Wells Fargo And Chinese Business In California

In 19th century California Click here to learn about third-party website links, Chinese people comprised about 10 percent of the population Click here to learn about third-party website links. Most worked in the mines, on the railroads, and at agriculture: A few were merchants. While they were all too often subject to prejudice and persecution, Chinese Americans also built strong neighborhoods. In San Francisco, Chinatown Click here to learn about third-party website links became a stable community that continues today.

Letter written in Chinese (click for larger image in a new window)Chinese Americans needed to perform financial transactions—send and receive money, letters and packages. Wells Fargo served them and found their business integral to the company’s success. Wells Fargo had a Chinese interpreter in its San Francisco head office—Tam Tong, 1863-64—and in Sacramento. Wells Fargo’s Letter Express Department enjoyed a large volume of mail. That department in San Francisco employed three Chinese men to sort and deliver mail going to the Chinese community.

In spite of prejudice and violence against Chinese Californians, Wells Fargo welcomed their business. Chinese Americans were a significant portion of the business in some offices—in Folsom, Calif., Click here to learn about third-party website links for instance, a quarter of money transactions involved Chinese customers. In 1875, when Wong Sam produced an English-Chinese Phrase Book to aid communication, he included a list of Wells Fargo offices. Wells Fargo produced bilingual merchant directories in the 1870s and 1880s—the height of the anti-Chinese movement—to promote the economic viability of American Chinese communities. These directories listed merchants in:

Parrott building (click for larger image in a new window)

  • San Francisco (674 businesses)
  • Sacramento (105)
  • Marysville (42)
  • Stockton (57)
  • Oakland (69)
  • San Jose (79)
  • Los Angeles (42)
  • Virginia City, Nev. (7)
  • Portland, Ore. (65)
  • Victoria, British Columbia (44)

These businesses—barbers, boarding houses, butchers, carpenters, bazaars, cigar factories, clam dealers, candy shops, clothing factories, doctors, dry goods, druggists, grocers, jewelers, junk dealers, lanterns, laundries, restaurants, rice stores, tinsmiths, toys, lumber yards—were all potential customers.

Wells Fargo’s head office in San Francisco, the Parrott Building at Montgomery and Sansome streets, had special significance to the Chinese community. In 1852, banker John Parrott Click here to learn about third-party website links imported granite blocks from China for the structure, marked and ready for placement. But Parrott had picked an unlucky site Click here to learn about third-party website links, then refused the demands of Chinese workmen to have the site “exorcised.” Two of California’s largest banks, tenants of the building, subsequently perished in the Panic of 1855 Click here to learn about third-party website links. Wells Fargo weathered the Panic, acquired the building, and invited the Chinese to purify the site. Thus cleansed, Wells Fargo moved into the Parrott Building and became “the bank of the Chinese.” Wells Fargo also managed to acquire the two failed banks!

This entry was posted in Remember. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Wells Fargo And Chinese Business In California

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes, Wells fargo is a great bank, however, some of them are very poor for the service. No liability, with very rude and unprofessional attitude and service. Not reliable, be careful!

  2. Jeremiah says:

    Very nice site, I think it’s great that Wells Fargo is going through their own archives. Great posts, keep up the good work.
    May 16, 2007 09:51 PM

  3. Charles Riggs says:

    Thanks Jeremiah. And not just going through the Archives — we’re showing ‘em off!
    May 17, 2007 11:00 AM

  4. Charles Riggs says:

    Thanks for your interest in the phrase book. Our collection is not generally available for more than research, but there are exceptions. Send me an email at “Feedback” below and we can kick it around.
    June 11, 2007 10:14 AM

  5. LarryC says:

    I am teaching a class on the Chinese in the West at my university this fall. Is there anyway I could get a scan of that whole phrasebook? It would be a great teaching tool!
    June 10, 2007 09:47 PM

Guided By History

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

Your questions and comments really matter to us! We're glad you want to join the conversation and connect with other readers. All we ask is that you keep some simple guidelines in mind:

  • Stay on-topic. Only comments that are related to the subject of the blog entry will be posted.
  • Be respectful. It's okay if you disagree with a post or comment, but please, no personal attacks or offensive language.
  • Maintain your privacy and confidentiality.Please do not provide any of your specific account details or other personal information! If you have immediate service needs, please contact your bank representative or Customer Service.
  • Wells Fargo team members: In the interest of full disclosure, if you are a current employee of or are associated with Wells Fargo, please make note of your affiliation.