Wells Fargo History Museum in Des Moines
The Wells Fargo History Museum in Des Moines features interactive displays that showcase the company’s long history with Iowa.
Photo: Brandon Lacy
November 10, 2016

Des Moines museum: ‘Crossroads of history’

The Wells Fargo name first appeared in Iowa in 1872 and continues today with the opening of the company’s latest history museum, in Des Moines.

In conjunction with the opening of its newest history museum, Wells Fargo also reintroduces Guided By History — the online forum for company historians and archivists to showcase artifacts about Wells Fargo, its predecessors, and team members since 1852.

The newest Wells Fargo History Museum — the 12th in a nationwide network — opens Nov. 10 in downtown Des Moines, a city with deep Wells Fargo roots.

A first for the museum is that it is organized around a theme:

“Iowa is a crossroads of history: a place of connection between east and west, north and south; agriculture and industry; tradition and innovation. The museum showcases how Iowa connected people through time and how Wells Fargo has connected customers to opportunity, money, credit, banking services, and financial success since 1852.”

This is also the first Wells Fargo History Museum to include an art gallery featuring rotating works from the company’s collection. The opening exhibit features about 20 pieces by artists such as Andy Warhol, Alfred Stieglitz, and Helen Frankenthaler.

Wells Fargo art gallery
The opening exhibit of the rotating art gallery includes pieces by Andy Warhol, Alfred Stieglitz, and Helen Frankenthaler.
Photo: Brandon Lacy

‘A crossroads of history’

The Wells Fargo name first appeared in Iowa in 1872, when the company had an agency for a short time at the rail hub in Missouri Valley Junction. In 1882, H.C. Beebee opened a new express office in Council Bluffs at the intersection of Main and Broadway.

By 1910, Wells Fargo had offices in more than 400 Iowa communities from Davenport to Des Moines, Sioux City to Waterloo. The network of offices crisscrossed Iowa along railroad lines, sending money, goods and valuables reliably and quickly — the hallmark of Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo’s banking roots in Iowa date to First National Bank of Marion, founded in 1863. Today, it and German Savings Bank (1869), W.H. Lytle Bank (1869), Bank of Dallas Center (1873), and First National Bank of Perry (1883), are part of Wells Fargo and continue a tradition of serving Iowans.

Wells Fargo stagecoach
A Wells Fargo stagecoach on display in Des Moines.
Photo: Brandon Lacy

Key Wells Fargo businesses have their roots in Iowa, too. In 1906, Willard W. Beal started brokering home mortgages in Waterloo and soon founded Iowa Securities Company. Beal’s company grew over time and became Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in 2000; its headquarters are still in Des Moines.

Credit products for Wells Fargo customers have an Iowa taproot as well. Jacob Levitt started offering loans from an office at 3rd and Walnut streets in Des Moines. State Loan Co. provided financing to people who couldn’t get credit elsewhere. Over time, the business grew to handle loans by mail, then by telephone as Dial Finance. Dial was a technology innovator and was a totally diversified financial services company in 1982, when it merged with Northwest Bancorporation — which joined Wells Fargo in 1998.

Wells Fargo wagon
A Wells Fargo wagon as immortalized in “The Music Man,” the Broadway musical by Iowan playwright and composer Meredith Willson.
Photo: Brandon Lacy

‘Wells Fargo wagon’

As a boy in Mason City, the musician and playwright Meredith Willson saw express shipments coming and going in Wells Fargo wagons. Willson went on to study music and played the flute in John Philip Sousa’s famous band from 1921 to 1923.

In 1957, Willson’s musical, “The Music Man,” premiered on Broadway and soon became a hit movie. Today, it and the “Wells Fargo Wagon” song are part of the American pop cultural landscape, loved by millions — but creating confusion for people about Wells Fargo wagons and the Wells Fargo stagecoach. Wells Fargo History Museum professionals are happy to resolve the confusion — just ask us!

The Wells Fargo story in Iowa

The Wells Fargo History Museum in Des Moines showcases how Iowa and Wells Fargo connected people over time. The Wells Fargo story in Iowa is more than a century old, and it is a good one.