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Stagecoach: Wells Fargo and the American West Hardcover – January 8, 2002

2.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (January 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743213602
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743213608
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,483,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Wells, Fargo and Co., the freighting and banking company, got its start in 1852 at the height of the Gold Rush period in California. It bought out a number of smaller stagecoach lines running between towns and mining camps in the gold fields and eventually established a monopoly in the business in the area. To finance its business ends, the company also started a banking business, with profits being obtained from the gold dust being shipped from the gold fields on its stagecoaches. Packages, gold, mail, and finally passengers were soon being hauled throughout central California and points east by Wells Fargo stages. The company was also very involved with the Overland Mail Company, operating all its express services west of Salt Lake, and even administered to the fabled Pony Express along its route across the central plains for a few years before its demise. With the coming of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, Wells Fargo was able to expand its express business while the stagecoach operations disappeared.

Philip Fradkin tells the story of the Wells Fargo company superbly and with careful attention to historical accuracy. He relates many stories of stagecoach holdups, of what it was like traveling by stage in the West, and what the stage stations were like - all told with flair and excitement. And the business operations of the company, especially after the merger with the American Express Company and into the twentieth century, are explained fully without becoming deadly dull. Fradkin's scholarship is praiseworthy in his use of original source material, especially company records and the files of the Wells Fargo Historical Services department. It's an enjoyable book and is the definitive book on the company today.
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Format: Paperback
Stagecoach was an attempt to cover the history of the Wells Fargo company. Frankly, it read a little bit like it was the product of the Wells Fargo pr Department, but the real "problem" is that the author tried to cover both the days of the Historic Wells Fargo entity AND the mergers which led to the present day bank. In doing this, the author ended up really giving the short shrift to both.

The author also made some rather "strange" errors. For example, on p182 the author wrote:

"Sometimes small amounts of salt were added to the ice to slow the melting process.." Uh.. no. Salt water melts at a lower tempature. That's why it is used in the winter time to melt ice on streets and why it is used in Ice Cream freezers as well. Adding salt to the ice melts the ice FASTER (but also imparts more cool, faster...)

I would hope that this author were to revisit this subject and produce a new edition which focuses and expands on the pre-split Company and ignores, or at best relegates to a footnote, the Norwest merger...
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Format: Paperback
Great history on not only Wells Fargo but the early growing west. Very well written.
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Format: Paperback
This book is actually composed of two parts. The first part traces the history of Wells Fargo from its foundings by friends Wells and Fargo in the early 1800s, to its spread through the American West in places like California, Utah, and Arizona. It shows how Wells Fargo provided mail services first, followed by carriage, and finally entry into the banking business to satisfy the needs of miners to transfer gold to money during the California Gold Rush. Many important facts are provided as the book gives insight into frontier life, banking and commerce in the 1800's, and the often minute separation between government officials and businessmen. Some of this history is quite interesting; for example, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and others involved at the OK Corral did business with Wells Fargo. This first part covers up through the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

The second part of the book focuses on Wells Fargo and Norwest Bank in the 20th century. The latter bank is included because it merged with Wells Fargo recently to create one of the world's largest banks. The bulk of the second half focuses on Norwest such as its origins in Minnesota, its history, and major changes it and the rest of the banking world underwent. The latter includes the change from a male-dominated business to a female-dominated business. The book ends by describing the merger of equals between Norwest and Wells Fargo, and how both adopted the policy of retain and retrain instead of laying of workers in redundant areas.

The first half of the book was very interesting, even for someone like me who has little interest in the cowboys, the Old West, and related history. I give this part 4 stars. The second half of the book was quite boring, and emphasized the growth of financial services, mergers, legal issues, international banking, etc... I give this part 2 stars. So averaging out both parts gives 3 stars out of 5.
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