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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published January 16 2011

Halgrimson: Fargo’s namesake was an express man in New York

William George Fargo, for whom Fargo, N.D., is named, was born at Pompey, N.Y., on May 20, 1817, the oldest of 12 children.

His education at a rural school ended when he was 13 and he went to work for a contractor delivering mail on horseback twice a week over a 40-mile route.

He later worked in the grocery business and then went to work as a freight agent for the Syracuse & Auburn Railroad where he became acquainted with express operations through the Pomeroy & Company, which was the pioneer express company operating west of Alban, N.Y. The Pomeroy Company was established by George Pomeroy, Crawford Livingston and Henry Wells.

When Wells wanted to expand the company west of Albany, he was told by another express man that “if you choose to run an express to the Rocky Mountains, you had better do it on your own account: I choose to run an express where there is business.”

However, Wells’ new express company was a success, and Fargo went to work there as a messenger in 1842. In 1844, Fargo and Wells became partners.

In 1846, Wells sold his interest in the company to William A. Livingston and he and Fargo became partners. In 1850, several express companies were consolidated as the American Express Company.

Fargo made his home in Buffalo, N.Y., where he served as mayor for two terms from 1862 to 1866.

In 1868, he built a mansion in Buffalo described as the “most elaborate and costly private mansion in the state,” outside of New York City. The house occupied two city blocks and had a tower five stories high. When it was being built, Fargo asked that the home contain wood from all of the states. It was the first home in Buffalo to have an elevator. The house was demolished in 1900.

Fargo was a lifelong Democrat. He was against secession during the Civil War, and he paid part of his employees’ salary when they were drafted.

Fargo died in his home in Buffalo on Aug. 4, 1881. At his death, he was a director of the American Express Company and of Wells, Fargo & Co. He had been a director and vice-president of the New York Central Railroad Company and had an interest in the Northern Pacific Railroad. He also had an interest in many manufacturing companies.

Fargo had married Anna H. Williams in 1840. They had eight children with only three of them living to adulthood.

It is not known whether William G. Fargo ever visited his namesake city.

Sources: Forum files, www.buffaloah.com/h/fargo/illus/index.html


Readers can reach Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com