There are Italians who have made the world, who have made the USA, who have marked its economic and social history, yet they are almost strangers.
Let's take for example Amedeo “Peter” Giannini. His life starts with tragedy, yet he was the man who created America's great middle-class bank and helped California become one of the largest economies in the world.
Amadeo was the son of Italian immigrants. His father, Luigi Giovanni, and his mother Maria Virginia De Martini, emigrated to San Jose, California, from the small village of Favale di Margaro, just a few months before Amadeo's birth on May 6, 1870.
His father started a farming business at a profit, but was killed by one of the employees he had had a fight with. After the sudden death of his father and his mother's re-marriage to Lorenzo Scatena, owner of a small grocery business, Amadeo and his family moved to San Francisco in 1882. When Amadeo was 12, he dropped out of school and went to work full time for her stepfather. He began a thriving business of brokering agricultural products that made him wealthy and well-liked by the Italian community.
In 1892 he married Florinda Agnes Cuneo, also the daughter of Italian Genoese immigrants and whose father Giuseppe, now a wealthy citizen of San Francisco, owned a large stake in Columbus Savings & Loan. Amadeo became director of Columbus Savings & Loan at a time when banks were being run for the benefit of the wealthy. But he had a different idea of a bank, not as a speculative activity, but as a tool for the economic development of the middle and working classes.
Not understood by the other directors, Amadeo was forced to leave the board and on 17 October 1904 he founded, with the help of 143 other shareholders, the Bank of Italy, the "Bank of Italy". The bank, housed in a converted saloon directly across from Columbus Savings & Loan, was created exclusively for the “Small Business Owner”. It was a new financial institution for hard-working immigrants (mostly Italians) that other banks did not accept as a client. He offered checking accounts and loans judging people not by their wallet, but by character and commitment.
On April 18, 1906, San Francisco was hit by a devastating earthquake and fire; before the bank building caught fire, Amadeo Giannini was able to transfer the money and documents from the vault to his home in San Mateo, about 15 miles away. The wagon used to carry the money was actually a garbage wagon in an attempt to disguise the cargo and protect it from theft.
The other banks were hit by the great fire: the money was safe in the safes, but these were so hot that they could not be opened for many days. Instead Giannini had saved the money and immediately began to lend it to those who had to rebuild, using a table on two barrels in the street as a bug. The loans were only granted with a handshake. Every single loan was subsequently repaid. He later said that all loans were honored.
The bank's post-earthquake success encouraged it to expand to other California cities. Amadeo Giannini moved to Los Angere and merged the Bank of Italy with the Bank of America of which he took control. His bank was making productive financing, not speculation; from film projects such as helping Walt Disney finance the production of Snow White, to the California wine industry and major construction projects such as the Golden Gate Bridge. Among his enterprises there was also Hewlett-Packard and after World War II he helped the development of the Italian-American friendship and financed the reconstruction of FIAT.
Here these are the Italian bankers who made the world. Of those Italians today, those who speculate on people's skin, nothing will remain, not even the memory.
This is a machine translation of a post published on Scenari Economici at the URL https://scenarieconomici.it/la-maggior-banca-americana-fu-opera-di-un-genovese-la-straordinaria-epopea-sociale-ed-economiaca-di-amedeo-giannini/ on Fri, 13 May 2022 20:55:42 +0000.