Financial Entrepreneur. He and William George Fargo were 19th Century Entrepreneurs, who were the founders of the modern-day financial firms of American Express and Wells Fargo. Wells was the supervisor of the young Fargo, who was the first freight agent at the Auburn Station for the Auburn & Syracuse Railroad in New York. On April 1, 1845 Wells started his own freight service with Fargo and Daniel Dunning becoming partners. Their Wells & Company offered "express service" from its headquarters in Buffalo, New York to such western cities as Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St Louis. Wells eventually left to start a rival firm, and these two companies were soon engaged in cut-throat competition with a third firm, owned by John Butterfield. In 1850 the three companies merged, under the new name of “American Express”. When gold was discovered in California, these three partners recognized the need for freight service from the Pacific coast to the business establishment in America's East. To shield American Express from any financial risk in this new service, they started a second firm, Wells Fargo & Company in 1852. This was an excellent plan as these companies survived the financial crisis of 1855 while others were bankrupted. Within a few years the new Wells Fargo & Company was the dominant stagecoach line. Through aggressive business tactics over the next decade, Wells Fargo came to control virtually all shipping west of the Missouri River including a part of the Pony Express route. After Butterfield became disabled from a stroke, Wells retired in 1867 from Wells Fargo and the next year from American Express, leaving Fargo in charge of the businesses;. His health was starting to decline. In 1868, he founded the Wells College in Aurora with an endowment to make it one of the first women's colleges in the United States. One of Well's last ventures was the Arizona & New Mexico Express Company of which he was president in 1876. As a son of a Presbyterian minister, he moved from New England to central New York when he was a boy. He gained work experience on the farm, with a tanner and in a shoemaker's shop. A six-foot tall man who was friendly, he had a severe speech impediment. In 1824 he visited a speech therapist in Rochester, New York. Taking what he had learned from the therapist and blending it with his own methods, he helped others with speech impediments but never resolved his own. Before meeting Fargo, Wells had moved freight on the Erie Canal by 1836 and even had a small freight line of his own, but his business bloomed after partnering with Fargo ten years later. His ancestry can be traced back to Thomas Welles, who lived in 17th century Connecticut and served as governor of the state. In his last years, he traveled for his health settling in Glasgow, Scotland where he died.
Bio by: Linda Davis