Wells Fargo & Company Express
Soon after gold was discovered in early 1848 at Sutter's Mill near Coloma, California, financiers and
entrepreneurs from all over North America and the world flocked to California, drawn by the promise of huge
profits. Vermont native Henry Wells and New Yorker William G. Fargo watched the California boom economy with keen interest.
Wells, founder of Wells and Company, and Fargo, a partner in Livingston, Fargo and Company, were major
figures in the young and fiercely competitive express industry. In 1849 a new rival, John Butterfield,
founder of Butterfield, Wasson & Company, entered the express business. Butterfield, Wells, and Fargo soon
realized that their competition was destructive and wasteful, and in 1850 they decided to join forces to form
the American Express Company.
Soon after the new company was formed, Wells, the first president of American Express, and Fargo, its
vice-president, proposed expanding their business to California. Fearing that American Express's most
powerful rival, Adams and Company (later renamed Adams Express Company), would acquire a monopoly in the
West, the majority of the American Express Company's directors balked. Undaunted, Wells and Fargo decided to
start their own business while continuing to fulfill their responsibilities as officers and directors of American Express
On March 18, 1852, they organized Wells, Fargo & Company, to provide express and banking services to
Financier Edwin B. Morgan of Aurora, New York, was appointed Wells Fargo's first president. They commenced
business May 20, 1852, the day their announcement appeared in The New York Times. The company's arrival in
San Francisco was announced in the Alta California of July 3, 1852. The immediate challenge facing Morgan and
Danford N. Barney, who became president in November 1853, was to establish the company in two highly
competitive fields under conditions of rapid growth and unpredictable change. At the time, California
regulated neither the banking nor the express industry, so both fields were wide open. Anyone with a wagon
and team of horses could open an express company; and all it took to open a bank was a safe and a room to
keep it in. Because of its comparatively late entry into the California market, Wells Fargo faced well-established competition in both fields.
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