Mt. Carmel St. Cristina Society

The Bank of Italy

Did you know...

We talk all the time about the banks in America today, but I have a story of the beginning of a beautiful bank of yesterday - The Bank of Italy. It started with an Italian named Amedeo P. Giannini in 1904 at the age of 34. He was born in San Jose, CA from immigrant parents from Genova. He dropped out of school at 14 and he worked for his step father's produce company saving every dollar and by the age of 31 he saved enough to retire. He was invited by a Columbus Loan Society Bank in North Beach - Little Italy. He accepted the invitation, but he discovered that the bank wasn't helping the little guy. He went to the directors of the bank to persuade them into offering loans to the working class so they could afford homes and automobiles and better their lives. They were honest people and they would pay back their loans, but the bank rejected the idea. So Giannini raised $150,000 and walked across the street from the bank and bought a saloon and he opened - The Bank of Italy. The former bartender from the saloon was his assistant bank teller.

Two years after opening disaster struck. The San Francisco earthquake in 1906, destroyed 80% of the city and killed 3,000 people. The bank of Giannini lay in rubble. People lost everything, even their identification. But Giannini arrived at the San Francisco docks days after the earthquake pulling a horse-drawn cart filled with produce. Under the produce lay the money that he'd salvaged from his bank. On the dock he rolled two barrels, he picked up loose wood boards and plopped them on top of the barrels. He lifted the bags of money from the cart and plopped them on the boards. So the Bank of Italy started loaning money to businesses and the working class so that they could begin to rebuild. He loaned money to people based on nothing more than a signature and a handshake, because they had no identification. It was from this trust that by 1920 the Bank of Italy became the third largest bank in the United States and in 1928 became the Bank of America.

Giannini died in 1949 at the age of 79 and when he died his estate was valued at $500,000. Just a small fraction of what he was worth. He gave away what he made because he felt it would put him out of touch with the working class and every working class man he loaned money to paid him back in full!

P.S. In 1946 the movie director Frank Capra made the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" and its main character was the beloved banker George Barley (Jimmy Stewart) who always stuck up for the little guy!