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Archive: From Calamity to Colossus

Bank of America can trace its success back to the immigrant-owned businesses that it saw through the disastrous 1906 San Francisco earthquake.


Out of the rubble of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 rose the financial behemoth Bank of America. In the hours after the disaster, A.P. Giannini, the young founder of what was then called the Bank of Italy, acted with aplomb. While other bankers panicked, Giannini was able to make emergency loans to customers even though his building had collapsed. He rushed to the ruins, disinterred $2 million in cash and gold, hid it in a produce wagon, and carted it to safety. After setting up a stand in an empty lot in the Italian North Beach neighborhood, he met with customers to see what help they needed. Mostly immigrants, these owners of small markets and shops had come to Giannini's thrift because they didn't feel welcome at the city's large banks. Giannini, in contrast, offered bilingual tellers and liberal terms. As San Francisco rebuilt, his reputation as the lender of choice among the immigrant communities was cemented. That reputation would serve him well in coming years, when young, foreign-born entrepreneurs turned to him to finance pioneering businesses in the film and wine industries.

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Last updated: Sep 1, 2002

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