1904
Amadeo P. Giannini opens Banca d'Italia, forerunner of Bank of America.


Amadeo P. Giannini (1870-1949) holds a major place in the annals of America's banking industry. Born in 1870 in San Jose, California, his parents were immigrants from Chavari, Genoa, Italy who ran a small boarding house. After the death of his father, his mother married Lorenzo Scatena, a family friend who operated a small produce business that Amadeo joined. Amadeo became a partner and soon was instrumental in building the venture into the largest produce-commission enterprise on the Pacific Coast. Amadeo's marriage to Clorinda Cuneo introduced him to the world of banking, whereupon in 1904 he established his own bank, the "Banca d'Italia," that flourished in the Italian section of San Francisco. He introduced a "character loan," that is a loan not based on collateral, but on the word of hard-working, honest people. The "Banca d'Italia" name gained further renown after the earthquake of 1906, in which Giannini demonstrated remarkable courage and decisive action by personally rescuing depositors' money from destruction. He was furthermore an important factor in the rebuilding of San Francisco. Not surprisingly his life and accomplishments were extensively celebrated within the Italian American community. In 1909 he opened a small branch bank in San Jose that he soon followed with offices in various California cities, thereby becoming a pioneer in branch banking. His other innovations included savings for school children and women's banking. Giannini proceeded to open up new banks and buy or consolidate other financial institutions in California. He also expanded beyond California into New York enabling him to create the Bank of America. This in turn was the background to the creation in 1928 of the mammoth Transamerica Corporation. After a few shaky years of economic depression in the 1930s Giannini reinvigorated his banking empire. He played a critical role in loaning money for the purpose of operating farms and movie making.

Giannini was more than a successful businessman; he was not interested in merely accumulating a personal fortune but rather believed in using his wealth to improve society. He lived simply and unostentatiously maintaining faith in the free enterprise system but one that accepted responsibilities. "Each of us is better for having to make our own money. God meant us to work. To take from anyone the incentive to work is a questionable service." He also believed in sharing good fortune with others by offering employees an opportunity in self-ownership through profit sharing. When he retired in 1945 he established scholarships for employees and a foundation for medical research. He was a remarkable example of a child of Italian immigrants who acknowledged this country as a land of opportunity and who transformed the banking industry.

Branch at Los Angeles, California (about 1918)





View Previous Entry     View Next Entry       Back to Timeline