On June 14, 1958, Wells Fargo Bank launched a new era in public relations — the bank presented a stagecoach on parade at the opening of a new branch office in Hayward, California . A historic stagecoach from Wells Fargo had been seen before at events, but that appearance in 1958 was the first of a full-fledged program to get coaches out in public on a regular schedule.
In earlier years, Wells Fargo & Co.’s Express had put historic stagecoaches in parades and other events. After 1929, Wells Fargo Bank had a stagecoach on display at its San Francisco Headquarters, which rolled out at special events: the opening of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge, and an appearance in the film “Union Pacific.” (That historic stagecoach is still on display in Wells Fargo’s San Francisco History Museum.) It was always popular; but in those years, it wasn’t properly dignified for a bank to advertise so evidently.
In the 1950s, that changed. Banks advertised like any other business wanting to attract customers. Wells Fargo publicity people liked the idea of sharing the Company’s long heritage with interested crowds, and recognized its value as an effective marketing tool. The intention was to restore historic stagecoaches for use “by the bank at branch openings, at fairs and rodeos.” The program was originally confined to Northern California communities where Wells Fargo had offices.
The program was a complete success, and Wells Fargo pressed forward with the idea. A second historic coach was put into service in 1961, then another in 1968. The first of ten coaches, entirely hand-built by Jay Lambert, appeared in 1970. “Hand-built “means exactly that — every square inch, from the ground up, wheels and iron and leather! That year, the Program had coaches in 69 appearances. Since then, there have been thousands of appearances, before hundreds of millions of people. Wells Fargo stagecoaches have appeared in a Presidential inaugural parade and at the Calgary Stampede , and an annual appearance at the Tournament of Roses Parade. Last year, there were 760 appearances before an audience of 22 million people.
Just as it did in the Golden Age of stagecoaches, Wells Fargo works with the very best drivers in its Stagecoach Appearance Program. The Fellingham family has been in the Program since the very beginning, and there are currently 22 drivers, and 25 coaches, from 13 ranches across North America.
In a 1992 television commercial for Wells Fargo, four stagecoaches rode abreast into Sonora, California . Seven stagecoaches total conquered “Main Street” that day, and witnesses remember the sound and feel of 96 thundering hooves.
They got the shot in one take.