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An image of a faded sheet of paper shows Wells Fargo & Co Express's intended sailings with lists of different countries. To the right is a black and white image of four men standing beside two horses at the front of a stagecoach.
By March 1915, Wells Fargo had many international offices; Wells Fargo opened its first office in El Salvador in 1913 in the capital city of San Salvador.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Where in the world has the stagecoach been?

Find out how Wells Fargo expanded its presence from California to 38 overseas offices, serving customers worldwide today.

August 10, 2018
Marianne Babal
Marianne Babal

Marianne Babal is a Wells Fargo historian.

The forty-niners may have been among the first to rush for gold in California, but they were soon joined by gold seekers from around the globe. Thousands of people from Europe, Asia, Oceania, and Central and South America flocked to California for gold in the 1850s. They needed a company that could safely send their gold, money, and mail back home, and they counted on Wells Fargo for those services.

Wells Fargo has been set up to serve international customers since year one. In 1852, the year of its founding, Wells Fargo & Co. opened its first international office in Panama, a key gold rush transit point between oceans. Customers relied on Wells Fargo and its appointed Panama agents, the banking firm of Hurtado y Hermanos, to safely transport tons of gold from California across the Isthmus of Panama.

When Wells Fargo & Co. founder Henry Wells traveled across the isthmus to California in January 1853, he was satisfied the company’s new agents in Panama could meet the needs of Wells Fargo customers. He wrote in a letter, “I have found our agents the very best men on the entire route — Hurtado & Co, the first house in this city. Of course, I am much pleased with them.”

From offices on the Grand Plaza of Panama City, the Hurtado firm provided banking and shipping services and mail delivery for Wells Fargo customers until 1861. Further north along the Pacific coast, Wells Fargo opened its first express office in Mexico, in the Port of Guaymas, in 1860.

A black and white photo shows an aerial view of a street with several buildings lining it. The signs above each building are difficult to see. One or two people are seen in the background, sitting in front of a building.
In 1858, Wells Fargo opened its first Canadian agency, in Victoria, British Columbia.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Wells Fargo made agreements with existing businesses and offices around the world to do business for their customers. For customers needing shipping and financial services to Europe, Wells Fargo purchased the Paris office of Livingston, Wells & Company in 1853. Wells Fargo identified trusted merchants, shipping firms, and financial services companies to manage its express and banking business worldwide. Wells Fargo extended its services to Canada in 1858, opening a bank and express office in Victoria on Vancouver Island.

A black and white image shows the upper body and face of a man looking at the camera. He is wearing a bow tie, vest, and suit jacket. There is a frame around his portrait.
Samuel Knight was Wells Fargo’s first agent in Victoria, British Columbia.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

‘More direct connections throughout the civilized world than any other American bank’

Business expanded to Asia in 1867 when mail steamships began regular service across the Pacific. As a result, trade between North America and the Far East grew, and Wells Fargo strategically positioned itself to help its customers grow their businesses in the Asia-Pacific region. By 1916, Wells Fargo had established express offices in 33 countries, including locations in Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Australia, and New Zealand, adding Shanghai and Manila, Philippines.

A black and white photo shows the outside of a building with several wagons lined up in front of each other, each with boxes on them, and two of them showing a person sitting on the boxes. The sign on the building reads: Wells Fargo & Co Express.
In September 1901, Wells Fargo was the first U.S. express company to open an office in Manila, Philippines, facilitating trade. This 1918 photo shows a customer’s shipment of orchids ready to go.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Wells Fargo office managers and foreign trade experts in Asia and elsewhere kept customers informed on shipping and commercial conditions, manufacturing output, and export opportunities, extending trade between America and ports throughout the world for business purposes. 

A black and white image shows the interior of an office with several desks in a row and one to the right of them in a corner. There are four men shown, each sitting at a desk and looking at the camera.
Wells Fargo office and staff members in Shanghai in 1917. Nyoh Ling Han was the company’s agent there.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

By 1900, nearly 50 years after its start, Wells Fargo’s global operations in Europe included agents and correspondents in England, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Norway, and Switzerland. In these locations, Wells Fargo contracted trusted local businesses, such as the London-based shipping firm Eives and Allen, with taking care of Wells Fargo’s business and its customers.

A black and white image shows an interior view with five men behind a counter. Two men stand in front of the counter, with their backs to it, and look at the camera.
Office and staff members of Wells Fargo y Cia in Puebla, Mexico, 1901.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

In the United States, Wells Fargo also offered remittances for immigrant customers sending money back to Europe, and advertised these services in multiple languages. In 1903, a New York publication, The Financier, described Wells Fargo as “the greatest express company in the world, as well as one of the best known and strongest banking institutions. In the Banking Department, it is probable that Wells Fargo & Co. have more direct connections throughout the civilized world than any other American bank.”

A black and white image shows a building and the street in front of it. The building has a sign that reads: Wells Fargo & Co Express. In front of it are several early 20th century cars and a horse.
Wells Fargo’s office in Paris in 1914. It was centrally located in the Grand Hotel at 4 Rue Scribe.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

In 1904, Wells Fargo manager Davis G. Mellor sailed to London to open the company’s first express office in Europe under its own name. Wells Fargo & Co.’s Express at 29 Cannon St. in London became part of a worldwide network of 4,100 Wells Fargo agencies connecting with customers using steamships, railroads, and stagecoach lines.

A black and white image shows an interior view with five men behind a counter. Two men stand in front of the counter, with their backs to it, and look at the camera.
Wells Fargo moved its London office location to 28 Charles St. in 1914.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Withdrawing and opening international offices

War soon intervened in international commerce, and Wells Fargo withdrew its foreign agencies after the U.S. government consolidated the domestic business of Wells Fargo and other express companies as a wartime efficiency measure in July 1918. Wells Fargo’s banking operations continued in San Francisco as Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank, which maintained strong correspondent relationships with commercial banks around the globe. From 1900 to 1960, international commercial banking customers used Wells Fargo Bank’s correspondent banking and import-export finance services to grow their businesses.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Wells Fargo opened dozens more international offices to invest in developing economies and to provide more services to increasingly multinational business customers. Bank advertisements in the 1970s featured Wells Fargo’s iconic stagecoach with backdrops such as Japan’s landmark Mount Fuji, illustrating Wells Fargo Bank’s now-global reach.

Stagecoach stops around the world

These 1974 bank ads positioned the company’s famous stagecoach in places Wells Fargo did business around the world.

An ad on the left 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 dotted line moves to a map on the right showing the United Kingdom.
An ad on the left show a stagecoach and horses ride past a pyramid-shaped stone structure. A dotted line moves to a map on the right showing Mexico.
An ad on the left shows a stagecoach and horses in front of a mountain with fog. It says: Wells Fargo Bank, We're multi-national because you're multi-national. A dotted line moves to a map on the right showing Japan.
An ad on the left shows a stagecoach and horses riding in front of trees and a castle behind it. It says: Wells Fargo Bank, We're multi-national because you're multi-national. A dotted line move to a map on the right showing Germany.
An ad on the left shows a stagecoach by water, with a city and mountain behind it. The ad says: Wells Fargo Bank, We're multi-national, because you're multi-national. A dotted line moves from that image to a map showing China colored in blue.
An ad on the left shows a stagecoach on a beach with the sun setting and landscape in the background. The ad says: Wells Fargo Bank, We're multi-national, because you're multi-national. A dotted line moves from that to a map showing Brazil.

While serving customers in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, Wells Fargo competed with a number of other U.S.-based banks. Philadelphia National Bank had ambitiously expanded into European and Asian banking markets, building an international network of offices to serve its multinational corporate customers and develop additional trade and business banking ties. Its overseas business continued under CoreStates Bank in 1983, and subsequently First Union and Wachovia Bank. All of these institutions are now part of Wells Fargo.

A black and white image shows five men working in an office. All but one are sitting at the same large desk. One is standing beside the desk, talking to another man who is holding a phone. Behind them, a wall has writing and several clocks.
Wells Fargo team members at work at the trading desk in London in 1973.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

An unstable international economic climate of the mid-1980s, fueled in part by a debt crisis in Latin America, compelled Wells Fargo Bank to refocus on market opportunities in California and the Pacific Rim — and close its international representative offices and branches. For several decades, Wells Fargo relied on strategic international cooperative agreements and partnerships, such as Wells Fargo HSBC Trade Bank, established in 1995.

Wells Fargo’s current international presence

Wells Fargo returned to the international scene and reopened a representative office in London in 2005. It added international branches and offices of Wachovia Bank through merger in 2008. Wells Fargo continues to grow its footprint internationally. In 2015 and 2016, it purchased several businesses from GE Capital, expanding its global presence and adding new team members to Wells Fargo’s international family.

Counting Wells Fargo’s enterprise global support and technology teams in India and the Philippines, the company’s approximately 22,000 team members working outside the U.S. make up about 8 percent of its total workforce. Wells Fargo’s internationally based team members serve businesses, individuals, and institutions across the globe from offices in 38 countries and territories, continuing a longstanding tradition of delivering for customers around the world.

Contributors: Ryan Levy and Christopher Frers
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