Wells Henry

Henry Wells (1805-1878), 5th cousin 7x removed


Henry Wells was an American businessman who was important in the history of both the American Express Company and Wells Fargo & Company.  In 1836 Wells became a freight agent on the Erie Canal and soon started his own business.  Later he worked for Harnden’s Express in Albany, New York.  When Wells suggested that service could be expanded west of Buffalo, New York, William F. Harnden urged Wells to go into business on his own account.  In 1841 the firm of Pomeroy & Company was formed by George E. Pomeroy, Henry Wells and Crawford Livingston.  In the express business they competed with the United States Post Office by carrying mail at less than the government rate.  Popular support, roused by the example of the penny post in England, was on the side of the expressmen, and the government was compelled to reduce its rates in 1845 and again in 1851.  Pomeroy & Company was succeeded in 1844 by Livingston, Wells & Company, composed of Crawford Livingston, Henry Wells, William Fargo and Thaddeus Pomeroy.  On 1 Apr 1845, Wells & Company’s Western Express – generally known simply as Western Express because it was the first such company west of Buffalo, New York – was established by Wells, Fargo and Daniel Dunning.  Service was offered at first as far as Detroit, rapidly expanding to Chicago, St. Louis, and Cincinnati.  In 1846 Wells sold his interest in Western Express to William Livingston, whereupon the firm became Livingston, Fargo & Company.  Wells then went to New York City to work for Livingston, Wells & Company, concentrating on the promising transatlantic express business.  When Crawford Livingston died in 1847, another of his brothers entered the firm, which became Wells & Company.

The iconic image of the Wells Fargo stagecoach as a symbol of the American West is still used extensively in the advertising and promotional materials of Wells Fargo Bank.

Early in 1850 Wells formed Wells, Butterfield & Company with John Butterfield as the successor of Butterfield & Wasson.  The same year the American Express Company was formed as a consolidation of Wells & Company; Livingston, Fargo & Company; and Wells, Butterfield & Company.  Wells was president of American Express from 1850 to 1868.  About the time the company was formed, he relocated in Aurora, New York, which remained his home for the rest of his life.  There he built a grand residence, called Glen Park.  It was designed by noted architect A.J. Davis, with grounds by Andrew Jackson Downing, another notable architect. The property later became part of Wells College, which Wells founded.  When John Butterfield and other directors of American Express objected to extending the company’s service to California, Wells organized Wells, Fargo & Company on 18 Mar 1852, to undertake the venture.  Edwin B. Morgan of Aurora was the company’s first president, and Wells, William Fargo, Johnston Livingston and James McKay were on the boards of both Wells Fargo and American Express.  In September 1853 Wells Fargo & Company acquired Livingston, Wells & Company, which had been its express and banking correspondent in England, France and Germany.  By the spring of 1854, some of the directors of Wells Fargo had become convinced that the purchase had been brought about through unspecified misrepresentations by Wells, Johnston Livingston, William N. Babbitt and S. De Witt Bloodgood.  Wells and his associates made good any losses to Wells Fargo, and Livingston, Wells & Company wound up its affairs when its Paris office was closed in October 1856.

Aerial view of the Wells College campus, Aurora, New York taken in April 2003 (Syracuse Post-Standard, Dick Blume)

Wells was president in 1855 of the New Granada Canal & Steam Navigation Company.   In Aurora he was president of the First National Bank of Aurora and in 1867 also the first president of the Cayuga Lake Railroad.  Wells retired from the board of Wells Fargo in 1867.  He also retired as president of American Express in 1868 when it was merged with the Merchants Union Express Company under the presidency of William Fargo.  Also in 1868, Wells founded Wells College in Aurora with an endowment to make it one of the first women’s colleges in the United States.  The college became a co-educational institution in 2005.  My maternal grandmother, Florence Eugenie (Watkins) Walholm was a graduate of Wells College.

One of Wells’ last ventures was the Arizona & New Mexico Express Company, of which he was president in 1876.  Henry Wells died in Glasgow, Scotland, on 10 Dec 1878, two days short of his 73rd birthday.


Henry Wells, Rochester, New York, Daguerreotype, 1844

Henry Wells, Rochester, New York, Daguerreotype, 1844

Henry Wells (1805 – 1878), 5th cousin 7x removed – Shipley Wells (1777 – 1832) – Ashbel Wells (1734 – 1806) – Ebenezer Wells (1694 – 1737) – Ichabod Wells (1660 – 1706) – Thomas Welles (1627 – 1668) – Thomas Welles (1590 – 1660) – Ann Welles (1619 – 1680) – Mary Thompson (1653 – 1691) – Joseph Hawley (1675 – 1752) – Elizabeth Hawley (1700 – 1779) – Elizabeth Newell (1721 – 1791) – Elizabeth Clark (1758 – 1840) – Betsy Andrews (1783 – 1856) – David Handley (1809 – 1895) – Elizabeth Handley (1835 – 1917) – Florence Henderson (1869 – 1956) – Florence Eugenie Watkins (1903 – 1985) – Penelope Jane Walholm (1939 – ) – Tor Martin (Majerus) Hylbom


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