A Classification of American Wealth
History and genealogy of the wealthy families of America - Sponsors

 Part 1 : Colonial and Mercantile America  Part 2 : America in the Gilded Age
 Part 3 : America in the Twentieth Century  Encyclopedia of American Wealth

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  Part II-Chapter 10 : Bankers of the Gilded Age  >   Introduction and Index :   Previous  1 2 - 3 - 45   Next


Founded in 1812, the City Bank was the oldest of the three great national banks of New York. Always a merchant's bank, the City gained a reputation of stability during the 1850's thanks to a policy of solid cash reserves, practiced by its major shareholder and president Moses Taylor. Conservative, the bank reorganized under the National Banking Act of 1864 only after the Federal Government imposed a 10% tax on state bank notes in 1865. Using the credit of the National City Bank, Moses Taylor built himself a $ 40 million estate and left his seat to his son-in-law, Percy Rivington Pyne, when he died in 1882. Pyne was replaced in 1891 by James Stillman, who brought his friend William Rockefeller on the Board and engaged in an aggressive expansion policy, which made the National City the largest bank in America in 1894 and the first to reach a billion dollar balance sheet in 1919.

The Stillman and Rockefellers sealed their business partnership with a double marriage of their children and controlled the National City Bank for many years. James Stillman Rockefeller, a grandson of James Stillman and William Rockefeller, was president and chairman of the bank in the 1950's and 1960's. In 1955, the National City Bank merged with the First National Bank of New York to become the First National City Bank of New York, later known as Citicorp and today, Citigroup, the largest banking and financial institution of the United States of America.

The First National Bank of New York was founded in 1863 by John Thompson, a currency trader and good friend of treasury secretary [ Salmon Portland ] Chase. The first New Yorker bank to use a Federal charter, it grew into an important institution notably thanks to its involvement in the sale of government bonds. In 1873, John Thompson had to sell his shares to a group including George Fisher Baker, the bank's cashier, and Harris Charles Fahnestock, head of the New York branch of Jay Cooke & Company. George F. Baker subsequently became president and built the First National into the second largest bank of New York.

A close friend and ally of John Pierpont Morgan, Baker had interests in numerous railroads, public utilities and industrial corporations. In 1912 he held 58 directorships in major American corporations, more than Morgan, Stillman or any other American. George Fisher Baker remained chairman of the First National Bank until 1926 and was succeeded by his son George F. Baker jr. The Baker's control of the First National Bank of New York ended after the latter died in 1937, none of his sons being able or ready to assure the succession.
In 1955, the First National Bank of New York was merged with the National City Bank to form what later became Citicorp.

Four years after losing control of the First National Bank, financier John Thompson and his son Samuel Thompson founded yet another of what became the three largest (national) banks of New York. The Chase National Bank of New York was named after Thompson's friend Salmon Portland Chase, Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury and the father of the National Banking System. Salmon P. Chase had died in 1873 and was obviously not linked in any other way to the institution, than inspiring its name. Thompson was succeeded by Henry White Cannon and later by Alonzo Barton Hepburn and Albert Henry Wiggin, expansive bankers who built the institution into the third largest bank of New York.

Bankers of the Gilded Age >   Introduction and Index :   Previous  1 2 - 3 - 45   Next

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