America’s Blue-Collar Banker: The Early Years of Amadeo Peter “A.P.” Giannini

Home mortgages, auto loans, installment credit – they may be taken for granted today, but before this son of Italian immigrants came along, such things didn’t exist. Amadeo Peter Giannini – A.P. to his friends – revolutionized the banking world by focusing on “the little people.” Giannini passed away in 1949 at the age of 79. By that time, the bank he had founded, the Bank of America, had become the largest bank in the world, with $7 billion in assets and more than 525 branches in over 300 American cities. Today, Giannini stands out as one of TIME Magazine’s Builders and Titans of the 20th century – the only banker to make this list of the century’s most 100 important people.

Giannini was born in 1870 in San Jose, California, to the son of recent immigrants from Genoa, Italy. His father, Luigi, was a farmer who had grown up in Ligure, a small village that today is home to just 500 people. His mother, Virginia Demartini, married Luigi when she was fourteen years old and he was 29. Together, the two decided to leave Italy and head to America in the hopes of making a fortune. With the little money they had collected from relatives, Giannini’s parents rented a house with a few rooms. After six months of renovations, they had transformed it into a functioning inn with over twenty rooms. It was in that inn that the young Giannini was born.

The family inn continued to grow and eventually became a hotel. Luigi sold it after a few more years and bought a 40-acre plot of land. It seemed that the family was finally living their dreams. That is until one day, when Luigi got into an argument with an employee over a simple one-dollar debt and wound up getting killed. It was a massive blow for the seven year old Giannini, who witnessed the tragic event before his very own eyes. In that instant, his 22 year old mother had become a widow.

Virginia later remarried to Lorenzo Scatena, who was both a farmer and the owner of a small produce grocery business. She convinced her new husband that produce was more profitable than farming, and so the family moved to San Francisco in 1882 in order to be nearer to the port. When Giannini was 14 years old, he left school and went to work full time for his stepfather.

For the next five years, Giannini devoted himself to the store. He took on the job of public relations, writing letters to all their potential clients and suppliers and following up in person. When he was 19 years old, Giannini’s stepfather rewarded his hard work by making him a partner in the thriving business. Giannini now owned half of Lorenzo Scatena & Co. It wasn’t until he reached the age of 31 that Giannini decided to get out of the produce business. He made an announcement that he was “retiring”, but few believed he would be gone for very long. Indeed, the next phase of his life was when his real career would begin.

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