Banking's 150-Year Club: Banks Large and Small Helped Weave-Often with Colorful Strands-The Tapestry of American History

By Cocheo, Steve | ABA Banking Journal, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Banking's 150-Year Club: Banks Large and Small Helped Weave-Often with Colorful Strands-The Tapestry of American History


Cocheo, Steve, ABA Banking Journal


Cent' anni!

This traditional Italian toast translates to, "May we all live 100 years!"

There are many banks that are 50 years old, but not so many that are 100 years old. But the club of banks that are 150 years old or older, now that is a very select society. According to FDIC records, just a smidge over 100 banks that still exist are 150 years old or more.

Some of these banks are names everyone has heard of: The Bank of New York (1784); State Street Bank and Trust (1792); PNC Bank, (1804) Citibank (1812); and JP Morgan Chase Bank (1824). Then, there are others who also have their place in history, though you may have never heard of them: for example, The Beverly (Mass.) National Bank (1802).

Banks that were in existence on or before Sept. 1, 1855, did business with people who took part in the Civil War, the War of 1812, or, in a few cases, even the Revolutionary War. They predated such innovations as the dual banking system (national banks didn't exist, as we know them, before the creation of the Comptroller's Office during the Civil War); FDIC insurance; the telegraph; and even the railroad. They started before anyone had even thought of compliance and the concept of a bank examination was extremely simplistic, or, in some cases, unheard of.

This report takes a look at a handful of the 150-year-old banks that have, either independently or as part of a larger company (but with their original charter), continued to do business today.

We have avoided calling anyone "oldest" or anything like that. The fact is, as eve found in our research, records can be sketchy on some things, definitions aren't universal, and sometimes the government and a given bank's records don't agree on when the company began doing business.

What an oddity--bankers and regulators not agreeing!

Banks large and small helped weave--often with colorful strands--the tapestry of American history

FARMERS & MECHANICS NATIONAL BANK, MD. The penalty of early's withdrawal ...

"'Shoot, if you must this old gray head, but spare your country's flag,' she said."

"The Ballad of Barbara Fritchie," by John Greenleaf Whittier, has tormented generations of schoolchildren who had to memorize sections of the patriotic poem. James Thurber found its images so unlikely that he penned some of his famous loopy cartoons to illustrate it.

But in Frederick, Md., it's common belief that the poem about a 96-year-old woman who defiantly waved the Union flag while the troops of Stonewall Jackson passed below her balcony on their way through town in 1862 to battle is essentially true, though perhaps embellished.

Banks, on the other hand, failed to inspire the muse, even though a group of bankers in Frederick, a Union city in a Union state, took a heroic action on another occasion during the war.

Drive-through service for generals

On July 9, 1864, forces of Confederate General Jubal Early, one of the fiercest officers of the South, occupied Frederick and dictated terms: Come up with $200,000 in cash or the equivalent in military supplies. The alternative? Watch Early's troops put the city to the torch. No one who knew of Early believed the threat to be idle.

It would be hard enough to gather such funds on short notice today, but in 1864, that was an incredible amount of money--and there were no military supplies in Frederick to sate Early's appetite.

So the city fathers approached the five banks of Frederick and asked for all the cash they could spare. Farmers' and Mechanics' Bank, one of them, and the oldest, having been chartered in 1817, came up with $28,000.

The city corporation turned over the money, stuffed into baskets, and one of Early's officers duly wrote out a receipt.

The banks of course wanted their money back, but Early wasn't expected to be passing through again. In 1868, the banks reached a settlement with the city. …

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