Old West Lifestyle & Stories


If you wanted to send a valuable package in the early 1800’s, your only option was to find an honest looking person going there, and then ask them to carry your package. But all that changed on October 10, 1839.

Sending any type of valuable package in the early 1800’s was a very risky process. First you would try tWells Fargoo persuade a stagecoach driver or steamboat captain to take it for you. If they didn’t want the responsibility, you would then look for a passenger with an honest looking face to take it. And sometimes that “honest person” and your package would disappear.

But on October 10, 1839, a former railroad conductor by the name of William Harnden came up with what could be called the first express company. He started out modestly with deliveries between Boston and New York. Most of the items carried were business documents, bank drafts, currency and newspapers.

The fee was a few cents to a few dollars, depending not on the size of the document, but its value. At first William Harnden made the deliveries himself, carrying the items in a carpetbag.

By 1841, just two years later, he had offices in Philadelphia, Albany, London and Paris. An employee by the name of Henry Wells suggested that instead of expanding to the east, he should expand to the west.

Harnden looked to the west and saw nothing but wilderness and Indians and routes that were hardly traveled, as opposed to messengers traveling by steamship or stagecoach over populated areas. So William Harnden told Henry Wells to “do it on your own account.”

William Harnden died at the age of 33, the result of tuberculosis and overwork. And he was not able to see what happened when Henry Wells took his advice, and along with a partner named William G. Fargo started a company with a name that’s familiar even today, called Wells-Fargo.

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