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Wells served his firm as messenger for about eighteen months, and he told me (1858) that during one year he never missed a trip. In every instance he paid his fare and for extra baggage, like any other passenger: say $15 from Albany to Buffalo. In 1842 he carried all his valuable parcels in a carpet-bag. In 1843 the trips were made daily, but it was uphill work, and one large trunk served to hold all his freight. It was a growing trunk, however, and increased in inches from time to time, until it provoked from a railroad superintendent, once, the exclamation, that“ of all the wonderful growths which he had seen in the west, none equaled Wells' trunk !"
The manufacture of all the trunks now used by his company would keep one establishment busy all the while. In 1842 or 1843 the special agent of the U. S. Mail Department made overtures to Pomeroy & Co. to do their business by that medium, but they declined.
Pomeroy & Co. then commenced running a river express, and had for competitors Pullen & Copp. This continued only a few months, when Pullen & Copp gave up the Albany and western business, and took the Troy and northern route, acting as Pomeroy & Co.'s messengers on the river, as it was entirely convenient for them to do so. It was in this service that Copp was robbed of his trunk containing $64,000 of money and $500,000 of registered notes not yet signed by the bankers. The history of that remarkable robbery, and the still more singular recovery of it, is one of the most interesting chapters in express experience, and it will be found in a subsequent part of this work.
In the course of a year or two, the style of “Pomeroy & Co.” was altered to Livingston, Wells & Pomeroy, and again to Livingston, Wells & Co., when Pomeroy retired from the business.
The second opposition Express on that route was put on in 1843, by Bailey & Howard. It was abandoned after a few weeks' trial. Bailey & Jacobs next put on an Express, but Jacobs getting into some trouble with Her British Majesty's officers of the Customs, in Canada, went away ; we don't know where, only that after that trip up, he never made another, and the line” was discontinued.
The most important fact in Livingston, Wells & Co.'s history in the year prior to the memorable reduction in postage by a law of Congress, was the establishment of their Letter Express between New York and Buffalo. The post-office was then charging 25 cents for a single letter between these places. Livingston, Wells & Co., at the suggestion of Henry Wells, advertised to carry a single letter for six cents, or they would sell twenty stamps for one dollar. This enterprise, in defiance of the Government's assumed prerogative to monopolize the conveyance of letters, caused great excitement in the west. Public meetings were called, and resolutions passed by the merchants and citizens generally, not to send or receive letters by mail to or from any points where expresses run, until there was a reduction in U. S. postage rates. Livingston, Wells & Co.'s Letter Express was, of course, warmly approved and largely patronized by the public, greatly to the chagrin of the postmaster-general.
On the 1st day of April, 1845, the Western Express from Buffalo to Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, and intermediate points, was commenced by Henry Wells, Wm. G. Fargo, and Dan. Dunning, under the style of Wells & Co. There were then no railroad facilities west of Buffalo, and Fargo, who had charge of the business, made use of only steamboats and wagons. Wm. G. Fargo, a native of Onondaga Co., in this State, had been in the employ of the Auburn and Syracuse Railroad for a year or two, when he entered into the service of Livingston, Wells & Co., as messenger, in which capacity he gave great satisfaction, because of his fidelity, energy, good judgment and perseverence under discouragements. He was just the man, Henry Wells thought, to overcome the difficulties in the way of establishing a remunerative express business in that untrodden field west of Buffalo. Nor was he destined to be disappointed. Fargo worked with extraordinary force, industry and tact to accomplish what has proved to have been " his mission,” and after some years of persevering effort
“ he succeeded in founding a Western Express upon a permanent basis.
The Letter Express, started by Henry Wells in connection with that of James W. Hale, between New York and Boston,
now extended from Chicago, Ill., to Bangor, Me. The Government used every means to break it up. At Utica, its officers arrested Wells & Co.'s messengers, daily; but in every instance citizens stood ready with bail-bonds filled out and executed, so that they were enabled to go on with their letter bags without losing a trip. At Buffalo and Rochester, the entire letter mail over the express route was sent by Wells & Co. Officers were upon the track at every point, seeking to thwart the enterprise ; suits were instituted against it in various parts of the country, and the Government was defeated in every case.
The conveyance of letters at one-quarter the price charged by the Government, was the most profitable part of the express business; and Henry Wells, speaking for himself and several responsible gentlemen who were desirous of co-operating with him in this matter, made a proposal to Major Hobbie, the first assistant postmaster-general, to take the entire mail service of the United States, including the delivery, at the rate of five cents per letter. “ Zounds, sir!” replied that energetic and invaluable official; “it would throw 16,000 postmasters out of office !” That was so; and what would the administration do without its 16,000 postmasters? They constituted too important an element of party strength to be set aside by any postage reform movement. Of course, Wells' proposition was peremptorily rejected; but the very resolute and practical opposition which he, and Hale, and Harnden, and others had initiated against the United States' postage rates, was so generally sustained by the people in all sections of the country, that Congress was compelled to pass a law at its next session, reducing the rates of postage to about one-fourth of what they had been, though not quite so low as at present. Thus the country owes to the men whom we have named, and to the Express Companies, one of the most important reforms that the mercantile world has ever experienced. As soon as it was accomplished, Hale, and Wells & Co., and the rest, relinquished their entirely triumphant competition with the postoffice department, and, thanks to the light which their demonstration threw upon the cost of carrying the mails, they have had no occasion to resume it; at least, not in the Atlantic States. In California, before Uncle Sam had any mail routes,
the expresses performed similar service, until at length post roads being established by Government, though very inefficiently, the expressmen were harassed by prosecutions, &c., by the post-office agent, into abandoning it there also. Still, it is a very common thing for people to put the Government stamp on their California letters, to satisfy the law, and then pay an express for the conveyance; and this they do because they have more confidence in the express than they have in the post-office delivery. The simple truth is, that the carrying of letters ought not to be a Government monopoly, but every person should have the privilege of sending his letters by any one who is willing to convey them. If that liberty existed, undoubtedly the most of all the letters, &c., usually mailed, would go by express.
At the time of the postage reform, exchange in Chicago upon New York was from 1} to 3 per cent.; in Cincinnati it was from 1 to 2 per cent.; in Buffalo, from 1 to 14 per cent. The establishment of responsible Express Companies immediately reduced the rates of exchange to a little over the mere cost of transporting specie, thus saving millions a year to the commercial community, and obviating the necessity of continuing the United States Bank, which had been the regulator for many years previous.
The firm of Livingston, Wells & Co. was continued until the latter part of 1816. Just prior to that, Henry Wells sold out his interest in the Western Express to Wm. A. Livingston, and that concern assumed the style which it still holds, viz., Livingston & Fargo. Wells then removed to New York, to assist his partner, Crawford Livingston, in the management of Livingston, Wells & Co.'s Express, the business of which, in this city, had very much increased. Wm. A. Livingston acted as their agent in Albany, and has served in that capacity (with a proprietary interest at a later period, we believe,) ever since.
In 1846, or thereabouts, Livingston, Wells & Co. commenced their European Express, and established offices at London and Paris.
About that time a concern called “Henry & Co.'s Express,” was started upon the Albany and Buffalo route, paying, like Livingston, Wells & Co., $100 per day for railroad facilities. If our recollection serves us, this new enterprise was abandoned after the first few trips. The expense was too heavy. Then another opposition was put on by Green & Co., a Baltimore firm, who run it six months, and having sunk sixty thousand dollars, gave it up as a bad job. The fact was, that two harder men to contend with could not have been found than Henry Wells and Crawford Livingston. The former has “made himself," and it requires no praise at our hands to add to his reputation. The latter was known only in the earlier phases of the business, but we have often heard the highest encomiums of his wisdom, ability and enterprise as an Express proprietor.
Crawford Livingston died in 1817, at his father's residence in Livingston, Columbia Co., New York, his native State. Like Harnden's, his disease was consumption (a fell-destroyer of many Expressmen), and he was about the same age at his death, viz., 34 years. It was his last request, that his partner should allow his interest in the Express to continue for the benefit of his widow and children; and with this Henry Wells religiously complied, but the style of the firm was changed to Wells & Co. Its office at that time, and long afterwards, was at 10 Wall street, in a block of buildings then occupied by the principal expresses, but which was removed some years ago to make way for modern improvements.
Wells, himself, was out of health, when, by the premature decease of his excellent partner, all the labor of conducting their constantly enlarging Express operations devolved upon him. Still, he generously continued the Livingston interest for the benefit of the family of the deceased, until 1848, when Mrs. L. voluntarily withdrew it. Shortly afterwards, Johnston Livingston and Edward C. Winslow each purchased a onethird interest in Wells’ Express, and the style of Wells & Co. was preserved. Winslow died in January, 1850.
In the fall of that year a formidable opposition Express was started over the New York Central Railroad by Butterfield, Wasson & Co. It was a joint-stock concern, with a capital of $50,000. John Butterfield, who was at the head of it, was no mean competitor. Like one or more of our railroad presidents, he had been a stage-driver in his younger days, and a