Bank of America
BANK OF AMERICA
BANK OF AMERICA. Under the leadership of its founder, A. P. Giannini, Bank of America played a fundamental role in the development of the West Coast. The bank not only transformed the way banks operated but also financed many important public works and private enterprises across California. These ingenious deals fueled the development of the West, enabling California to become the nation's symbol of hope and inspiration for generations.
Born in 1870 in San Jose to immigrant parents, Giannini's business career began in San Francisco at age twelve, working for his stepfather's wholesale business, handling produce, fruits, and dairy products. The young man traveled the length of the state, making contacts and building a strong reputation. Working directly with farmers, small merchants, and peddlers gave Giannini a lifelong respect for the working class.
On 17 October 1904, after resigning from the board of a San Francisco bank over its policy of ignoring working-class customers, Giannini opened Bank of Italy (later renamed Bank of America) in a remodeled saloon. His employees went door-to-door soliciting business from workers, immigrants, and others ignored by most banks.
Bank of America was transformed from a new bank to a revered institution after its actions during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, which ravaged the city. Realizing customers needed immediate assistance, Giannini set up an outdoor desk (a wooden plank atop two barrels) and gave people money to rebuild although they had little collateral in return. He recognized the power banks could play in helping transform people's lives and rededicated himself to banking.
Bank of America was the first bank in the United States to open a statewide system of branch banks. By 1920, it expanded to New York and added an overseas branch in Italy. Focusing on community development, the bank financed bonds for hundreds of local governments to build housing, libraries, and roads. Soon it moved into other areas of the nation, including Boston, Chicago, and Dallas. The bank also pioneered new methods of financing California's agricultural industries.
Bank of America funded other extraordinary projects, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood production companies, and Disneyland. In the 1950s, after Giannini's death in 1949, it was the first bank to use computers and introduced the first nationwide credit card.
In 1998, Nations Bank, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, acquired Bank of America. The new organization retained the Bank of America name but kept its headquarters in Charlotte. Three years later it ranked as one of the largest corporations in the world, reporting revenues of nearly $53 billion and profits of $6.8 billion.
James, Marquis, and Bessie Rowland James. Biography of a Bank: The Story of Bank of America. New York: Harper, 1954. Re-print, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1971.
Johnston, Moira. Roller Coaster: The Bank of America and the Future of American Banking. New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1990.