In these days of financial turmoil it is interesting to look back on how banks promoted themselves in earlier times. Back then you had to convince folks that you were more trustworthy than a mason jar in the back yard, or a sock under the bed. Even before the Great Depression putting money in a bank could be a risky bet. To counter this perception banks put their balance sheets out in paid advertising.
In this ad in the Daily Telegram, the Bank of Italy included a sworn and notarized statement by the president of the bank and the chief cashier.
If you didn’t understand the numbers the story of the bank’s growth was reinforced with growing point sizes in type as the bank grew from its founding 20 years ago in 1904.
The bank was founded by Amadeo P. Giannini. His leadership created a bank with a sense of community. It grew into a powerhouse by loaning money to people other bankers did not think were risk worthy, like farmers, small businesses and immigrants.
His bank loaned money to the fledgling movie industry. Came to the rescue of the Golden Gate Bridge and Snow White. The radical idea of opening branches near customers was one pursued by the Bank of Italy.
What you don’t see between the lines in the ad was it could have ended between 1904 and 1908.
When the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was immediately followed by fire the bank was in peril, in the path of out of control fire.
At one point buildings were being blown up with dynamite to create fire breaks.
According to the book Historic Walks in San Francisco by Rand Richards, Giannini acted quickly loading a horse drawn cart with the assets of the bank and driving it to his home in San Mateo. To disguise the cargo the cart was loaded with produce and the banker said that for the next few weeks the money smelled like orange juice. Better than becoming the ash that the building was reduced to. When the city needed money to rebuild his bank was one of the first to set up loans. This was the era before federal disaster aid.
The Bank of Italy had a branch in San Miguel and San Luis Obispo in 1924.
Today their website lists 17 locations within a 32 mile radius of San Luis Obispo.
Did I mention they changed their name?
Today it is called Bank of America.
Amadeo Peter Giannini died with a modest estate, worth less than $500,000. Many years he accepted little pay and when he was given an unexpected $1.5 million bonus he gave it to the University of California. Today’s banking executives would view that as pocket change. Next time a banking executive asks for a multi-million dollar bonus, ask them if they have rebuilt a disaster torn city, nurtured a fledgling industry, helped build a dream.