Giannini, Amadeo P.

Giannini, Amadeo P. (Peter)

(1870–1949) banker; born in San Jose, Calif. Child of Italian immigrants, from 1883 to 1901 he worked in his stepfather's produce business; made a partner by 1889, he retired at age 31. His father-in-law died intestate (1902) and as manager of the estate he started the Bank of Italy (1904), primarily as a lender to small, underserved businesses; throughout his career he would continue to promote liberal loan policies. The bank soon began to expand to other cities in California and by 1918 he had developed the first statewide branch-banking system in the United States. He retired as president of the Bank of Italy in 1924 but remained active in its parent holding company, Transamerica Corporation. In 1930 he combined the Bank of Italy and others to establish the Bank of America National Trust and Savings Association, which survived the Depression to become by 1934 one of the world's largest commercial banks. During the Depression he was sometimes criticized for his bank's excessive holdings of farm mortgages, and was accused of encouraging the exploitation of migrant farm workers. By the time of his death, his Bank of America was the largest bank in the U.S.A. and the largest privately held bank in the world. In 1927 he donated $1.5 million to the University of California to establish the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics; after his death much of his fortune went to a foundation for medical research.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.