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The equine pride of Wells Fargo

Did you know that herds of horses worked for Wells Fargo? Learn more about how these special workers were well-fed, well-cared for, and well-loved.
A loading zone with four Wells Fargo wagons parked in a row. A horse wearing a heavy winter blanket is hitched to each wagon. An employee stands beside each horse posing.
Featured photo caption: Blankets keep Wells Fargo wagon horses warm in Chicago in this undated photo. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

One cold winter day in 1917, Alvina James looked out the window of her Chicago office and saw a Wells Fargo wagon on the street outside. A young man, Arthur Oehme, jumped down from the driver’s seat. James expected Oehme to take a package from the wagon for delivery, but instead he pulled out a warm blanket and gently draped it over his horse. After a few pats and quiet words, the horse and driver moved on.

Wells Fargo express wagon pulled by one large gray horse. Young man stands at horse’s left side. Banner on wagon reads in large letters First to Fight U.S. Marines Land Sea Sky Enlist at 628 South State Street.
Wells Fargo driver Arthur Oehme in the 1910s. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Alvina was touched by his kindness. What she had just witnessed was model behavior for handling workhorses, and she felt compelled to write Wells Fargo about it. When the team at Wells Fargo’s Chicago office received a letter from James admiring the company’s care of horses, they sent a letter of their own to Oehme, thanking him for his kind acts and for representing Wells Fargo’s name and values so well.

Demanding better treatment for workhorses

Wells Fargo has always believed in the importance of taking good care of its horses — even in the 1860s. While other stagecoach horses at the time were often overworked and underweight, Wells Fargo kept its horses healthy and well-fed. One passenger described them as a “standing wonder … as a rule, they were fat, fiery, and would have done credit to a horseman anywhere.”

Five horses stand in a row, each is wearing a bridle.
This photo appeared in a 1915 edition of Wells Fargo Messenger with the caption, “Our equine employees, tried and true.” Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Black Beauty, written by Anna Sewell in 1877, influenced many Americans to demand better treatment for the workhorses of every color and breed who made daily life possible in the 1800s. Newspapers praised drivers and companies that treated their horses well, and those with abused or sickly horses were shamed. Local groups organized workhorse parades for companies to show off their healthy wagon teams, and winning horses got ribbons and trophies that were displayed in offices.

A collage on yellow paper with black and white pictures of the Wells Fargo Stables including employees, horses, and equipment.
Pictures from Wells Fargo’s stables in Chicago, which could hold almost 400 horses. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives
A Wells Fargo wagon is parked before a brick wall. Hitched to the wagon are two black horses with white face stripes. An employee with a bucket of water and a sponge is wiping down one horses face.
A driver sponges down his horse on a hot day in 1915. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives
A street scene with buildings in background and a Wells Fargo wagon pulled by two horses in foreground. Each black horse is wearing a raincoat to keep warm and dry.
A 1914 edition of the Mason County Democrat commented: “We noticed that each horse in his (Driver Max Meyer’s) charge wore a waterproof raincoat while many other horses were shivering in the rain. This speaks well for the company as well as for the care and thoughtfulness of Driver Meyer.” Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Starting in the 1880s, Wells Fargo formalized the high standards it already had for caring for its horses. New policies ensured that as the company grew, horses in thousands of towns experienced the same good treatment. Drivers needed to inspect the horses for signs of injury and replace worn equipment every day. Horses received water and sponge baths in hot weather and blankets to keep warm in the cold. Stable foremen ordered hay and oats, but they also bought molasses, carrots, and alfalfa to add nutritional value and treats.

Horses in busy cities rotated every couple of months between work and rest on nearby pastures. These pastures became retirement communities for some equine employees as they became too old to work. Wells Fargo even held classes to teach employees the best practices for properly caring for the company’s horses. A July 1913 edition of Wells Fargo Messenger summarized its philosophy by declaring, “Our horses, wagons, and harness are the pride of Wells Fargo service ― our best advertisement.”

Customers noticed, and Wells Fargo gained a reputation as a humane company that cared for its horses. In 1918, one newspaper expressed a common view when it reported, “Horses have always been an interesting feature of the Wells Fargo equipment. They are so well cared for and kindly treated, and seem so entirely equal to their work.”

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