Skip to main content
Select Source:

William George Fargo

William George Fargo

William George Fargo (1818-1881), American entre preneur, was a founder of Wells, Fargo and Company and the American Express Company.

William Fargo was born on May 20, 1818, in Pompey, N.Y., the eldest of 12 children. His formal education ended at 13, when he began carrying mail over a 30-mile circuit for a local contractor. He subsequently worked in the grocery business, as a baker, and in a village inn. In 1840 he married Anna H. Williams; they had three children.

In 1842 Fargo became a messenger for an express firm operating between Albany and Buffalo. Soon he was appointed agent of Pomeroy and Company in Buffalo. Through his association with Wells and Company (which operated the first express company west of Buffalo), Fargo became one of the founders of the American Express Company, which quickly became the largest express concern in the United States.

In 1852 Fargo and some associates formed Wells, Fargo and Company to bring the services of an express company to the gold fields of California. American Express and Wells, Fargo combined facilities to provide rapid transportation of goods and communications between California, the Atlantic coast, Europe, and points in between.

After an 1855 financial panic drove its most formidable rival into bankruptcy, Wells, Fargo was the dominant express company in the West, with hundreds of employees, thousands of head of stock, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital invested. For the vast population then moving into the territory west of the Rocky Mountains, it provided unrivaled banking, express, and mail services. In 1857 Fargo and some of his associates from American Express established the Overland Mail, the first transcontinental stage line. It served the West until the coming of the railroad in 1869.

After the Civil War, the exemplary success of Wells, Fargo brought other concerns into the field, and in 1869 Wells, Fargo merged with the Pacific Express Company, which had contracted for the express business on the new transcontinental railroad. American Express was involved in similar mergers in the East.

Fargo had served as mayor of the city of Buffalo for two terms 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. He became a director of the New York Central and the Northern Pacific railroads. He was also involved in a number of manufacturing enterprises and was for a time the majority stockholder of the Buffalo Courier. He died on Aug. 3, 1881, having amassed a tremendous fortune.

Further Reading

Among the studies in which Fargo figures prominently are A. L. Stimson, History of the Express Business, Including the Origin of the Railway System in America (1881); LeRoy R. Hafen, The Overland Mail, 1849-1869: Promoter of Settlement, Precursor of Railroads (1926); Edward Hungerford, Wells Fargo: Advancing the American Frontier (1949); and Noel M. Loomis, Wells Fargo (1968). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"William George Fargo." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"William George Fargo." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-george-fargo

"William George Fargo." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-george-fargo

Fargo, William George

William George Fargo, 1818–81, American pioneer expressman, b. Pompey, N.Y. He had been successively a postrider, freight agent, messenger, and resident agent (1843) for an express company in Buffalo, N.Y., when in 1844, with Henry Wells and another partner, he organized Wells & Company, the first express company operating W from Buffalo. The following year the firm became Livingston, Fargo & Company, and in 1850 it merged with others to form the American Express Company, with Fargo as secretary. By 1852 he and Wells had organized Wells, Fargo & Company to handle the express service between New York and San Francisco for which the gold rush had created a need, and they established stage and banking businesses on the Pacific coast with the American Express Company serving as eastern representative. In 1868, Fargo became president of the American Express Company, making his home in Buffalo, where he served (1862–66) as mayor.

See N. C. Wilson, Treasure Express: Epic Days of the Wells Fargo (1936); L. Beebe and C. Clegg, U.S. West: The Saga of Wells Fargo (1949).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fargo, William George." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fargo, William George." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fargo-william-george

"Fargo, William George." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fargo-william-george

Fargo, William George

Fargo, William George (1818–81) US businessman. In 1844, Fargo and Henry Wells organized a carrier service between Buffalo and the West. Wells, Fargo and Company then set up an express service between New York and San Francisco to cater for the gold rush. The company merged with two others to form the American Express Company in 1850.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fargo, William George." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fargo, William George." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fargo-william-george

"Fargo, William George." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fargo-william-george