Stagecoach, a constant amid change, marks 150 years
A Wells Fargo historian traces the company’s iconic stagecoach from its routes out West to its enduring symbolism of service and stability.
Wells Fargo’s red and gold six-horse stagecoach — a symbol of the company and the image many people associate with Wells Fargo — can be seen in museums, parades, and other events around the country. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Wells Fargo’s first advertised stagecoach services.
People began seeing “Wells Fargo” on stagecoaches in the spring of 1867, and the first advertisement for them — announcing lower rates and faster times for improved customer service — was published that April. Wells Fargo had established its unified stagecoach line across the West the previous winter, but the harsh season limited travel.
Wells Fargo’s stagecoach legend actually began in 1858, when Wells Fargo founders Henry Wells and William G. Fargo sat on the board of directors for The Overland Mail Co., the nation’s first transcontinental stagecoach line. In 1858, passers-by in the Southwest could find The Overland Mail Co. stagecoaches twice a week on their route between Tipton, Missouri, and San Francisco; during the Civil War, the route moved to the center of the country.
Wells Fargo’s stagecoaches first made their reputation with financial services, delivering California gold and Nevada silver. The Wells Fargo name on the stagecoaches in 1867 let the public know who was delivering their goods and assured customers that stagecoach drivers took care of business for the entire journey.
As the population of the West continued to grow, with new towns, cities, and businesses forming, a transportation network evolved. By the end of 1866, Well Fargo President Louis McLane combined the three main Overland lines into one.
In October 1867, Wells Fargo ordered stagecoaches from the Abbot-Downing carriage factory in Concord, New Hampshire, with the instructions, “Paint bodies red, carriages straw. Letter Wells Fargo & Company.” The stagecoach in the San Francisco History Museum is from that order and will turn 150 years old this year.
The transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, connecting the country by rail. Wells Fargo began divesting its stagecoach operation in favor of the rapid service offered by trains. But stagecoaches still connected communities where the rails didn’t travel, and stagecoaches continued to carry Wells Fargo Express materials and stop at Wells Fargo Express offices.
As Wells Fargo continues to evolve, the image of its stagecoach remains a symbol of the company’s history — and an enduring part of American lore.