The stagecoaches of Wells Fargo, founded as a cross-country shipping company, quickly became a symbol of the Old West. The company transferred millions of dollars in silver ore from this office in Virginia City, Nevada.
Photograph by Lawrence & Houseworth, courtesy Library of Congress

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  • On March 18, 1852, Henry Wells and William Fargo founded the company that would bear their name. The two men were already wealthy business owners, serving as the first president and vice-president of American Express, which they helped establish two years earlier.
    Like American Express, Wells Fargo was originally an express-delivery business. The company guaranteed delivery of mail, packages, and other goods safely and efficiently. After the discovery of gold in California in 1849, the Wells Fargo stagecoach became a symbol of the American West—shipping machinery, freight, and finished goods from the East Coast to the frontier. It also delivered valuable ore, documents, and mail from the West to the east.
    After the completion of the transcontinental railroad, both Wells Fargo and American Express relied less on their shipping businesses. Instead, both companies thrived—and continue to thrive—as banking and financial services firms.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    American West Noun

    U.S. states west of the Missisippi River.

    bank Noun

    organization that loans, protects, and exchanges money to and from individuals and organizations.

    bear Verb

    to carry or support.

    business Noun

    sale of goods and services, or a place where such sales take place.

    discovery Noun

    something seen, documented, or noticed for the first time.

    efficient Adjective

    performing a task with skill and minimal waste.

    establish Verb

    to form or officially organize.

    financial Adjective

    having to do with money.

    freight Noun

    goods transported by air, land, or sea for profit.

    frontier Noun

    largely unpopulated area that is slowly being opened up for settlement.

    good Noun

    object or service that serves a human need or want.

    machinery Noun

    mechanical appliances or tools used in manufacturing.

    ore Noun

    deposit in the Earth of minerals containing valuable metal.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ore
    stagecoach Noun

    covered vehicle pulled by horses, used to transport people and cargo.

    symbol Noun

    something used to represent something else.

    thrive Verb

    to develop and be successful.

    transcontinental railroad Noun

    railroad that spans an entire continent.

    valuable Adjective

    worth a considerable amount of money or esteem.

    wealthy Adjective

    very rich.