Written by Phin Upham
American Express was started in Buffalo, New York as an express mailing service for the region. It was founded under a merger of three separate companies. Henry Wells, William G. Fargo, and John Warren Butterfield all combined their efforts to start a national express line.
This partially led to the creation of Wells Fargo & Co. because a proposal to offer American Express service as far as California was objected to. Their first office was in the Tribeca part of New York City, specifically at the corners of Jay and Hudson.
The company managed to scale through strategic partnerships. It affiliated itself with the newly established Wells Fargo Co., and found additional partnerships in rail and steamship operations. The company grew its shipping half, and started a new venture in the financial industry in 1882.
Its first product was a money order service, which fit nicely with its shipping services. The move was made to compete directly with the US Postal service, but it was not the only change the company would undertake. Somewhere between 1888 and 1890, the president of American Express took a trip to Europe. As a wealthy individual, and with credit statements to back his reputation, he still found it nearly impossible to get cash on hand. He created Travelers Cheques with this in mind, releasing denominations up to $100.
It was not until the 1980s, when American Express made a serious of investment acquisitions, that it would begin to take the shape of the financial institute we know today.