American Express Company

State: New York

The American Express Company was founded in the spring of 1850 as part of a nascent industry of express businesses that supplemented the transportation and communication services of the railroads and the U.S. Post Office by offering rapid transportation and safe delivery of items and funds. The firm was established in a meeting at Buffalo as a merger of three New York state express firms that had previously existed as rivals: Butterfield, Wasson & Company, Wells & Company, and Livingston, Fargo & Company. The American Express Company was capitalized at $150,000. The agreement that formed the company specified that it would last for ten years, unless dissolved by a vote of the shareholders. Business was to be divided regionally, with that in New York state between the cities of New York and Buffalo conducted by a newly-formed subsidiary named Wells, Butterfield, & Company, and business to the west, from Buffalo to Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis and intermediate places to by operated by Livingston, Fargo & Company. The firm contracted with existing rail, steamboat, and stagecoach lines and by 1852 they had offices in the Illinois cities of Chicago, Galena, Peoria, Pekin, and La Salle. The company completed construction of a headquarter building in New York City in 1857, and two years later re-capitalized to continue beyond their original ten-year limit. Along with other express companies, the American Express Company did extensive business and reaped great profits during the Civil War.

Peter Z. Grossman, American Express: The Unofficial History of the People Who Built The Great Financial Empire (New York: Crown, 1987), 38-78; Buffalo Commercial Advertiser (NY), 2 April 1850, 2:2, 8; Buffalo Daily Republic (NY), 3 April 1850, 2:1; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 22 September 1852, 3:2.