Co-Founder of Wells Fargo & American Express
William Fargo died on August 3, 1881 at the age of 63. He was an incredibly successful entrepreneur who founded the American Express Company and Wells Fargo and Company, and also served as Mayor of Buffalo for two terms. Mr. Fargo was born in in Pompey, N.Y., the eldest of 12 children. His formal education ended at 13, when he began carrying mail over a 30-mile circuit for a local contractor. He subsequently worked in the grocery business, as a baker, and in a village inn. In 1840, he married Anna H. Williams; they had eight children, though four of them died very yound. In 1842, Fargo became a messenger for an express firm operating between Albany and Buffalo. Soon he was appointed agent of Pomeroy and Company in Buffalo. Through his association with Wells and Company (which operated the first express company west of Buffalo), Fargo became one of the founders of the American Express Company, which quickly became the largest express concern in the United States. In 1852, Fargo and some associates formed Wells, Fargo and Company to bring the services of an express company to the gold fields of California. American Express and Wells, Fargo combined facilities to provide rapid transportation of goods and communications between California, the Atlantic coast, Europe, and points in between. After an 1855 financial panic drove its most formidable rival into bankruptcy, Wells, Fargo was the dominant express company in the West, with hundreds of employees, thousands of head of stock, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital invested. In 1857, Fargo and some of his associates from American Express established the Overland Mail, the first transcontinental stage line. It served the west until the coming of the railroad in 1869. As an officer with the Northern Pacific Railroad, involved in the decision to bring rail to Centralia, North Dakota — after which the appreciative town changed its name to Fargo. Mr. Fargo was Mayor of Buffalo for two terms—serving 1862-1863 and 1864-1865.
In 1868, when he was 50, Fargo bought 5.5 acres on Buffalo’s west side and between 1868–1872, he built the Fargo Mansion at Jersey and Fargo Streets, which was Buffalo’s largest mansion. The home was completed in 1872 at a cost of $600,000 (equivalent to $12,805,000 in 2019). Another $100,000 (equivalent to $2,134,000 in 2019) was spent to furnish and decorate the 22,170-square-foot mansion. Michael Rizzo, a Buffalo historian, wrote: the ‘most elaborate and costly private mansion in the state,’ outside of New York City. The house took two city blocks, from Pennsylvania Avenue, West Avenue, Jersey Street, and Fargo Avenue. There was a central tower five stories high. At his request it contained wood from all the states of the Union. It was the first home in the city to contain an elevator in it, and it was said to have gold doorknobs.”
William Fargo is buried in section AA in Forest Lawn.