What Would Giannini Think of Bank of America Today?

Amadeo “A.P.”‘ Giannini, the story goes, learned early about how money can make or break people’s lives.

When he was a child, a man shot his Italian immigrant father to death because the elder Giannini owed the assailant a dollar.

The younger Giannini, of course, went on to have a much different relationship with money. In 1904, he started the Bank of Italy in San Francisco. At the end of the 1920s, he changed the name to Bank of America.

Mr. Giannini’s bank was a place where working immigrants could save and get a loan. Bigger, more established banks shunned the community Mr. Giannini served. He made loans on the streets after the 1906 earthquake. San Francisco was still smoldering, and the banking industry learned a lesson about how opportunity and responsibility could go hand in hand.

When California was desperate for funds to finish the Golden Gate Bridge in the Great Depression, Mr. Giannini’s Bank of America bought the bonds that funded the bridge’s completion. The Bay Area is celebrating the bridge’s 75th birthday this year.

There’s more to the legacy, but when Mr. Giannini died in 1949, he had built the West Coast’s biggest bank and a different breed of bank, at least in reputation. Bank of America was admired and seemed to know instinctively how to make popular and profitable investments.

These days, you have to wonder if Mr. Giannini would recognize the bank he nurtured to life.

Rest from the WSJ here…