Today, most of us know the iconic red and yellow image of the Wells Fargo stagecoach only as the omnipresent logo of a huge national financial institution. Philip L. Fradkin's Stagecoach reminds us of the far more complex and colorful history of the 150-year-old enterprise it symbolizes, beginning with its heyday as an unpolished but honorable "express company" that dependably linked, by means of the stagecoach, an upstart West Coast and roughshod Rockies with everything else back East. Fradkin, author of eight books on the American West, ties the company's and region's fates together as mining, agriculture, and then more contemporary commercial interests (with help from the federal government) indelibly shaped them both. From the time of the dusty stage driver to the era of the wing-tipped banker, the book recounts it all but wisely focuses on the period from 1852 to 1918, a time when the firm "served as the principal communications conduit between East and West ... contributed to the Union victory in the Civil War ... and shipped fresh vegetables and fruits via fast refrigerated express." After reading it, you'll be hard-pressed to look at the enduring stagecoach imagery in quite the same way ever again. --Howard Rothman
From Publishers Weekly
Fradkin, who has written eight books about the American West, offers a swashbuckling account of Wells Fargo's early mail and express delivery service. In the 1850s, executives hit upon a scheme to get around laws to protect the U.S. Postal Service monopoly. Wells Fargo bought stamped post office envelopes and double-stamped them with the company fee. Customers paid two to three times the government rate to ensure the mail's swift and certain delivery out west, where the Postal Service had a dismal performance record. Armed guards protected the cargo on Wells Fargo's express service, which shipped valuable post via stagecoach. The cargo, mostly precious metals from Western mines, was the bedrock of the company's first "deposits," giving the young institution an instant asset base. Given Wells Fargo's enterprising image today, it is surprising to learn how many times the company stumbled when new technology loomed. Executives ordered 30 pricey new stagecoaches just before the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. They scoffed when government trustbusters threatened to launch a parcel post in 1913. In his final chapter, Fradkin skims over Wells Fargo's breathtaking rise from a single San Francisco outpost in 1918 to a vast financial services institution. He does present a convincing argument that in this age of instantly manufactured brands, Wells Fargo earned its marketing image of rugged pioneerism the hard way through 150 years of struggle and corporate survival. (Feb. 1)Forecast: Those interested in western lore or corporate branding will enjoy this intriguing tale of how one corporation adapted to the pioneer days of the Old West. Readers seeking a detailed financial history of Wells Fargo the bank will be disappointed.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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