"" Writer's Wanderings: The Wells Fargo Wagon Is A Comin'!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Wells Fargo Wagon Is A Comin'!

With that tune from The Music Man bouncing around in my head, Bob and I drove into downtown Phoenix for a look at the Wells Fargo Museum. The price was right--free! It did cost us five dollars to park but it was worth the trip.

The museum is locasted in the Wells Fargo Plaza Building and was really easy to find. It's not a large museum but it is packed with really interesting stuff including some stage coaches and all sorts of paraphenalia related to the early days of the company before it was just a financial enterprise.

The company was started in March of 1852 by Henry Wells and William G. Fargo. It became known for its fairness in the gold rush out west for assaying and paying the miners for their gold finds. It was also the most reliable form of transporting mail and important business correspondence.

John Butterfield, one of the founders of American Express, along with Wells and Fargo was named president of Overland. By 1866, Wells Fargo took over most of the stage coach line in existence and became known for the finest fleet of stage coaches available. They could carry up to 18 passengers--nine inside and nine on top. Guess you had to travel light in those days.

The stage coach on display was wonderful. Hard to imagine those 18 passengers though. We noticed the unique suspension system it had of leather belts wrapped back and forth between the wheels. As Mark Twain put it, "Our coach was a great swinging and swaying stage, of the most sumptuous description--an imposing cradle on wheels."

While the movies and TV westerns made the stage coach immortal, the train system soon put it out of business. Wells Fargo however has kept the easily recognizable logo of the stage coach associated with its business since the beginning.

There is much history to be gleaned in the museum--fascinating tales of how they transported gold and the men who were notoriously trying to steal it. I learned where the term "cut a check" came from. On the counter in the model of the Wells Fargo office was a check machine that actually punched out the numbers on the check--thereby cutting a check.

In a separate gallery, there was also an exhibit of western artists' works including N.C. Wyeth, Ernest Berke, and Frederic Remington to name a few. All were a part of the Douglas Collection of Western Art begun in 1950 by Lewis Douglas then chariman of the board of the Southern Arizona Bank and Trust Company. The collection was acquired by Wells Fargo in a merger with another bank.

Just one more quote from one of the brochures I picked up about the stage coaches. One passenger described the ride as "a through-ticket and 15 inches of seat, with a fat man on one side, a poor widow on the other, a baby in your lap, a bandbox over your head, and three or more persons immediately in front, leaning against your knees. . ." Wow. Sounds like an airplane flight to me.

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