American Entrepreneur: The Fascinating Stories of the People Who Defined Business in the United States

By Larry Schweikart; Lynne Pierson Doti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Deliverance and Despair:
1920–1939

Hurricane Katrina, which struck the American Gulf Coast in August 2005, demonstrated nature's destructive power. For the businesses of New Orleans, it also demonstrated how disruptive natural forces can be. Massive federal and state aid poured into New Orleans (and the rest of the Gulf Coast), but years later, the region still struggled. Natural disasters can also reveal the incredible resourcefulness of entrepreneurs, none more amazing than Amadeo Peter Giannini, founder of the Bank of Italy. In April 1906, an intense earthquake rocked San Francisco, ripping up train rails and splitting water lines. Fires ignited everywhere as buildings collapsed.1

Giannini, who in the previous two years had built a thriving business by serving the North Beach Italian community with his Bank of Italy, walked seventeen miles to the city. Along the way, he noted, “I had seen so much panic on the faces of the people … I didn't have much hope for the bank.”2

Upon arriving at the bank, Giannini found his vault intact, but the fire was spreading in his direction, fast. With the help of family and bank officials, he loaded the contents of the vault into two wagons, then, concerned with looters, camouflaged the contents with boxes of oranges. With the rest of the banks in San Francisco having their

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