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William Fargo

AKA William George Fargo

Born: 20-May-1818
Birthplace: Pompey, NY
Died: 3-Aug-1881
Location of death: Buffalo, NY
Cause of death: Illness
Remains: Buried, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY

Gender: Male
Religion: Anglican/Episcopalian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Business
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Co-Founder, American Express & Wells Fargo

William Fargo was raised working his father's farm, and attended school only a few months each year, dropping out after eighth grade to become a horse-riding delivery man. He worked as a grocery clerk, delivered mail by horseback, and later was employed as an agent for a freight delivery firm. When a co-worker, Henry Wells, started his own freight service in 1844, Fargo became his partner, and Wells & Company offered "express service" from its headquarters in Buffalo to such distant sites as Cleveland and Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St Louis. Wells eventually left to start a rival firm, and these two companies were soon engaged in cut-throat competition with a third firm, owned by John Butterfield. In 1850 the three companies merged, under the new banner of American Express.

When gold was discovered in California, these three partners -- Wells, Fargo, and Butterfield -- saw the need for freight service from the Pacific coast to the business establishment in America's East. To shield American Express from any financial risk in this new service, they started a second firm, Wells Fargo & Company, in 1852. Within a few years the new company was the dominant stagecoach line, and through aggressive business tactics over the next decade Wells Fargo came to control virtually all shipping west of the Missouri River.

Fargo served stints as President of both companies, and was President of both concurrently from 1870-72. After the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, both American Express and Wells Fargo gradually shifted their emphasis from shipping to banking and other financial services -- and Fargo became even richer, as he had heavily invested in numerous railroad companies. He was an officer with the Northern Pacific Railroad, involved in the decision to bring rail to Centralia, North Dakota -- after which the appreciative town changed its name to Fargo.

Fargo was staunchly pro-Union in the American Civil War, and while his employees fought for the North, he paid a stipend to their families to help them get by. He was the Mayor of Buffalo from 1862-66, and publisher of the Buffalo Courier newspaper from 1876-81. His Buffalo mansion spanned two city blocks, stood five stories tall, and boasted gold doorknobs and the city's first elevator. He and his wife Anna had eight children, of whom five died in childhood.

After Fargo's death in 1881, his brother James Fargo, who had founded the Merchants Dispatch Transportation Co., became President of American Express. Frustrated by difficulty cashing checks on a European trip, the younger Fargo oversaw the company's 1891 introduction of its most famous product, travelers checks.

Father: William C. Fargo (farmer, b. 1791)
Mother: Stacy Strong Fargo (b. 14-Sep-1799, m. 10-Aug-1817, d. 9-Nov-1870)
Brother: Jerome Freeman Fargo (b. 6-Feb-1820, d. 19-Jan-1883)
Brother: Rufus Congdell Fargo (b. 28-Dec-1821, d. 29-Sep-1822)
Brother: Chancellor Livingston Fargo (b. 12-Jan-1824, d. 16-Dec-1862)
Sister: Sarah Ann Fargo Reed (b. 24-Mar-1826, d. 13-Dec-1888)
Sister: Maryette Fargo Wormley (b. 18-Dec-1827)
Brother: James Congdell Fargo (businessman, b. 5-May-1829, d. 8-Feb-1915)
Brother: Charles Fargo (b. 15-Apr-1831, d. 13-Oct-1900)
Brother: Thomas Benton Fargo (b. 7-May-1833, d. 24-Jun-1900)
Sister: Emeline Fargo Deesz (b. 17-May-1836, d. 20-Feb-1881)
Brother: Willet Hinman Fargo (b. 15-Feb-1840, d. 14-Feb-1876)
Brother: Mortimer Fargo (b. 24-Sep-1843)
Wife: Anna Hurd Williams (b. 1826, m. 1840, eight children)
Daughter: Georgiana Fargo McCune (d. 10-Sep-1892)
Daughter: Alma Cornelia Fargo (b: 23-Feb-1842, d. 30-Dec-1842)
Daughter: Sarah Irene Fargo (b: 22-Sep-1843, d. 27-Oct-1854)
Son: William George Fargo Jr. (b: 1-Dec-1845, d. 28-Dec-1872)
Daughter: Hannah Sophia Fargo (b: 30-Sep-1847, d. 20-Dec-1851)
Daughter: Mary Louise Fargo (b: 7-Sep-1851, d. 24-Mar-1852)
Daughter: Helen Lacy Fargo Squiers (b: 3-Dec-1857, d. 17-Jan-1886)
Son: Edwin Morgan Fargo (b: 1-Dec-1861, d. 4-May-1865)

    American Express President (1868-81)
    Wells Fargo Bank President (1870-72)
    Wells Fargo Bank Founder, Vice President (1852-1870, 1872-81)
    American Express Founder, Secretary (1850-68)
    Mayor of Buffalo (1862-66)

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