On September 7, 1872 North Western National Bank opened for business in Minneapolis.
Early records indicate that the bank was started as a railroad bank. According to the Minneapolis city directory of 1873 “the bank was organized in the interests of the Northern Pacific Railroad, thus giving that road a convenient banking house for the transmission of its immense business in this section.”
Ten of the original subscribers of stock in the bank were either officers or members of the Board of Directors of the Northern Pacific. William Fargo was a director of the Northern Pacific Railroad and an early investor in North Western National Bank, foretelling the 1998 merger of equals between Norwest and Wells Fargo.
The first two presidents of North Western National Bank, Dorilus Morrison and Henry T. Welles, were actively involved in the growth of Minneapolis. Welles was the first mayor of St. Anthony, Minnesota, and after St. Anthony and Minneapolis merged in 1872, Morrison became mayor of the city. The bank showed steady growth under the guidance of the early bank presidents and deposits grew from $50,000 in 1872 to $3 million in 1892 and $10 million in 1902.
In 1929 Northwest Bancorporation (“Banco”) was formed when Northwestern National Bank and several Midwestern banks formed a cooperative that served as a mutual protection association for banks facing insolvency. In the Upper Midwest, 1,500 banks became insolvent during the 1920s, many having overextended credit to farmers who faced collapsing prices and drought during the Twenties. Ninety banks joined Banco in the first year, and there were 139 affiliates by 1932. During the Great Depression, none of the Banco members went under because the group was able to move liquidity around the system.
Prior to the 1970s, the affiliated members of Banco were largely autonomous. During the 1970s Banco adopted a more unified structure in terms of system wide planning, marketing, data processing, funds management, and loan syndication.
By 1979 Banco consisted of 85 affiliates in seven states—Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana—and total assets reached $11 billion. In 1983 Northwest Bancorporation became Norwest Corporation with the aim to create a diversified financial corporation. Norwest ended the 1980s as the 30th largest bank with assets over $25 billion.
During the 1990s Norwest expanded into Indiana, Illinois, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Texas. By 1997 Norwest was the 11th largest bank with assets of $88 billion.
In June 1998 Norwest merged with Wells Fargo, bringing together leading banking companies from the Midwest and West Coast. Dick Kovacevich, the CEO of Norwest became the CEO of the combined company with Wells Fargo as the name of the new company and headquarters in San Francisco.