The death of any truly good man is a blow to the community to which he belongs, and very often to the large area of country where his influence has been felt. Men’s works live after them, and there is always consolation in the reflection that they have fulfilled their mission in this little world nobly, and are gone to their eternal and everlasting reward. It is difficult to write worthily about any good man who is dead, for the reason that bad men die every day and are eulogized to the skies. And so, in writing about the demise of the late William G. Fargo, it is natural that one should approach the subject with a perfectly clear feeling that what the News Letter says about him is out of its heart, and no mere empty compliment to the memory of an ordinary man.
William G. Fargo, one of the founders of Wells, Fargo & Company, died at his house in Buffalo on the 4th of August, 1881, after an illness of several months. He was sixty-four years of age, having been born at Pompey Hill, Onondaga County, N.Y., on May 20, 1817. He was the eldest of twelve children of William C. Fargo, formerly of New London. His early education consisted only of the rudiments taught in a country school.
At 13 he left school and was employed by Daniel Butts to carry the mail for his native village. Until the year 1835 he was in the employ of various persons, but worked the greater part of the time for Ira Curtis, a storekeeper at Watervale. In the winter of 1838 he was engaged by Hough & Gilchrist, grocers, of Syracuse, and remained with them the year, and with Roswell and Willett Hinman, grocers, remaining with them three years. At the expiration of that time he got a clerkship in the forwarding house of Dunford & Co., Syracuse. In 1840 he married Anna H. Williams, of Pompey. Eight children were born to them, only two of whom are living, Georgia and Helen.
Mr. Fargo was a pioneer among expressmen. On the 1st of April, 1845, the Western Express, from Buffalo to Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago and intermediate points, was commenced by Henry Wells, William G. Fargo and Daniel Dunning, under the name of Wells & Co. There were no railroad facilities west of Buffalo, and Mr. Fargo, who had charge of the business, made use of steamboats and wagons. Mr. Fargo had been in the employ of the Auburn and Syracuse Railroad for a year when he entered into the service of Livingston, Wells & Co., as messenger, in which capacity he have great satisfaction, because of his fidelity, energy and good judgment. He was just the man, Henry Wells thought, to overcome the difficulties in the way of establishing a remunerative express business in that untrodden field west of Buffalo. Mr. Fargo worked with extraordinary force, industry and tact to accomplish what proved to have been “his mission,” and after some years of persevering effort he succeeded in founding a Western express upon a permanent basis. In 1846 Mr. Wells sold out his interest in this concern to William A. Livingston, who became Mr. Fargo’s partner. In 1850 three express companies were consolidated under the style of the American Express Company, with Mr. Wells as President and Mr. Fargo as Secretary. In 1866, upon the resignation of Mr. Henry Wells, Mr. Fargo was elected President of the American Express Company.
Our space will not permit of a very close analysis of his many ventures, most of which were successful, but the main principle that ran through his life was constant perseverance and undeviating well-directed energy, from the keeping of a provision store up to his long Presidency of the American Express Company, and a 30 years Directorship of Wells, Fargo & Co.
It is impossible to allude to his death without also speaking of the wonderful institutions with which he was connected. When it is taken into consideration that the American Express Company has 2,700 offices today and employs over 5,000 men, besides covering 25,000 miles of line, and that Wells, Fargo & Co. have 700 offices, 1,200 men, and cover over 15,000 miles of line, the magnitude of these express companies are at once understood. We are told that when the Western lines were first established there were only 30 offices between Chicago and New York. The company proper of Wells, Fargo & Co. was organized in 1851 by Mr. Fargo, Mr. Wells, Barney Livingston and others, and they extended their business from New York to San Francisco by way of the isthmus.
This express route was, of course, the shortest and best chain of communication until the overland railroad was completed. Then, “growing as doth the sturdy oak,” Wells, Fargo & Co. branched out and established their agencies for the convenience of the dwellers west of the Mississippi. Mr. Fargo, at the time of his death, was President and one of the Directors of the American Express Company, also of Wells, Fargo & Co. He was at one time a Director and Vice-President of the New York Central Railroad Company, and had an interest in the Northern Pacific Railroad. He was a Director of the Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia Railroad Company, and was interested in the Buffalo Coal Company and the McKean and Buffalo Railroad Company. He was, besides, a stockholder in several large manufacturing establishments in Buffalo, of which city he was Mayor for four years, from 1862 to 1866.
In private life Mr. Fargo gave unostentatious but very generous aid to charitable and benevolent institutions of every kind, who were frequent recipients of his bounty. For he was a man of such broad mind that he knew no distinction between creeds, and only recognized what might be termed the polar difference between what is good and what is bad. The breadth of his nature and his clear foresight are exemplified in the extent of the enterprises which he helped to found, and which are now national institutions. Patient work and excellent judgment amassed for him a large fortune, which he used generously and judiciously.
He lived to see the American Express Co. and Wells, Fargo & Co. two of the first express companies in the world; greater than he ever dreamed of when organizing them thirty years ago; his work is done, his labor over, and he died the death of the just mowed down by the sickle of the Reaper to enjoy the harvest of eternal felicity.
A superb engraving of Mr. Fargo is offered to the readers of the News Letter with the present number. It will serve to recall his features to those who knew him and be a memento to all his friends, both n the West and in the East.
San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser
August 27, 1881