Stagecoaches in Tournament of Roses parade 2014

Wells Fargo Stagecoaches in Tournament of Roses parade 2014

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Y2K: 15 years later

Fifteen years ago this month, our world stood poised on the brink of disaster, braced for the breakdown of civilized society as we knew it…. or not.

Wachovia Corporation beats the clock. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wachovia Corporation beats the clock. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of Y2K – the Year 2000 Problem, a computer programming shortcut that caused a pre-millennium hullabaloo.

The seeds for Y2K were sown during the early days of computer technology, when data storage methods were bulky and expensive, with limited capacity. Programmers saved memory space by representing years as two-digit numbers, such as “65″ for 1965. At the time, omitting those two extra digits made a big difference in improving computer processing speeds.

Over the next few decades, computer scientists began to recognize the problem looming ahead: When the clock ticked over from 1999 to 2000, computers would read the date “00″ and interpret it as 1900. This glitch could cause serious effects for any service or system that relied on computers, such as air traffic control, medical equipment, public utilities, telecommunications networks…. and banks.

This wasn’t the first time Wells Fargo had faced a turn-of-the-century challenge. When 1899 rolled over to 1900, clerks had to cross out the “8″ in pre-printed ledgers and stationery, and write in the “9″ by hand.

Wells Fargo & Co. Express employees handle complications from Y1.9K. Courtesy of Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

Wells Fargo & Co. Express employees handle complications from Y1.9K. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

However, in an increasingly automated world, Y2K would require a more sophisticated solution.

The final months leading up to 2000 were times of change for Wells Fargo. The company was in the process of merging with Norwest Corporation, a major undertaking in and of itself. In addition to the merger, Wells Fargo and Norwest were in the midst of their own Y2K preparations — as early as 1990, both companies had worked to identify and resolve date-related glitches, with full-time dedicated Y2K task forces in full swing by the mid-1990s. Their efforts involved testing and retesting software and hardware systems, and reviewing tens of millions of lines of code.

An even more sensitive challenge was the task of dealing with public perception. Wells Fargo and other financial services companies worked overtime to reassure customers that their accounts would survive the new year.

Wells Fargo address customer concerns in this 1998 brochure. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo addresses customer concerns in this 1998 brochure. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)


Norwest Corporation reaches out to the public at a community event in Minneapolis, September 1999. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

“Y”, “2″ and “K” greet the public at a Norwest-sponsored community event in Minneapolis, September 1999. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)











On the East Coast, similar preparations were underway at First Union and Wachovia, banks that later became part of the Wells Fargo family. First Union Corporation earned particular notice for its proactive approach, having planned since the late 1980s to ensure that major technology systems would be Y2K-compliant, and reaching out to help educate communities about Y2K as the clock ticked down. Wachovia had 200 full-time employees on its Y2K Project Team, and former employees even came out of retirement to assist with community outreach.


Wachovia team members ring in a successful new year. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wachovia team members ring in a successful new year. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)


First Union Corporation's Y2K Team celebrates a job well done. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

First Union Corporation’s Y2K Team celebrates a job well done. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

When the fateful day arrived, revelers celebrated, fireworks soared into the sky …. and the world kept turning. Although some glitches did occur, for the most part, life carried on as usual. Due to the anticlimactic arrival of the New Year, some argued that the build-up had been all hype. However, Y2K posed a legitimate threat. In the end, the risks were mitigated because countless individuals worked countless hours behind the scenes to ensure that we would be ready.

Les Biller, Wells Fargo’s Chief Operating Officer at the time, summed up the New Year’s triumph: “Much of the credit for this tremendous victory goes to team members who made Y2K their priority — some for over three years. Their hard work, dedication to detail and ability to handle the ever-changing requirements of Y2K … allowed us to reach our most important objective — business as usual. Congratulations!”

Y2K-related date errors still crop up from time to time, as we see in the occasional news story reporting that a 105-year-old has received an invitation to register for kindergarten. Fortunately, these incidents are rare exceptions. Meanwhile, the world still has a few years to prepare before we face the Year 2038 challenge!

As you count down the seconds before midnight this New Year’s Eve, take a moment to remember the Y2K heroes who prepared us to greet the year 2000!

Do you remember where you were when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1999? I was in downtown San Diego, crawling around on the ground in search of the Furby my younger brother dropped. If you have fond memories of 1999, please share them in the comments section!

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Most Wonderful Time

It is that time of year when celebration is in the air and the Wells Fargo History Museums around the country are celebrating with free events.

festive stagecoach on display in our Phoenix, Arizona History Museum

Festive stagecoach on display in our Phoenix, Arizona History Museum

More than 700 visitors stopped by the Wells Fargo History Museum in Phoenix, Arizona to meet Santa, and folks in Portland, Oregon brought toys to the Museum as part of the KGW Toy Drive. And if you were in the mood for a good old fashioned holiday, I hope you stopped by for Holiday in the Park at Old Town San Diego where visitors were treated to fun activities and strolling carolers.

But don’t worry- you haven’t missed all the fun! There are still a few more chances for you to join us.

Visit the Wells Fargo History Museum in San Francisco on December 17 from noon to 1 p.m. to listen to a holiday concert featuring the San Francisco City Academy Choir and the San Francisco City Chorus.

San Francisco City Academy students singing in our San Francisco History Museum, 2013

San Francisco City Academy students singing in our San Francisco, California History Museum, 2013

You’re invited to visit the Museum in Minneapolis on December 18 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to hear the Wells Fargo Chorus sing seasonal favorites – and the Wells Fargo Wagon song-while making paper snowflakes, taking a winter themed museum scavenger hunt, and having a photo taken with Santa.

Minneapolis History Museum team with Santa

Minneapolis, Minnesota History Museum team with Santa

the Wells Fargo Stagecoach in a winter wonderland

the Wells Fargo Stagecoach in a winter wonderland

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A Time of Waiting, A Time of Giving

For children, the holidays are a time of anticipation and waiting – waiting for the tree to be decorated, waiting for the lights to go up, and, of course, waiting to open the presents.

One child would’ve had to wait until after Christmas Day to open her present had it not been for the foresight of Wells Fargo Agent Richmond Smith. On Christmas Eve 1884, the train carrying Wells Fargo’s express shipment was late coming over the snow-clad Sierras. One of the many packages that arrived in Reno, Nevada read “Please do not open until Christmas.” Smith realized that if the package was not delivered that night, a child would not have their present to open on Christmas Day.

Agent Smith sprung to the express wagon and urged the horse on as snow began to fall. Pressing on through the bitter cold and snow, Smith came to the package’s final destination – a lonely cottage at the end of a street. After loudly knocking, Smith was gleefully greeted by a little girl whose eyes brightened as she noticed the package. Her mother’s voice echoed down the hallway, “Is it Santa Claus?” And the little girl replied, “No, mother. It’s Wells Fargo!”

Wells Fargo delivered this doll to 4-year-old Ivan Session.   A century later, Ivan’s daughter, Jean Smith Dobey, donated Flossy to the Wells Fargo History Museum (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives).

Wells Fargo delivered this doll to 4-year-old Ivan Session. A century later, Ivan’s daughter, Jean Smith Dobey, donated Flossy to the Wells Fargo History Museum (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives).

Continuing our history of timely delivery, Wells Fargo’s stagecoach and Oregon’s team members delivered toys to children at a local elementary school as part of our efforts to publicize the Great KGW-TV Toy Drive.

Wells Fargo is proud to again sponsor the toy drive, a 30-year community tradition that has collected thousands of toys from around Portland to give to children whose families could not afford them. Wells Fargo’s banking stores participate by serving as drop-off sites. The toys will be collected and brought to KGW’s studio for sorting. KGW will then distribute the toys to nonprofit groups to give to children. Last year, more than 125 nonprofits received toys.

There’s still time to give. Through December 15th, you can drop-off a new, unwrapped toy at any Wells Fargo’s banking store in and around Portland.

Why keep a child waiting any longer than they have to?

Wells Fargo Team Member

Wells Fargo Team Member Scott Matulich with one happy child


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Ho! Ho! Ho! from the stagecoach

The holidays are here and our stagecoach will be bringing some cheer to almost 60 events this winter all across the United States. We’ve already rolled through places like Wheeling, West Virginia, Tooele, Utah and Austin, Texas. We can’t wait to see Denver, Colorado, Greensboro, North Carolina, Laguna Niguel, California and many more places. Click here for the full stagecoach appearance schedule to see if we’ll be stopping by your hometown’s holiday event. If we aren’t going to make it to your event this year, you can watch the stagecoach in our holiday commercial.

Austin, Texas - Chuy's Children Giving to Children parade

Austin, Texas – Chuy’s Children Giving to Children parade

the stagecoach decorated for the holidays

the stagecoach decorated for the holidays

I hope you and yours have a Happy Holidays!

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Washington statehood

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)

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_

Colman Building in Seattle (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

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