The Adams Express Co.


A Brief History of the Adams Express Company

Alvin Adams started in the express business in May 1840 in Boston with a partner. The primary business was the carrying of small parcels, bank drafts and other valuables between Boston, Worcester, Norwich, New London and New York City utilizing steamboats and railroads. Adams was on his own by December 1841 and in early 1842 William B. Dinsmore was heading up the New York Office. The business routes expanded rapidly and at the start of the gold rush, a new trans-continental business venture was started.

Daniel Hall Haskell moved to San Francisco and carried Adams first express to the West when he left New York City on September 15, 1849. He became a resident partner once in California. On November 6, 1849 they started Adams & Co. Express as a firm closely affiliated with the eastern company although under different directorship. The operation focused on the forwarding of gold dust from San Francisco to New York using steamers via Panama. Agencies were established in Australia and Panama. Letters were also handled.

In order to secure the gold dust to be transmitted, Adams & Co. extended lines to the major gold regions of California at an early date. They also served in the capacity of a bank purchasing gold directly from the miners and issuing drafts. With the profits Adams & Co. was quickly able to expand by working in co-operation with existing operators such as Todd & Co. or absorbing smaller operators, many of whom became agents for Adams & Co. 

The California operation was not included when Adams Express incorporated in July 1854. For California, I. C. Woods was added as an additional partner and Alvin Adam's involvement reduced to the role of special partner. At their peak in late 1854, Adams & Co. had agencies in Washington Territory, Oregon and in over fifty locations in California and was doing approximately twice the business of Wells, Fargo & Co.  Their advertisement shown at right from the San Francisco Prices Current & Shipping List of January 31, 1855 gives a good picture of the extent of the operations. 

On February 24, 1855 Page, Bacon & Company, Bankers, closed their doors. This bank failure severely affected Adams banking business and precipitated the almost immediate collapse of  Adams & Co. in California. Adams & Co.'s last ad in the San Francisco Prices Current & Shipping List appeared on March 1, 1855 and advertised only their express service by steamer leaving on that date to the East.

The employees and agents of Adams & Co. almost immediately formed the Pacific Express Company, a joint stock company, and began advertising with the ad shown here written on March 10, 1855.

The postal history and postal artifacts of Adams & Co. Express, although recorded and known for many years, have long been in need of a critical re-examination. I am attempting this task and have a started as follows:

The franks of Adams & Co. Express
The envelope stamps of Adams & Co. Express
The newspaper stamps of Adams & Co. Express
The stamps of Adams & Co. Express


Richard Frajola (July 12, 2004)