Romance of Omaha, Chapter XXII

Omaha financial institutions that now stand among the strongest of their kind in the country, with resources amounting to more than $150,000,000, had the most humble beginnings.

Little frame buildings, not much more than shacks, housed them.

Presidents acted as tellers.

Cashiers performed the duties of bookkeeper, messenger boy and janitor.

More than one bank officer in pioneer days slept in the rear of the bank room, because he had no other place to sleep.

Omaha has three banks which were founded in the early days of the settlement of the city. They are the Omaha National bank, First National bank and the United States National bank. They have had an existence of more than 70 years each.

Pioneer Banks

They have survived the panics, drouths and financial storms of all the years and with the financial institutions founded in later times, render a service to Omaha, Nebraska and the surrounding territory that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Before Omaha was a city, or Nebraska a state, banks were started in the new territory. They were opened in 1854, before any real authority to do a banking business could be secured.

When the first territorial legislature met, in January, 1855 in Omaha, there was a demand for a general law authorizing the establishment of banks with the privilege of issuing currency.

Even in those days there were "sound money" advocates who resisted the issuing of currency by the banks. No general law was passed but "special charters" were granted. Under one of them the Western Exchange Fire and Marine Insurance company began business in Omaha. It was empowered to do a banking business and to issue currency, which it did with a will.

Charters Granted

The second session of the legislature, in December, 1855, granted more charters and the Bank of Florence, Bank of Nebraska at Omaha, Platte Valley bank at Nebraska City, Fontenelle bank at Bellevue and the Nemaha Valley bank at Brownville were started.

They were the first of the famous "wildcat" banks of Nebraska territory. They all issued currency, regardless of whether there was anything back of the bank notes and the era of inflated "wildcat" money was in full swing.

Those were great days. Everybody had money, such as it was. City and town lots rose rapidly in value. A period of wild speculation set in. The banks prospered. They sold their notes far and wide - the farther the better, because the real value of the notes was not so well known away from home.

Then came the panic of 1857 and the "wildcat" banks began to crash, one after another, until they were all gone. Not one survived

The only bank of that period that was owned by Nebraska men was the Platte Valley bank at Nebraska City. It speaks well for the integrity of pioneer Nebraskans that the one home-owned bank was the only institution to pay out in full and to redeem all its currency.

Firm Banking

The panic of 1857 resulted in some good. It placed banking upon a firmer foundation.

Late in the fall of 1857 the Kountz Bros., Augustus and Herman, opened a little bank at Twelfth and Farnam streets. It prospered and grew. Today it is the First National bank.

Barrows, Millard & Co. had previously been established as a land agency and in the fall of 1857 began a banking business.

Joseph H. Millard, later president of the Omaha National bank, was one of the founders of the land company and bank. In time it became the United States National bank.

In 1865 the Millard interest was withdrawn from Barrows, Millard & Co., which became Caldwell, Hamilton & Co., and the Omaha National bank came into existence, founded by the Millards.

Advertisements of the early banks of Nebraska show that they dealt in bullion, gold dust and steamship tickets.

Help Pioneers

They financed freighters and in every way possible lent a helping hand to the pioneer.

When the early banks were founded they were on most friendly terms. Kountze Bros. had the one dependable safe or vault in the city. Other bankers would take their money at the close of the day, wrap it in an old newspaper, put it under their arm and saunter over to the Kountze Bros. building to put their cash away for the night. In the morning they would carry it back in the same manner.

No bank robbers and holdup men seemed to have been hanging around in those days.

In the early statements of the three banks mentioned refer very proudly to the fact that deposits had passed the $100,000 mark in each case.

Today the deposits of the three banks average almost $30,000,000 each.

At the present time seven national and six state banks serve the people of Omaha. Their combined deposits average about $125,000,000 and they have loans of approximately $70,000,000 outstanding. Their capital, surplus and undivided profits approach the $12,000,000 mark, their total resources are approximately $150,000,000. Including the trust companies of the city, the latter figure should be nearer $175,000,000.

Huge Bank Clearings

Omaha bank clearings for 1928 will break all records since 1920 and will total more than $2,300,000,000.

Omaha bankers have from the beginning kept in close touch with the needs of not only the local community but of the entire Omaha trade territory. There are depositories for hundreds of smaller banks. Many times in a day of financial stress, Omaha banks have helped their customers throughout the middle west and prevented disaster to banks and commercial houses.

Nowhere in the country are bankers more willing or better equipped to extend the necessary financial aid to business firms of a large region.

Throughout the large Omaha trade territory, which embraces all or part of several states, there are 2,700 banks with a combined capital of approximately $150,000,000.

Giant Resources

Their total resources are in excess of $1,500,000,000, their deposits are approximately $1,200,000 and they have more than $900,000,000 loaned out to people of this territory. Savings of all kinds in these banks total more than $500,000,000. Total clearings in the region are more than $7,500,000,000 this year.

These banks have plenty of money to loan for all legitimate purposes. They are able to finance all livestock and farming operations, business houses and other enterprise at reasonable rates. They unite in saying that the future is bright and that prospects for years were never more promising.

The financial institutions of Omaha and the entire territory are sound. That they will continue to serve the people of the west as they have in the past, even from the days of the pioneer, is a sure prophecy.

Chapter XXIII
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