Bank of North America

Bank of North America
IndustryFinancial institution
SuccessorWells Fargo
FoundedDecember 31, 1781 (1781-12-31) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Foundersthe Congress of the Confederation of the United States
Defunct1929 (1929)
Area served
Colonial America
Key people
Tench Francis, Jr., First cashier; later known as the CEO

The Bank of North America was a private bank first adopted on May 26, 1781, by the Confederation Congress, and opened in Philadelphia on January 7, 1782.[1][2][3] It was based upon a plan presented by US Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris on May 17, 1781[4] that created the Nation's first de facto central bank.[5] When shares in the bank were sold to the public, the Bank of North America became the country's first initial public offering.[6] It was succeeded in its role as central bank by the First Bank of the United States in 1791.


Congressional charter

Three pence issued by the Bank of North America, 6 August 1789. Printed by Benjamin Franklin Bache on marbled paper obtained by Benjamin Franklin.[7]

In May 1781 Alexander Hamilton revealed that he had recommended Morris for the position the previous summer when the constitution of the executive was being solidified. Second, he proceeded to lay out a proposal for a national bank. Morris, who had corresponded with Hamilton previously on the subject of funding the war, immediately drafted a legislative proposal based on Hamilton's suggestion and submitted it to the Congress. Morris persuaded Congress to charter the Bank of North America, the first private commercial bank in the United States.[8]

1782 Inauguration

When Robert Morris became superintendent of finance in February 1781,[9] continental currency had ceased to be issued. On April 30, 1781, Alexander Hamilton sent Morris a letter. The original charter called for the disbursement of 1,000 shares priced at $400 each.[10] Benjamin Franklin purchased one share for 0.1% ownership as a sign of good faith to Federalists and the new bank and Hamilton made public endorsement of the establishment under his pseudonym.[11]

Public offering

William Bingham's first daughter, Ann Louisa Baring, was born the day before the bank opened, and her father purchased 9.5% of the shares for himself. She was also the granddaughter of Thomas Willing, a primary shareholder and the original President of the bank offices at Philadelphia. Using a gift/loan from France, Robert Morris purchased 63.3% of the original shares for the government.[12] Robert Morris deposited large quantities of gold and silver coin and bills of exchange obtained through loans from the Netherlands and France. He then issued new paper currency backed by this supply.

By 1783, Congress and several states including Massachusetts enacted legislation, allowing Americans to pay taxes with Bank of North America certificates.[13] Within three years, the Bank was considered a creditworthy institution.[citation needed]

Bank of Pennsylvania

After a change of party in Pennsylvania's legislature in 1786 the Bank of North America was re-chartered within the Commonwealth in 1787, but under more restrictive conditions that would hinder it from performing its intended role as a central bank.[14] Thomas Willing was appointed its first president on November 2, 1781 (starting when operations began on January 7, 1782) until he was appointed to the First Bank of the United States as one of its original three commissioners on March 19, 1791 (before his later election as its first president on October 25, 1791).

John Nixon was the first director of the Bank of Pennsylvania. Morris subscribed £10,000 sterling to fund it. It was not a bank in the ordinary sense but an organization formed for the purpose of financing supplies for the army. In 1782, the Bank of North America superseded the Bank of Pennsylvania.[15] Serving from 1792 to 1808, Nixon succeeded the first president of the Bank of North America, Thomas Willing, who went on to become the first president of the First Bank of the United States. Nixon was in turn succeeded by John Morton, who served as President until 1822. William Frederick Havemeyer was its president from 1851 to 1861 and brought it successfully through the crisis of 1857. After it had become a National Bank in 1865, a president of the same name presided over its liquidation in 1908.[16]

The Bank of Pennsylvania was re-established in 1793, with a charter from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and opened branches in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Reading, and Easton.[17] The original branch of the Bank of Pennsylvania remained in business in Pennsylvania through the 19th and 20th centuries under a variety of other names including First Pennsylvania Bank and, before its acquisition by Wells Fargo, as Wachovia, First Union Bank and CoreStates. Wachovia (as of November, 2012) operated a branch at the northwest corner of S. 6th and Chestnut Sts. in Philadelphia, diagonally opposite Independence Hall, which was the original site of the Bank of North America.[2] This branch is the longest continuously operating branch bank in the States, operating in that location since 1781.[18] Following Wells Fargo's acquisition of Wachovia, Wells Fargo adopted PNB's charter, in part because it was the first national bank charter ever issued.[19]