Valentine’s Day this weekend!

It’s Valentine’s Day. The day we let our loved ones know how important they are to us. As shown here, in Northwestern National Bank’s Northwestern News in 1956.

Northwestern (National Bank) News, Minneapolis. 1956. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Northwestern (National Bank) News, Minneapolis. 1956. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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African American History month

February is African American History Month and there are loads of activities and events. Each contributes to the larger purpose of celebrating the contributions of African Americans. But also identifies African Americans’ presence in history.

That’s important. For a long time, history was mainly concerned with the actions of kings, presidents and generals. Contributions of ordinary people were largely overlooked, but that has changed in the last century or so. African Americans have taken their full place in society in the same time span, and their place in, and contributions to, history are being recognized and recorded.

At Wells Fargo, a commitment to diversity is a central piece of our Vision and Values. We are proud of people in our past like Grafton Tyler Brown, a graphical artist from San Francisco who created artful documents in the style of the times.

Wells Fargo subsidiary company stock certificate, 1876. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo subsidiary company stock certificate, 1876. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Or like George Roberts who, after a distinguished flying career for the US Army, joined Wells Fargo as a Banker in the late 1960s.

George Roberts, Wells Fargo Banker, 1969. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

George Roberts, Wells Fargo Banker, 1969. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

We are humbled that people in our past have made us better and stronger because they were part of our 164-year heritage. We salute their personal heritage, but are also proud that our common history makes all history—the history of us all—richer, deeper, and more human.

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What’s a cover?

Covers are envelopes used to deliver letters. The term “cover” is primarily used by collectors of historical paper, such as documents, stamps, and the like. Ryan Baum is one such collector, whose interest in the item prompts questions of history: What was the communication this cover was moving along? Who were the parties involved, and what were the circumstances behind the transaction?

Covers provide clues for historians researching the past. Each one has separate parts that tell a story behind the historical moment. This cover is a good example:

Cover of letter to Daniel Towle, 1852. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Cover of letter to Daniel Towle, 1852. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

The communication to Daniel Towle, letter and cover, are in the Ernest A. Wiltsee Collection in Wells Fargo’s Corporate Archives.

Towle traveled to California in February 1850, to make a fortune in gold that he hoped to bring home to his family in Maine. He started his gold rush sojourn in Sacramento, and moved several times in pursuit of a good prospect. In an era of relatively slow communication, especially over long distances, frequent moves to outlying locations happened faster than communication, making it a challenge to get letters from back east to pioneers in the gold fields.

On July 28, 1852, this cover went by ship from Avon, Maine to San Francisco, then up river by steamboat to Sacramento—Towle’s previous residence and the one known to the sender.

From Avon, Maine. July 28, 1852 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

From Avon, Maine. July 28, 1852 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

We assume Towle left word that items to him in Sacramento needed to be forwarded to his new location. An Express company “frank” or name indicated which express company carried the cover. Local agents stamped the cover before sending it on the next stage of its trip. So from Sacramento, on September 18, 1852, Wells Fargo Express forwarded the letter to its office in Ophir.

Wells Fargo Express frank, Ophir, Calif. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo Express frank, Ophir, Calif. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo arranged for delivery of the letter in Taylor’s Ravine. (“10 miles below Auburn, Cal.”) The forward cost a buck. (About $20 dollars today.)

Wells Fargo Agent's notes (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo Agent’s notes (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Many letters in those days were moved by both the US postal service and by independent express companies, depending on areas served. The US stamp went in the upper right hand corner, but his letter does not have a stamp. Instead it has a note showing that the local Postmaster (“P.M.”) waived postage and sent the piece “Free.”

Postage waived by Postmaster (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Postage waived by Postmaster (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

In Avon, Postmaster E. M. Towle was actually Electra M. Towle, Daniel’s wife! Daniel had been postmaster for Avon before leaving for California, in addition to farming. When he left for California, Electra took over as Postmaster, and as manager of farm and family.

This letter was received in autumn of1852, and by the following spring, Daniel was back home in Maine.

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Giving people credit

In 1897, Jacob Levitt began business as State Finance Co. in Des Moines, Iowa. The company offered short-term installment loans; borrowers’ possessions or salaries were the security on the loan. Such individual consumer loans were an important resource for working families who might not get credit elsewhere.

Jacob and Anna Levitt, ca. 1900. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Jacob and Anna Levitt, ca. 1900. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

In those years, banks generally lent money businesses, or for mortgages on farms. Banks saw this as their economic role; but they also saw business as a better risk than individual loans or mortgages. (More on that topic here.) Nevertheless, people occasionally needed short term loans to cover emergencies or one-time expenses, such as medical bills, temporary unemployment, or sending money for relatives to immigrate. With America’s shift to manufacturing, wage income, and urban living, more and more people needed access to credit and “retail” financial services

Where the banks did not lend, Jacob Levitt did.

Levitt’s company changed its name over time from State Loan Co. to State Finance Co.. to Dial Finance—“Dial Us When You Need Extra Cash,” an ad proclaimed. And during this time, how people used credit changed, as well as how they viewed borrowing. In the early years, loans were a last resort; by the 1960s, credit had become an essential tool for households.

State Finance Co. publication, 1957. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

State Finance Co. publication, 1957. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Eventually, banks realized that offering credit to workers as well as businesses created new customers, and began competing with began competing with Dial and other loan companies to offer credit to consumers. Ironically, Dial started competing with banks in commercial lending and services. By 1982, Dial joined with Northwest Bancorporation (Banco) to offer better, more efficient, and diversified services for customers. Northwest (later Norwest) joined with Wells Fargo in 1998. Jacob Levitt’s effort to help people reach their financial goals continues today, as part of Wells Fargo’s heritage of helping people succeed financially.

State Finance Co. ad, 1950s. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

State Finance Co. ad, 1950s. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

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MLK Day 2016

Every year , the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday is focused on Dr. King’s message of service to others, giving to the community as one way to demonstrate King’s message: Non-violence is not just a way of responding to injustice, but is a way of being, of making one’s way in the world.

However you remember, celebrate, enjoy, there are many ways to make MLK Day more than a day off—making it a “day on.” (The video below is from 2011.)

Here’s hoping your MLK Day is the best ever!

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Refrigeration at 60 MPH

As railroads expanded across the continent after the Civil War, food distribution was quickly improved by rail using refrigerated rail cars to move fresh meat and produce. In 1888, Wells Fargo persuaded the Santa Fe Railroad to outfit a baggage car with ice bunkers, and placed the first such “reefer” car in service between Kansas City and Phoenix. With ice replenished en route refrigerator cars carried meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, fruit and other perishable goods.

Special refrigerated rail cars assured quick delivery. Here, growers in Texas load  fruit. (Courtesy Brazoria County Historical Museum)

Special refrigerated rail cars assured quick delivery. Here, growers in Texas load fruit. (Courtesy Brazoria County Historical Museum)

Wells Fargo soon built its own refrigerator express cars, designed for service on high-speed trains. Ice was loaded into these special cars from hatches in the roof, and was stored on either end of the car so that air circulated around the ice and cooled the interior.

Icing a "reefer" car, 1915. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Icing a “reefer” car, 1915. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

By 1912, Wells Fargo had 177 express refrigerator cars in service but needed even more. Thirty-five new 50-foot cars built for Wells Fargo in 1913, the longest express reefers built to that time. Each had a 30-ton carrying capacity, plus 7 tons of ice.

By 1918, Wells Fargo served over 10,000 communities reached by railroads. The American diet expanded—fresh produce from California was available for a winter’s feast in Minnesota; salmon from Washington State could be served in Washington D.C.; Michigan cherries could brighten the table in Arizona.

“There is an element of magic in the work of the refrigerator express car, not found in any other phase of the great business of transportation. Throughout the hottest summer days, sweeping across blazing western deserts, the refrigerator car comes bearing its cargo of delicate fruits, tender vegetables or fresh meats— speeding the products of the farm to thousands of dining tables in the East and Middle West.” —Wells Fargo pamphlet, 1912

Farmers across the nation depended on Wells Fargo's fleet of refrigerated railcars to carry their  perishable produce to market. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Farmers across the nation depended on Wells Fargo’s fleet of refrigerated railcars to carry their perishable produce to market. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

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Riding the rails

In 1866, the Rocky Mountain News noted that for customers, Wells Fargo would be “able to attend to their business to the ends of the earth, if required.” And in 1871, Wells Fargo’s Instructions to express agents declared:

The business is eminently one of detail, requiring of all persons engaged in it, system, accuracy, punctuality, watchfulness, urbanity, and, above all, that the business of today be done before tomorrow.

Wells Fargo is best known for using stagecoaches to transport gold, money and valuables across the frontier, but the railroad also played a major role in the Company’s success. Wherever steel rails stretched across the landscape, Wells Fargo’s express messengers were aboard the iron horse.

The train overtakes the stagecoach on this wagon banner advertisement from 1915. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

The train overtakes the stagecoach on this wagon banner advertisement from 1915. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

By the late 1860s, Wells Fargo operated the West’s largest stagecoach network. Railroad construction challenged that business, as mechanization would quickly outdistance the stagecoach. Wells Fargo acquired express rights on the new rail lines, and sought the best executives to lead the Company into the new transportation era.

The Central Pacific built the western half of the transcontinental railroad in the mid-1860s, and Wells Fargo agents followed, setting up offices in new towns along the way. But Wells Fargo express messengers had been aboard California’s first railroad years earlier, in 1856: the Sacramento Valley Railroad connected gold rush Folsom with business the business center in Sacramento. When the transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869, Wells Fargo Express men were aboard; railroad magnate Lloyd Tevis headed Wells Fargo’s express and banking business.

A Wells Fargo wagon meets the Southern Pacific train at Napa, Calif., ca. 1892. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

A Wells Fargo wagon meets the Southern Pacific train at Napa, Calif., ca. 1892. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

From “Ocean to Ocean”
In the 1880s, Wells Fargo followed the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad throughout California and eastward into Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. Meanwhile, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway carried Wells Fargo across the Southwest, into the Rockies, and across America’s heartland to Chicago. Between major rail routes, Wells Fargo contracted with hundreds of smaller carriers, including some urban    streetcar companies for inter-city delivery of express parcels. In 1888, Wells Fargo became the nation’s first cross-country express operator, entering New York City aboard the Erie Railroad, and proudly extending Wells Fargo’s express service from “Ocean to Ocean.”

Later expansion aboard the Chicago Great Western and Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroads expanded Wells Fargo’s territory throughout the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes, and across the Northern Plains to Puget Sound.

Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad map, 1901. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad map, 1901. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

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Wells Fargo and the new year

Here comes 2016!

“Stagecoach Passing Mount Shasta,” lithograph. Aaron Stein, ca. 1871. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

“Stagecoach Passing Mount Shasta,” lithograph. Aaron Stein, ca. 1871. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

This image is a lithograph by Aaron Stein. Stein was a long time Wells Fargo man: In 1864, he went to Salt Lake City to manage stagecoaches for the Overland Mail Company, which Wells Fargo controlled at the time. (More on the Overland here.) In the 1870s and ‘80s, Stein ran Wells Fargo’s purchasing and supply department. As a promotion in 1892, “Uncle Aaron” became personal assistant to Wells Fargo’s legendary president, John J. Valentine.

In about 1871, Aaron Stein drew this lithograph, “Stagecoach Passing Mount Shasta.” The horses nearly leap from the image, by their enthusiasm and ability.

Aaron Stein litho detail (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Aaron Stein litho detail (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

2016. Leap year. Get it?

Guided by History returns on the 4th. Happy new year!

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Wells Fargo and snow

The holiday season is here. Gifts, feasts, celebrations—it’s what makes a long, cold and snowy winter bearable.

Wells Fargo & Co’s Express delivered financial services to customers in all kinds of weather. It’s part of how the Company made its reputation for stability and service. This image is proof:

Wells Fargo Express wagon in Bingham Canyon, Utah, 1908. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo Express wagon in Bingham Canyon, Utah, 1908. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Two guys, two horses out there in the snow, doing business.

Winter has long represented the vibrant red of holly. Wells Fargo offered artful “To: From:” tags for customers sending gifts by Express. This is from the 1910s.

Wells Fargo Express advertisement, 1910s. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo Express advertisement, 1910s. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Guided by History will return next week. Happy holly-days!

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Road to ownership

When thinking about mortgages, I think of muddy Iowa roads. An odd connection, you say? Not at all, let me explain.

Back in 1906, Willard Beal noticed something interesting in his hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. Waterloo was one of Iowa’s few but important industry centers, and the town was booming. With new businesses came new residents and a demand for residential homes as the town’s population increased 290% from 1895 to 1915!

Willard Beal (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Willard Beal (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

There was a problem, though, for potential home owners in Waterloo. Until the 1930s, many banks and insurance companies shied away from offering loans for homes. Investing in a farm or factory provided a more secure profit than a mortgage for a family home.

Willard Beal disagreed. His faith in Waterloo’s potential led him to create his own mortgage business, Iowa Securities Company. To get the money needed to back people’s mortgages, he went door-to-door to find people willing to lend their money where other financial institutions would not.

Muddy Iowa road, ca. 1920 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Muddy Iowa road, ca. 1920 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

At the time, Iowa roads were mostly made of dirt, and having a home on a paved street was a unique selling point. Robert Beal, Willard Beal’s son, later remembered that “Iowa roads were well-nigh impassable in wet weather.” But he and his father drove on dangerously slippery roads and pushed cars out of mud holes as they tried to find people willing to turn their savings into an investment in homes for others. In one incident, “when Iowa was digging itself out of the mud so far as highways were concerned,” Robert remembered, he drove his Model T to the house of a potential investor. The same person had declined to invest in the past, but Robert refused to turn back even when his car got stuck in the mud a mile from the person’s house. The person was so impressed with Robert that he became a good investor and a good friend of Iowa Securities Company.

Iowa home, ca. 1920 (wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Iowa home, ca. 1920 (wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Iowa Securities Company is the foundation of Wells Fargo Mortgage today. When I think of mortgages, I think of Willard and Robert Beal doggedly pursuing a vision of helping people get the money needed to buy a home.

And refusing to be bogged down in the mud.

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