Financial Entrepreneur. He and Henry Wells were 19th Century Entrepreneurs, who were the founders of the modern-day financial firms of American Express and Wells Fargo. He was the eldest of twelve children of William C. Fargo, a farmer, and his wife Tacy Strong. He received the basics in education at a rural school, but left after the eighth grade to help support his family. He took a contract to deliver mail by horseback on a 43-mile route in his hometown of Pompey, New York. This became the turning point in his life, and with little formal education, he became one of the founders of the modern day financial firms of American Express and the Wells Fargo. After delivering mail, he was in the grocery business, a baker, and a boarding house clerk. In 1841 Fargo became the first freight agent at Auburn Station for the Auburn & Syracuse Railroad, and with his excellent performance, his supervisor, Henry Wells, promoted him to express messenger the next year. Wells started his own freight service in 1844 with Fargo and Daniel Dunning becoming his 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 partner 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 and Wells retired, Fargo was “in charge” of the business. Fargo was president of each of these companies, and from 1870 to 1872, he was simultaneously for both companies. He employed hundreds of men across the nation including his own 11 siblings and invested thousands of dollars in live stock and various manufacturing enterprises. As the use of the stagecoach for transportation stepped aside to the train, so did Wells Fargo shifted their gears to the train service. After the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, both American Express and Wells Fargo gradually shifted their emphasis from shipping by train to banking and other financial services. Fargo became even richer, as he had heavily invested in numerous railroad companies. One of these railroads served the settlers of North Dakota, which led to the naming of the town of Fargo, North Dakota in his honor. In 1871 Fargo campaigned for a seat in the New York Senate but lost. This was second desire to be in politics as he had been the mayor of Buffalo for four years during the Civil War. A lifelong Democrat, he had stood against secession and supported the Union during the war by paying a part of their salary to those of his employees who were drafted. For a time, he was the majority stockholder of the newspaper, the “Buffalo Courier”. He became a director of the New York Central and the Northern Pacific railroads. In 1840 he married a hometown girl, Anna Hurd Williams with whom he had eight children. Sadly six of the children died young leaving, at the time of his death, only two daughters were still living: Miss Georgia Fargo and Mrs. Helen Squiers. At his death, it was estimated that his estate was worth over two million dollars in addition to his mansion that covered two city blocks, stood five stories tall, and boasted gold doorknobs and the city's first elevator. He left his business to his younger brother, James Congdell Strong Fargo, who had been a part of developing this huge financial empire from days of delivering to the mail by horse in Pompey, New York. Even in today’s world, Fargo’s businesses still rank high in the financial world.
Bio by: Linda Davis
Anna Hurd Williams Fargo