Express company's account records kept primarily by express agent Watson L. Wilcox. Includes agent's books, waybills, and a personal account book.
The collection is open for research.
Background on American Express Company (Florence, Mass.)
The express business arose symbiotically with the railroad system in the United States in the 1840's and 1850's. Initially an individual's effort to make a living with a carpetbag and a willingness to travel every day, express companies grew to become complex organizations, utilizing whole railroad cars, covering national and then international distances, and to reap enormous profits in a largely unregulated field. The informal delivery of packages and envelopes from city to city developed into a formal system involving agents, bookkeeping and delivery from customer's home to intended destination. Money, letters, and valuables were entrusted to these new "agents". Eventually trunks, crates and freight cars became units of express delivery as well. Starting as near appendages to the Railroads, Express companies never completely separated from them. The usual arrangement was between a railroad company and an express company, providing for a certain cut of the business, usually around half, to go to the railroad, in return for which the express company received exclusive rights to that railroad line. As incorporation of these companies grew, the stockholders overlapped to a great extent. The American Express Company and the Adams Express Company emerged by the late 1850's as the dominant ones. In the 1860's, an upstart organization, the Merchant's Union Express, fought the prevailing companies with a fierce price war. The American Express Company was especially hard hit by this struggle. A truce was arranged in 1868, merging the latter two as The American Merchant's Union Express Company, with over 3000 licensed express carriers and agents in U.S., paying Internal Revenue tax on more than $22,000,000 gross receipts.
Express agent Watson L. Wilcox was born in Simsbury, Connecticut in 1832 or 1833. He began selling tickets as well as cords of wood and ended up a successful agent and important man in the community. Charles A. Sheffeld's 1895 History of Florence Massachusetts includes an article by Wilcox entitled "The Village Improvement Society." This society was responsible for the newly improved look to the village, especially for the well-kept neatness of the lawns, hedges, streets and walks. Wilcox died the year after his article was printed, 2 July 1896, of "acute inflammation of the liver and nervous prostration supervening Enlargement of the liver."(Northampton City Clerk's Vital Statistics). His occupation was listed as "Express Agent." He is buried in Simsbury.
The records of the American Express Company, Florence, Massachusetts office, 1867-1890, consist of agent's books, and three volumes concerning waybills. The agent for all the records except possibly the last was Watson L. Wilcox. The growth of the American Express Company's Florence office is well reflected in these records, which evolved from informal to increasingly formal. The first book in fact is largely Wilcox's own personal account book, begun when he was in Simsbury, Connecticut and continuing with his new position as express agent in Florence, Massachusetts. The last volume is a collection of bound yellow tissue copies of waybills for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. Its connection with American Express Co. and/or W.L. Wilcox is unclear.
Acquired from Louis Greenbaum, 1990.
Processed by Paul Gaffney, 1990.
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Cite as: American Express Company, Florence Office Records (MS 298). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.