Pomeroy & Co.

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Pomeroy & Co.

Pomeroy & Co.

The new firm of Pomeroy & Co. had its struggles. It came into Buffalo during a local panic, when all the banks save one had crashed, and that one, the Commercial Bank of Buffalo, was shaky. Nevertheless, the bankers, who seemed to have kept a firm grip on their courage, welcomed Pomeroy & Co. heartily. They realized what the coming of express could mean to them in the safe transport of specie and paper, and what it could mean to Buffalo with its swift connections with the great Eastern cities. So, though they could offer little material assistance, they gave lots of moral encouragement and constantly dropped around "to see whether our trunks were well fed with packages."

To quote Henry Wells once more, "The oyster was a powerful agent in expediting our progress."

One spring, it seems, there were no oysters in Buffalo, and the gourmets of the city deeply felt this sad lack. Jim Laidley, who owned the Seneca Street House, dropped in for a chat at Pomeroy & Co.'s offices in the Pratt Building.

"Mr. Wells," he said, "we need oysters bad. Why don't you bring some in from Albany?"

That took even the pioneer expressman aback. "Bring oysters by coach over such roads!" he gasped.

Laidley applied the spur of all successful enterprise. "If I pay for them, charge just what you will," he said.

That put Wells's brain to work, and he figured out a way to shuck the oysters in Albany and transport them in containers at the comparatively moderate cost of three dollars a hundred. The grateful Buffalonians gorged on oysters, while Pomeroy & Co.'s bank roll fattened.

In pursuit of profit and to pare expense, Wells soon came to the conclusion that it was foolish to pay the railroads for two seats for each messenger and his treasure trunk. He began to dicker with them for a fiat commutation rate. An agreement was reached that set a precedent for the close co-operation between the railroads and the express companies - an agreement which became very profitable to both. The alliance between Wells's express company and the railroads over which they operated endured for more than a century, and today the American Express Company is the general foreign agent for the New York Central Lines.

Henry Wells was an individualist who disliked government interference. He held to the maxim that, in a well regulated country, government should do as little as possible of that which the people can do. So he was considerably irked when in 1843 the government, desiring to enter the express business, backed Enoch J. Humphrey, an autocrat of the highways, in an attempt to start a rival line. Humphrey was permitted to advertise that his was a government project and proclaim the advantages of having so powerful a partner.

However, the bankers and businessmen of Buffalo were also individualists. They remained loyal to Pomeroy & Co., and the government backed out.

It was probably the smouldering recollection of this incident, coupled with a genuine desire to accommodate the people that prompted Wells in 1845 to touch the government in a sensitive spot. At that time the postage rate from Buffalo to New York was a flat twenty-five cents a letter. Mr. Wells pondered the fact that "to many a man and many a woman twenty-five cents is a very serious affair." Furthermore, he thought he could make a profit at a cheaper rate. So his firm offered to carry letters to New York for six cents - and it did. It manufactured its own orange-coloured stamps, "bearing, of course, the head of a lady, as associated with every good work." The stamps were bought with enthusiasm. Soon the company was carrying hundreds of letters while the United States mails had but a few dozen.

Naturally, this started a violent controversy which it is quite certain that beak-nosed old Roman thoroughly enjoyed. The government tried to crack the legal whip to enforce its monopoly. Indictments flew. Express messengers were arrested - and instantly bailed out by admiring friends. The Express countered with popular meetings and petitions. James W. Hale started a letter express between New York and Boston, while Wells offered to carry all the government mail at five cents a letter. The offer was declined with no thanks.

The government finally won by cutting its rate below the rate at which a private company could make a profit. And in 1848, largely owing to the competition provided by Wells and Hale, a uniform postage of three cents for the entire United States was put into effect.


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What next? Hamden and Wells

Hamden and Wells

Hamden began with an advertisement in the Boston Transcript of February 13, 1839, offering an express service to New York leaving once a week by train and boat. He soon got more goods than he could carry himself and began to branch out until he had developed a triangular service between Boston, Albany, and New York, with connections to the Southern states.

As his Albany agent, Hamden engaged Henry Wells, the son of a Congregationalist pastor from Thetford, Vermont. Wells had been a schoolteacher and, recently, a freight and passenger forwarder on the bustling Erie Canal. More important, from Hamden's point of view, was Wells's friendship with Daniel Drew, whose fast freight and passenger steamers were the queens of the Hudson River. Hamden could assuredly pick the right man, for he had hired the greatest expressman of them all. But he could not keep him long.

From Hamden's office on the lower tip of Manhattan Island, the view was south and north,... see: Hamden and Wells


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