With countless numbers of people traveling from around the world to California in the 1800s with hopes of striking it rich, it was nevertheless still a risky proposition for Henry Wells and William G. Fargo to place themselves at the financial center of these rough-and-ready mining towns of the Old West.
Nevertheless, just a few years after the first gold strike in 1848, their names and offices became forever associated with travel, postage, and banking services across the country. The Wells Fargo stagecoach and horses became an icon of adventure and the American pioneer lifestyle.
One of 12 Wells Fargo museums across the U.S., this small but diverting Los Angeles collection contains a magnificent red Abbott-Downing Concord Coach and a smaller, bright red wheel-less wagon that you can sit inside. A video replicates a journey westward and quotes Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, both of whom took grueling 3-stops-in-24-hours trips across the country (though not together).
Elsewhere there’s a reproduction Banking House complete with parcels, scales, a complicated-looking desk, and a telegraph to practice Morse code on.
There’s also a nugget of real gold and mining artifacts, many Wells Fargo maps, receipts, posters, signs, and tickets, movie posters, travel trunks, a huge safe, and more contemporary ephemera of innovations the bank has undertaken in the many decades since the stagecoach disappeared.
Some surprises are here too: a retro console game of Pong you can play (Wells Fargo provided the credit for the fledgling Atari startup), a gun-laden exhibit dedicated to the highwaymen (including the poetry-writing Charles Bolton, aka “Black Bart,” a veteran of nearly 30 heists), and the ubiquitous plush toy horses, some of quite a size. An annual promotional tool, these soft favorites are actually named after horses from those bygone days.
Know Before You Go
Located in the Wells Fargo Center downtown, the museum is free and open weekdays 9-5. Another scale-size red wagon is in the bank alongside, and another very small exhibit dedicated to Bank of America’s involvement in the Hollywood movie industry can be found in the Bank of America plaza nearby.