The Fargos

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The Fargos

The Fargos

Probably the most important meeting of Henry Wells's life was when he became acquainted with a round-faced, bustling young fellow named William G. Fargo, who was the Auburn freight agent of the Auburn and Syracuse Railroad. Fargo had a thorough knowledge and vast enthusiasm for the business of transportation. At the age of thirteen he began his distinguished career in this field by delivering the United States mails on horseback to districts contiguous to his home town of Pompey, New York.

The famous association began in 1843, when Wells hired Fargo away from the Auburn and Syracuse to be an express messenger. Eventually theirs became one of that great series of twin names known to all civilized men - Castor and Pollux, Damon and Pythias, Willcox and Gibbs, Wells and Fargo.

In 1844, Fargo and Wells entered into their first partnership. With Daniel Dunning they organized an express line from Buffalo to Detroit. In 1845, this became the Western Express, operating by stage and steamer and wagon train, since there were no railroads, to Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.

Then began a series of shifting partnerships. Wells sold Western Express to Fargo and William A. Livingston (it became Livingston, Fargo and Company) and moved to New York, where he joined Crawford Livingston in forming Livingston, Wells and Company's Express, running from New York to Buffalo. William A. Livingston was their Buffalo agent and thus the firm was still allied to Western Express. The next change came when Crawford Livingston died in 1848, and the firm became simply Wells & Co.

Express, the brand new baby of American industry was extremely lucrative. It had sprung up almost spontaneously in response to a public need, and as the centre of population shifted westward the demand for its services increased. But Wells and his friends were not allowed a monopoly of this profitable pioneering. Ours was an exceedingly free economy then, and, following natural laws, fierce competition sprang up.

The largest competing firm - and the most dangerous rival of American Express for more than seventy years - was Adams & Co. Alvin Adams started, like the other pioneer expressmen, carrying packages himself between New York and Boston, and, like them, he prospered. By 1848 he had bought Hamden's Southern and Eastern routes and had extended his line to St. Louis via Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville.

At that time Adams did not come into direct competition with the Wells associates until he hit Cincinnati, but another firm did. John Butterfield and James D. Wasson, known as Butterfield and Wasson, started out to compete with Henry Wells's rich New York-Buffalo route. They succeeded so well that soon all parties concerned decided that something ought to be done about it. Wells, following the sage maxim, 'If you can't lick 'em, join 'em," proposed a meeting of all the partners of the three companies concerned, Livingston, Fargo and Company, Wells & Co., and Butterfield and Wasson.

Being eminently reasonable gentlemen with no desire to destroy themselves for vengeance, on a rival, they soon came to an amicable settlement. The three companies sold their express lines and businesses to the newly formed American Express Company, of which virtually all the partners became directors. The operating companies for the time being retained their precious individuality. In its first advertisement the American Express Company announced that the business of the company between New York and Buffalo would be transacted by Wells, Butterfield and Company, while from Buffalo to points west it would be done in the name of Livingston, Fargo and Company.

The American Express Company was modestly capitalized at £150,000.


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What next? 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... see: Pomeroy & Co.


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