Wells Fargo

The History & Timeline of Wells Fargo: From its founding during the California Gold Rush in 1852, to its rise into a national "Big Four" bank in the modern era, Wells Fargo has endured economic upheavals, wars, scandals, and more over its 170+ year history.

EARLY HISTORY (1852-1929)

Wells Fargo using the Pony Express
© History Oasis

1852 — Founding

Henry Wells and William Fargo founded a joint-stock company called Wells, Fargo & Company to provide express and banking services to support the California Gold Rush.

They transported gold, bank notes, supplies, and mail between New York and San Francisco.
Quickly became the premier express, banking and mail delivery company in the West.

1860 — Pony Express

Wells Fargo won the contract to operate the western portion of the Pony Express mail delivery system.

They used fleet of horses and riders to quickly carry mail overland from Missouri to California.
Continued Pony Express operations for 18 months until telegraph lines connected East & West.

1872 — Western Expansion

Lloyd Tevis, friend of Central Pacific railroad leaders, became president of Wells Fargo.

Held presidency for 20 years and expanded operations significantly.

Opened offices in new rail hubs, mining camps, cattle towns across the West.

1905 — Banking Split

Wells Fargo split into separate express and banking companies.

Banking side merged with Nevada National Bank to form Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank.

1917 — Nationalization

U.S. federal government nationalized Wells Fargo's express operations due to World War I
Created U.S. Railway Express Agency (REA) as a federal agency to run express services

Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank merged with Union Trust Company.

Formed Wells Fargo Bank & Union Trust Company.

Expanded reach in California through branch networks.

EXPANSION ERA (1930-1998)

Wells Fargo bank 1950s
© History Oasis

1954 — Wells Fargo Bank

After previous mergers, the bank shortened its name to simply Wells Fargo Bank.

Reflected its growth into a major West Coast regional bank.

1968 — National Bank Charter

Wells Fargo Bank converted into a national bank charter.

Became Wells Fargo Bank N.A., subject to supervision by Comptroller of the Currency.

1969 — Holding Company

Wells Fargo & Company formed as a bank holding company.

Wells Fargo Bank N.A. became its main banking subsidiary.

Set stage for further expansion of Wells Fargo.

1986 — Western Bank Goliath

Wells Fargo made major acquisition of Crocker National Bank for $1.1 billion.

Vastly expanded its presence and branch network throughout California.

1996 — Epic Bank Merger

Purchased First Interstate Bancorp for $11.6 billion.

Was largest U.S. bank merger since 1929 at the time.

Further solidified Wells Fargo's position in western U.S. states.

But integration challenges led many executives to depart.


Wells Fargo bank
© History Oasis

1998 — NorWest Corporation

Norwest Corporation acquired Wells Fargo & Company.

But took on the more well-known Wells Fargo name and brand.

Created coast-to-coast bank with national footprint.

2000 — More Acquisitions

Expanded further with acquisitions of National Bank of Alaska and First Security Corp.

2007 — Greater Bay Bancorp

Purchased Greater Bay Bancorp for $1.5 billion.

Added 41 more branches in the San Francisco Bay Area.

2008 — The Great Recession

Acquired Wachovia bank during the financial crisis for $15 billion.

Transformative deal created a "Big Four" U.S. bank.

2016 — Cross Selling Scandal

Wells Fargo cross-selling scandal emerged.

Over 1.5 million fake accounts opened to meet sales goals.

Damaged the bank's reputation and resulted in fines.

2020 — $3 Billion Settlement

Historic $3 billion settlement reached with U.S. government.

Resolved investigation into fake accounts scandal.

2022 — Continued Fallout

Fined additional $3.7 billion by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Continued fallout over fake accounts and other consumer abuses.