Sometimes even travel writers can be surprised when they stumble upon an unexpected treat. Such is the case when we visited the Wells Fargo Museum in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. This free museum is located in their bank lobby, and is the newest in a string of museums that Wells Fargo hosts. When we discovered this unique attraction, we didn’t have high expectations for an interactive experience, but we soon discovered it holds more than we had hoped for.
We want to thank Wells Fargo for their hospitality. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
On A Mission
The main purpose of the museum is to highlight the role Iowa played in the early connection of travel across the nation. The country was expanding rapidly and communication was struggling to keep up. Lots of enterprises, like the Pony Express, sprang up to offer temporary relief of these problems. (You can read about the Pony Express Museum here>) The railroad was building its intercontinental line, but in the meantime many travelers were resigned to travel by stagecoach. It was also a primary form of delivery for the mail and banking institutions. The Wells Fargo Museum has a number of displays that spell out the history of these changes, as well as offering a glimpse at artifacts from those days.
Have you ever had one of those Aha moments where you suddenly connected the dots? This was the case for us when we saw the Wells Fargo wagon, which is a model of the one used in the movie The Music Man. Suddenly, we see how companies tie back into the everyday lives of those who came before us, and it gives us a connection to the past. It is only appropriate for us to see this particular device in Des Moines, since the original play was written by the Iowa native, Meredith Willson. We do have to wonder how many of the younger visitors miss this connection and move right past to the hands-on exhibits.
Playing Old School
We figured the Wells Fargo Museum would be filled with a grouping of static displays that told the chronological history of banking through the ages. The idea that there would be lots of interactive exhibits had not even crossed our minds. You can imagine our pleasant surprise when we discovered that there are lots of hands-on artifacts for little (and big) hands to hold. Visitors to the museum can explore old telephones, telegraphs, and bank punches. Each of these exhibits include educational information to help understand how the devices were used in the “good old days”.
They even have an area where you can get your own picture printed on money. I’m pretty sure that a bank note with my mug on it would certainly be worth at least five dollars, if not a couple more. This particular exhibit makes for a nice souvenir from your visit, and we are betting the kids will all want one.
Your Carriage Awaits
Traveling by stagecoach has been romanticized by Hollywood for quite sometime. The horse-drawn Concord stagecoaches are easily recognizable to most Americans. The suspension of the coaches were designed to take the constant abuse from the rough roads that they traveled. Leather straps were used to help absorb some of the jarring that would have come from the rough trails and create a swaying effect for the passengers. At the museum they have a display coach where visitors can recreate the feeling of stagecoach travel. Nearby you can see a full-size stagecoach decked out with the familiar red-gold paint job that signified it was part of the Wells Fargo family.
What Was Stagecoach Travel Like?
While stagecoach travel seems like the way to cross the country, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Travelers were subjected to lots of uncomfortable situations. The museum has an interactive display that shows some of the real life situations that stagecoach travelers would have faced during their journey. After seeing some of the real facts, we are happy to have our automobiles and modern highway systems. Watch the video and tell us how you would have liked traveling by stagecoach.
Moving Into Modern Times
Since the museum is based in part on banking, it only seems appropriate for it to show the advances through the ages. The invention of automobiles certainly changed how people get places and signified a death toll for many of the start-up travel industries. These days we all are familiar with drive-thru banking, which began in the 1930’s. As technology advances, so do our means of travel. We can all be glad that we have more comfortable options than stagecoach. Let’s leave that method to the movies. For now, it’s enough to just pretend that we are riding one in this interactive museum. Ready to hit the trail?
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