John J. Valentine, Sr. 1

John Joseph Valentine, Sr. (November 12, 1840 – December 21, 1901) was the first president of Wells Fargo & Company who was not previously a banker. Valentine worked up the ranks of Wells Fargo as agent, route agent, cashier, General Manager, and Vice President before serving as President from 1892 to his death in 1901. The family lived at the Cedar Croft estate.

John Valentine was born November 12, 1840, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to William Crenshaw Valentine and Eliza Yates Cunningham (Valentine). He came to California in 1862, and found work as an agent for Wells Fargo. 3

Valentine had seven children; four from his marriage to Mary George (Valentine) and three with his second wife, Alice Maud Blanchard (Valentine) (married 1888). 2

In addition to serving as Vice President of the San Francisco Young Men’s Christian Association, Valentine was an esteemed member of the Advent Episcopal Church of Oakland and on the Vestry since at least 1885. After a new church was constructed at 1540 - 12th Avenue, Valentine "challenged members parishioners to eliminate the debt. He offered to match the donations of others up to half the debt total. By that program his desire was achieve; the debt was wiped out."

Valentine frequently became aware of local disasters at points throughout the nation where Wells Fargo maintained offices. So he often began campaigns for relief funds for the needy throughout the nation. John J. Valentine was reputed to be a compassionate gentleman, so honored at his funeral. In the late 1920s Advent Episcopal Church became St. James the Apostle Episcopal Church, which is still located at the 12th Avenue address. The church contains a phenomenal glass window commemorating his wife Mary F. Valentine and two of their children who died at 2 1/2 years old and 10 months old.

Valentine Family Window at St. James Episcopal Church (Currently in need of restoration).

Standing against the mining industry in 1892, John J. Valentine was the only one from a major corporation who refused to support federal lobbying efforts to resurrect hydraulic mining.

Death and Burial

Valentine also took a stand against what he called US imperialism. Upset over the US refusal to give up the Philippines, he publicly supported W.J. Bryan, suffered a breakdown after McKinley’s reelection, developed acute heart trouble and died not long after.

Mr. Valentine’s assets at the time of his death (at home in Cedar Croft), were estimated at $400,000 (~$12M in 2013 dollars).

At Valentine's funeral on December 23, 1901 the church was filled to overflowing and a choir of nearly 50 took part. "Outside, the funeral procession included a large Wells Fargo express wagon draped with flowers." California Bishop Nichols spoke of Valentine as the "honored and honest head" of a large corporation who was "Christian in conviction, in conduct" and who had a "warm heart for his fellow man. Though this was the era of "robber barons," it was his delight to say that the profits were distributed to "20,000 persons scattered all over the country, and that many were widows and orphans."

John J. Valentine is buried in Plot 33 of Mountain View Cemetery.

John J. Valentine monument, Mountain View Cemetery JL

Links and References

  1. John J. Valentine, Sr. Wikipedia
  2. Valentine-Blanchard wedding announcement Oakland Tribune May 25, 1888
  3. Death Summons John J. Valentine Oakland Tribune December 21, 1901