Image Credit: Bankitaly Life, November 1923 (archive.org)
A personal note: The Wall Street Journal just launched my new column, “Back in Business,” which will run every few weeks. It will seek to illuminate the present with lessons from the past, focusing on the people and events that have shaped business history. “Back in Business” will supplement, but not supplant, my regular “Intelligent Investor” column.
After the first “Back in Business” came out, someone asked me how long I had worked on it. “A few weeks,” I said, “plus a few decades.”
In some ways, I’ve been preparing to write this column all my life. For years, I was a trustee at the Museum of American Finance; for years before that, I was the pro-bono editor of the museum’s magazine, Financial History.
And I grew up sharing my house with history itself; the past was always part of the present. After my parents retired from the newspaper business, they became art and antique dealers, specializing in furniture, paintings and other objects that people living in Colonial or Federal America would have had in their homes.Â As a teenager, I sat on chairs and worked at tables and looked into mirrors that were made when Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Emily Dickinson had been the same age I was. Part of me has always felt I grew up in the 18th and 19th centuries, so I’m thrilled to be able to embark on these time travels with you from now on.
By Jason Zweig | May 29, 2020 11:00 am ET
Back in Business is a new, occasional column that will put the present day in perspective by looking at business history and those who shaped it. Mr. Zweig’s Intelligent Investor column will return next week.
A century ago, one banker was the lender of first resort when disasters hit. With coronavirus crippling the economy, we could use far more financial entrepreneurs like him today.
His story shows that innovation often comes when unlikely people and unusual events collide. Born in 1870, Amadeo Peter Giannini quit school at age 15, becoming a wildly successful fruit-and-vegetable merchant. At the age of 31, three years before he went into banking, he had a net worth of about $300,000 — more than $9 million in today’s money.
“I might never have gone into the banking business,” he later recalled, if he hadn’t gotten into a shouting match with the head of a local bank about its reluctance to make small loans to individual borrowers. In 1904, Giannini founded a bank of his own in San Francisco, called Bank of Italy, to do just that.
Then, on April 18, 1906, an earthquake struck the Bay Area, killing more than 3,000 people and setting the city ablaze….
To read the rest of the column:
For further reading:
Benjamin Graham, The Intelligent Investor
Jason Zweig,The Devil’s Financial Dictionary
Jason Zweig, Your Money and Your Brain
Jason Zweig, The Little Book of Safe Money
Articles and other resources: