History of Wells Fargo Bank: The Story Behind One of America’s Biggest Banks

What does the history of Wells Fargo tell us?

Wells Fargo is a one-stop shop for all your banking needs. If you decided today that you wanted to open both a checking and savings account, as well as explore investment opportunities and get a mortgage loan, you could theoretically do all of that and more at Wells Fargo. 

But Wells Fargo wasn’t always such a powerhouse. Instead, it started as a much smaller institution and went by a slightly different name. Learn about the long and illustrious history of Wells Fargo, as well as what it’s up to today.

Jump ahead to specific key points using this table of contents: 

Here It Is: Your Guide to Wells Fargo SWIFT Codes

The Roots of Wells Fargo

If you’re wondering, “Who started Wells Fargo?” and “What was the name of Wells Fargo before?” look no further. 

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William Fargo, born in 1818, met Henry Wells, born in 1805, when the latter employed him in 1842 as an express messenger with the Auburn & Syracuse Railroad. In 1852, both Wells and Fargo opened the first Wells, Fargo & Co., branch in San Francisco, with plans to expand and serve the West. 

The bank quickly built a reputation of trust with its customers because it dealt efficiently and responsibly with their money. It also earned a reputation of treating its customers well. Wells was quoted as saying that his one “very powerful” business rule could be summed up in one word: courtesy. Wells required his employees to treat all customers with the utmost courtesy — regardless of class, race or religion.

Learn: How To Open a Wells Fargo Bank Account

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Wells Fargo’s Growth 

Wells Fargo’s growth was very much tied to the growth of the West. While other banks looked toward Europe, Wells, Fargo & Co., looked toward the West and the gold rush.

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The bank helped start Overland Mail Company, which was created to supply the speediest communications the West had ever seen. In fact, its famed stagecoach logo is tied in with the short-lived Pony Express mail service, which Wells Fargo took over in 1861.

After the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Wells Fargo made it a point to adopt the motto “Ocean-to-Ocean,” and in 1888, it served about 25 states and over 2,500 communities. In 1969, the bank officially changed its name from Wells, Fargo & Company to Wells Fargo & Company.

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What Banks Has Wells Fargo Acquired? 

Wells Fargo has acquired several banks to promote its own growth. In 1905, it merged with the Nevada National Bank, and in 1923 it merged with Union Trust Company

In 1986, Wells Fargo purchased Crocker National Bank — a huge rival — for nearly $1.1 billion. This acquisition made Wells Fargo one of the most powerful banks in the country. In 1988, Wells Fargo acquired Barclays Bank of California for $125 million. 

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In the 1990s, Wells Fargo took over several banks, the first being a merger with First Interstate Bancorp in 1996 and another in 1998 with Norwest, as well as several other smaller acquisitions. The next major acquisition occurred in 2008 with the Wachovia Corporation, for $15.1 billion.

Read More: Wells Fargo Personal Banking Review

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Where Is Wells Fargo Today? 

Wells Fargo is a powerhouse today. Forbes ranks it the fourth-most powerful American bank. This is despite a massive account fraud scandal, and a class action suit worth $142 million, as well as seeing its ex-CEO John Stumpf barred from ever working at a bank again. Stumpf was accused of turning Wells Fargo into a criminal enterprise by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Wells Fargo is still one of the biggest brick-and-mortar banks in America. The bank has stated that it’s committed to the future and reestablishing trust with its clients. “In the past 20 months, we have transformed Wells Fargo by simplifying our business model, investing for the future and strengthening our culture,” said Tim Sloan, Wells Fargo’s chief executive officer and president. “While we have made solid progress, we recognize there is still work to be done. This campaign marks a turning point by expressing how we are fundamentally a different company today, and that it feels like a new day at Wells Fargo.”

If you still want that brick-and-mortar, community feel, as well as a name that can meet all your needs in one place, Wells Fargo might be the bank for you. 

Click through to find out about the best Wells Fargo promotions and offers available now.

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This content is not provided by Wells Fargo Bank. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by Wells Fargo Bank.

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About the Author

Arielle graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English Literature and a minor in Medieval Studies. She lives in LA with her various animals. She began writing for GOBankingRates because she believes in the distribution of information, especially regarding one’s money.