The story is of A. P. Giannini, a.k.a. the founder of Bank of America (which was actually named The Bank of Italy until 1930). As this article tells it, Amadeo Peter Giannini was the son of Italian immigrants, and founded a small bank in an Italian neighborhood of San Francisco in 1904. While most banks at the time were strictly focused on servicing the wealthy, Giannini focused on convincing the ‘unbanked’ (mostly immigrants) to put the money under their mattresses into a bank account, where it would be safer and accrue interest. Great guy, right? Well, it gets even better.
“On the morning of April 18, 1906, a massive earthquake hit San Francisco. The ensuing fires burned down the large banks. Their superheated metal vaults could not be opened for weeks- lest the cash and paper records catch fire when oxygen rushed in.
As flames threatened his one room bank, Giannini spiritied $80,000 in coins out of town. He hid the precious metal under crates of oranges and steered his wagons past gangs of thugs and looters in the streets.
As other banks struggled to recover, Giannini made headlines by setting up a makeshift bank on a North Beach wharf. He extended loans to beleagured residents “on a handshake” and helped revive the city. The innovative bank welcomed small borrowers who might otherwise have to use high-cost loan sharks. Most banks at the time regarded people with modest incomes as credit risks not worth the paperwork. But experience had taught Giannini otherwise: that working class people were no less likely to pay their debts than the wealthy….
On November 1, 1930, the Bank of Italy in San Francisco changed its name to Bank of America. The bank today has the same national bank charter number as Giannini’s old bank – #13044. When A.P. Giannini died in 1949, the former single-teller office in North Beach claimed more than 500 branches and $6 billion in assets. It was then the largest bank in the world.”
Amazingly, the story gets even better! In addition to being a literal hero during the San Francisco earthquake aftermath by providing loans to those in need, he also:
· Providing financing for the Golden Gate Bridge.
· Financed Walt Disney’s first first full-length feature: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.