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Do you ever think about where ordinary every day things come from?

I do.

No surprise, I’m sure.

I often wonder about the stories of the people who gave their names to places we go, services we use, and things we take for granted.

Today is the anniversary of the birth of William Fargo.

William Fargo

Yeah, he’s part of the Wells Fargo name.

He wasn’t just a banker, he was the mayor of Buffalo, NY, and he didn’t just found Wells Fargo, he started American Express – before he started Wells Fargo.

Born in Pompey, New York on May 20, 1818, he was the first of 12 kids!  His mother’s maiden name was Strong – I’m sure she had to be!

He quit school at 13 and became a letter carrier to help support his family. At the age of 20, he went to work in a grocery store stayed there a while and moved to another.  He landed a job as a freight agent and at the age of 25 went to work for Wells and Co as a messenger.

In 1845, at the ripe old age of 27, along with Henry Wells and Daniel Dunning he organized Western Express, a railroad running from Buffalo to Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Chicago.

Over the next few years, he along with Wells and a couple of other men, consolidated express companies into American Express, he eventually became its president.

In the 1850s, he, along with Henry Wells, created Wells Fargo & Co when the directors of American Express objected to extending their operations into California.

Originally the company facilitated express business between New York and San Francisco by crossing Panama.  They offered banking services including gold delivery and paper bank drafts as well as express services.

Opening businesses in gold rush generated mining camps as well as San Francisco, the company grew and absorbed the Overland Mail Co which carried the US mail in the West!

He had a hand in everything and most of what he touched turned to gold; he was the VP of NY Central Railroad, a director of Northern Pacific Railway, Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia Railroad, a major shareholder in the Buffalo Coal Company and much, much more.

From 1862 to 1866, he was mayor of Buffalo.  A lifelong Democrat, he fought secession and supported the Union during the Civil War.

He paid a portion of the salaries of his employees when they were drafted by the Union Army!

He had eight kids.  Only two would outlive him.

In 1868 at the age of 50, he bought five and a half acres on Buffalo’s west side and built the largest private residence outside New York City.

Fargo Manison

It was a Victorian Italianate monstrosity that consisted of 22,170 square feet, covered two city blocks, cost $600,000 ($12 million today) to build, and $100,000 to furnish.

It had gold door knobs, was five stories high, and had wood from every state in the Union.

Of course, the Wells Fargo we know today resembles Fargo’s dream only a little even if it is one of the Big Four.  It’s a product of mergers that have taken place over the last 100 years.

Fargo would probably be proud of it though.

And he’d be glad to know that we know there was a man behind the name.

Now you know.

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