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Two images are shown side by side. The one on the left is black and white featuring a stagecoach with a man and a woman standing beside it. The image on the right is in color and shows the red stagecoach on display. A woman is standing nearby.
Wells Fargo Stagecoach No. 186 shown in the 1970s (left) and again in 2014 (right). Photos courtesy of Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

A stagecoach’s long road

Find out how the historic stagecoach came to Wells Fargo’s museum in San Francisco — and what significant events were part of its journey.

October 26, 2018
Alyssa Bentz

Alyssa Bentz is a Wells Fargo historian.

Over the past 90 years, generations of families have visited the Wells Fargo Museum in San Francisco to see the historic stagecoach on display and reflect on the past.

Stagecoach No. 186 traveled quite a journey and participated in many historical events before and after one man’s love of Wells Fargo and western history brought it home to the museum.

How an icebreaker become an icon

Gerald W. Wickland, Wells Fargo’s publicity manager in the early 20th century, loved the bank’s history and collected papers and artifacts from the company’s past. More than preserving the bank’s history, he loved to share it. He noticed that it was a great icebreaker when talking with customers, and he would watch people’s eyes light up when he shared stories of daring Pony Express riders and exciting stagecoach journeys.

Wickland even arranged for history exhibits in bank windows and articles in newspapers. As a result, western history researchers called him for information about Wells Fargo and general history, and movie producers would ask for advice. The bank even sponsored the first re-enactment of the Pony Express in 1925, which broke the 1860 record for quickest ride across the country.

In 1928, Wickland found a historic Concord coach for sale by a woman in Alviso, California. It had been made by Abbot-Downing, the same New Hampshire vehicle manufacturer that Wells Fargo had bought its sturdy stagecoaches from in the 1860s. While it had not been owned by Wells Fargo, it was an authentic stagecoach that had been used on California’s roughest roads. It provided a physical link to a time when people depended on stagecoaches to get access to money and stay connected with family and friends.

Thanks to Wickland’s advocacy, Wells Fargo bought the coach for $500 and had it brought by barge to San Francisco, where it was used in parades, events, and eventually became the main attraction at the bank’s public museum.

An ad shows a stagecoach in front of a foggy backdrop with two towers and a bridge. It says: Wells Fargo Bank, We're multi-national because you're multi-national.
A model of stagecoach No. 186 represented the bank in marketing materials.

A piece of history

No one knows who first owned this stagecoach, or where it was first used, but markings discovered in a 1975 restoration offer clues about its history. Charles H. Adams, a wood worker at Lewis Downing’s coach factory in Concord, New Hampshire, signed his name to the coach after completing the wooden frame in 1864. The coach also bears the marking No. 186. All stagecoaches were marked with a number in the factory to ensure they got to the right customer.

A few years after No. 186 was made, Wells Fargo ordered dozens of its stagecoaches from Lewis Downing and his partner J. Stephens Abbot. Their company in Concord, Abbot, Downing & Co, was considered to have the nation’s best craftsmen of quality vehicles.

At some point, coach No. 186 came to California. In the 1870s, George Colegrove and Henry C. Ward started a stagecoach line to get tourists from the train depot in Santa Clara over the mountains to the coast at Santa Cruz. Under the expert care of Colegrove and Ward, passengers relaxed in coach No. 186 while they talked, slept, and admired the mountain and ocean views. 

Over time, this stagecoach became the inspiration for how Wells Fargo communicated its values and ambitions to its customers. It has also provided a shared experience across generations. As visitors encounter historic stagecoach No. 186 in San Francisco, they get a glimpse of the past, are reminded of changes that have taken place over history, and contemplate the continued evolutions that the future holds.

A history of Stagecoach No. 186

1864

Stagecoach No. 186 was made in Concord, New Hampshire.

1870s

George Colegrove and Henry Ward used stagecoach No. 186 to carry passengers through the Santa Cruz mountains.

1928

A black and white image shows two men sitting on a stagecoach, and the back of a horse in front of them. The man on the left has the reins, and the man on the right holds a gun. Behind them is a building with part of the word stable seen.

Wells Fargo purchased No. 186 and loaned it to George Colegrove, left, to drive in a San Francisco parade. Joseph Dominguez, right, was foreman of Wells Fargo’s stables in the 1910s and rode along as the armed messenger.

1935

A black and white image shows a crowd of people standing to look at frames on the wall or looking down at tables with glass cases and items inside of them. At the back of the room is a stagecoach with two people inside.

School tours, like this one in 1936, enjoyed a rare opportunity to climb inside the historic stagecoach when Wells Fargo’s unique collection of artifacts opened to the public in 1935. At the time, no other museum in the city offered a permanent exhibit about California’s Gold Rush history, something every fourth grader in the state needed to learn.

1935-1936

A black and white image shows a stagecoach in front of a wall with pictures. Nearby are some tables with items on them and other frames on the wall.

No. 186 traveled south to San Diego to be the centerpiece for Wells Fargo’s popular history exhibit at the California Pacific International Exposition.

1936

A black and white image shows a stagecoach with three people riding on top and four horses moving across a bridge. On the side of the road, a car is parked, and a man stands beside it.

When the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened in November 1936, stagecoach No. 186 was one of the first vehicles to drive across it.

1937

A black and white image shows a stagecoach with horses and two men riding on the coach. They are in front of a building with: Post Office written on the front. Around them is a large crowd of people.

The bank loaned the stagecoach to Hollywood during the production of the hit movie Wells Fargo.

1939

A black and white image shows a group of people coming and going into the doorway of a room. Inside the room is a stagecoach on display.

Crowds of visitors lined up to see the stagecoach in person during the Golden Gate International Exposition on San Francisco’s Treasure Island.

1946

A black and white image shows a large room with column, frames on the wall, display cases, and a stagecoach in the center of the room. Around the room, 10-15 people stand to look at the displays or the stagecoach.

As the bank’s public history exhibit became more popular, additional room was designated for people interested in seeing stagecoach No. 186 and other artifacts.

1930s-1950s

The side view of a porcelain red stagecoach, with gold and black wheels, and gold, black, and white features is featured in the photo. Parts of the paint is missing and chipped. Written at the top, it says: Wells Fargo Stage.

The bank turned to stagecoach No. 186 for inspiration when designing a coin bank advertising promotion.

1956

Two illustrations show a stagecoach at the back, with people sitting or standing at desks, and a room with desks and people standing. It says: Come in and get acquainted - you'll find it's a pleasure to do business with Wells Fargo.

Stagecoach No. 186 appeared in a Wells Fargo ad.

1960

A black and white image shows the side of a stagecoach with: Wells Fargo & Co. Overland Stage written at the top and U.S. Mail on the door. It appears to be outside and in front of a window because curtains are seen.

The stagecoach was rolled out of the museum for a photo shoot to represent the merger between Wells Fargo and American Trust Company.

1962

A black and white image is taken showing the bottom and side view of a stagecoach being lowered beside a building. The stagecoach has U.S. Mail written on the door.

The stagecoach was securely hoisted to its new home at the bank’s headquarters at the corner of Market and Montgomery Streets in San Francisco.

The side of a building is shown with a diamond shape in the middle. The diamond has a red border, with white and a red and gold stagecoach in the middle of it.

Stagecoach No. 186 inspired Wells Fargo’s new logo (released in 1962), which was featured above the bank’s skyscraper at 44 Montgomery St. in San Francisco, seen in this 1970 photo. The eagle design on the stagecoach door that is unique to No. 186 is visible.

1966

A black and white image taken from inside a window on the stagecoach shows a group of at least 10 children looking up, down, and straight at the stagecoach. Several children are taking a photo.

Stagecoach No. 186 has been a part of group photographs, like this one of a school group in 1966, and fun memories for decades.

1970s

An image shows part of a red stagecoach and its gold wheel on the far left side. To the right, a woman stands with her side profile showing. She is talking to a group of four children who are looking at her. Behind them is another boy.

A visit to the bank’s history room was not complete without stopping in front of the stagecoach.

1980s

A black and white image shows part of a stagecoach and its wheels behind a group of about 15 children who are sitting on the floor. About half of them have their hands raised. A man sits in front of them, pointing and looking at one of the children.

The stagecoach has inspired questions and conversations for generations.

2000s

An image shows a group of about 20 kids sitting on the floor. Some are wearing bonnets. Many are looking at a woman who is standing in front of them. Several adults stand behind the children. One woman is wearing a blue dress and bonnet.

Some students dress in pioneer clothes for the occasion of seeing the stagecoach.

2014

A woman stands in front of a red and gold stagecoach. Two children are seen sitting in front her, and she hands one a ticket. She has other tickets in her other hand.

Students get a stagecoach ticket in front of coach No. 186.

An image shows a red and gold stagecoach on display, with poles around it. To the right of it, a woman with her back to the camera is facing a large screen with a man on it.

After a remodeling, visitors learned about the historic stagecoach in new ways, like the interactive life-sized video stagecoach driver exhibit to the right.

2016

Ten gold coins, five to the left and five to the right, are displayed. Behind the coins are two coin holders, one showing the front with a red and gold stagecoach on it, and the other open to show gold coins in circular spots.

A 1960s illustration of stagecoach No. 186 was used as a holder for tokens that visitors received when visiting all 12 Wells Fargo museums.

2018

Part of a red and gold stagecoach is seen to the right of the image. To the left is a man talking to a boy as they stand nearby. Behind them, several people are looking at frames on the wall or the stagecoach.

Visitors continue to visit stagecoach No. 186 (seen here in 2015) and other historic coaches at 11 of the 12 Wells Fargo history museums around the U.S.

Contributors: Ryan Levy
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