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Our “culture of caring” origin story

In 1864, this Wells Fargo agent stopped at nothing to deliver mail, money, and newspapers to customers — and later became the company’s president.
A snowy scene with a Wells Fargo stagecoach in front of a brick building. Passengers are walking toward the coach to enter, and a treasure box is being loaded by the driver. Studio photo portrait of seated Caucasian man with gray hair and long beard. He is wearing a dark suit and tie.
Featured photo caption: “Winter Journey,” a 2012 painting by John Rush, shows a scene similar to the one John Valentine, right, experienced. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

Wells Fargo agent John Valentine boarded a stagecoach in Virginia City, Nevada, one wintry day in 1864. Like the other passengers, he was nervous about the weather. It was snowing, and blizzards had been known to render mountain roads impassable, keeping the stagecoach from rolling between California and Nevada.

Valentine was determined not to let that happen. While Valentine was just a passenger on this trip, as the Wells Fargo agent in Virginia City, he understood the stagecoach connected a vast network of Wells Fargo offices. Mail, money, and newspapers traveled from office to office by stagecoach in a great relay race. Under the oversight of Wells Fargo agents, everything got to its destination faster. At the time, Wells Fargo delivered more mail to western communities than the U.S. Postal Service.

The horses pulled the stagecoach through deep snowdrifts until they became impossibly high, and the driver eventually had to stop. As a fire built by the side of the road kept passengers and horses warm, the Wells Fargo messenger announced he would head back to the last stop to get shovels and extra hands to help dig out the stagecoach and turn it around.

Valentine heard this and turned away from the warm fire. Although the stagecoach couldn’t continue, he could go forward himself. Valentine had helped put the mail from other offices into a bag in Virginia City. He had seen the handwritten notes on the envelopes. He knew that people from California to Hawaii were waiting for the messages now riding on the stagecoach with him.

Advertisement shows painting of a man with canvas sack labeled Wells Fargo walking through heavy snow.
A 1977 advertisement depicting John Valentine trudging through the snow with a mailbag. Customers came to expect dedication to service from their personal bankers. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

He picked up the bag of mail, balancing it on his shoulder, and started walking out into the snowy road, traveling all day. That night, Valentine walked into the Wells Fargo office in Placerville, California, and delivered the bag of mail with each piece intact.

Creating a “culture of caring”

Valentine’s dedication to his duties and his awareness of the vital role Wells Fargo played in the lives of its customers led to a series of promotions throughout his career. He oversaw the evolution of the company from a regional to a national enterprise, with offices in thousands of towns across the U.S. and around the world.

A magazine page showing two images. The first is a field full of wild turkeys. The second is of three men standing above a crowd on the back of a freight wagon handing out turkeys.
Wells Fargo employees in Philadelphia receive Thanksgiving turkeys in 1917. As superintendent and general manager in 1890, Valentine gave every employee a turkey for Thanksgiving as a way of showing appreciation for their hard work. This tradition lasted decades. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

As an example of his leadership, Valentine wrote in written instructions to agents in 1888, “The most polite and gentlemanly treatment of all customers, however insignificant their business, is insisted upon. Proper respect must be shown to all — let them be men, women, or children; rich or poor; white or black — it must not be forgotten that the company is dependent on these same people for its business.”

A commemorative coin inscribed with the date March 18th, 1852, Express and Banking. Engraved into the coin are a collection of images including a steam train, telegraph lines and a bank stamp and keys.
Shortly before his death, Valentine designed this coin to celebrate Wells Fargo’s 50th anniversary in 1902. It was given to all employees, and many cherished the coin as a memory of the man who lived his life with “fidelity” to the company and to customers. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Valentine’s employees and customers credited him with building something bigger than a bank — for creating a culture of caring and the “can do” spirit that became synonymous with the name Wells Fargo. In 1892, the board of directors unanimously appointed him president of Wells Fargo.

Charles A. Moody from Out West Magazine wrote about Valentine in 1902: “Not only did Mr. Valentine’s broad and tender sagacity inspire in greater or lesser degree every servant of the company — it made of the corporation itself a live thing, not lacking heart, mind, or will.”

Two documents both titled Wells, Fargo & Co.’s Express and addressed to employees and agents seeking donations to help with relief efforts.
During several high-profile disasters, John Valentine quickly organized relief efforts. These announcements reflect calls for donations to help people during yellow fever outbreaks in Memphis, Tennessee, ($18,458 raised) and the Mississippi Valley ($4,825 raised). Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives
Two documents, the first is blue and is titled: Benefit and Pension System of Wells Fargo and Company Effective June 1st, 1916. The second is yellow and is titled General Instructions.
A 1916 pension book, left, and instructions to Wells Fargo agents, with an introduction by Valentine, in 1888. Valentine was known to advocate for generous pension benefits for injured and retired workers. His interest laid the groundwork for an appointed pension board and sophisticated pension plan. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives
An 1867 map of Wells Fargo’s stage and express routes connecting offices in a regional network in the western United States.
An 1867 map of Wells Fargo’s stage and express routes connecting offices in a regional network. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives
Two women work in a large library. One is reshelving books from a pushcart. The other is sitting at a table with bookshelves behind her.
Wells Fargo librarians in San Francisco, left, and New York, right, in 1918. John Valentine started the company library, giving employees access to books and newspapers so they could have tools needed to advance in the company. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives
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