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Growing the City

At the height of the Civil War, the American banking system was changed forever with the passage of two landmark acts. Salmon P. Chase, the firm’s namesake, but not its founder, served as Secretary of the Treasury under Abraham Lincoln. In 1863, Chase introduced the first of two National Bank Acts. This act created a new system of national banks which would operate under a uniform regulatory framework alongside the older state-chartered banks. On June 22, 1863, a group of men in Chicago received a national charter to establish a bank. The First National Bank of Chicago opened for business on July 1, 1863, and boasted the 8th national charter approved. Edmund Aiken served as the bank’s first president and Samuel M. Nickerson as vice president.  

The First National Bank of Chicago (FNBC) grew up alongside the city of Chicago. It almost immediately grew out of its original home at 22 La Salle Street and opened its first headquarters on the southwest corner of State Street and Washington Street in 1868. This would be the first of four main offices FNBC constructed in the area. In 1867, Nickerson became president of FNBC and navigated the bank through the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871. While the headquarters building was destroyed, the vault and its contents, including securities, notes, and ledgers, survived. The bank reopened on January 1, 1872 and assisted with the financing to rebuild the city.

My custom imageFrom top left: The National Safe Deposit Company vault in the 1960's; aerial image of the the World's Fair grounds in Chicago in 1893; the First National Bank of Chicago building in 1868; the first vault at the National Safe Deposit Company, which was used from 1881 to1904.

In 1881, The First National Bank of Chicago organized its first subsidiary, the National Safe Deposit Company. It was the first of its kind in Chicago and offered the rental of safe deposit boxes, the storage of customers’ valuables and the receiving of bonds and securities. The National Safe Deposit’s vault in the basement of FNBC’s headquarters housed 10,000 safe deposit boxes. The following year, FNBC moved to a new home at the corner of Dearborn and Monroe Streets. The new building was also home to the bank’s women’s banking department. This new department was one of the first to cater to women as potential customers, and many of its earliest clients were wealthy widows.

Around the same time, FNBC participated in the financing of several Chicago landmarks and events. In 1887, FNBC provided financing for the new Art Institute of Chicago building. This included six promissory notes for $10,000 to aid in the construction of the museum’s new building. Then, in 1892, the bank subscribed $300,000 in bonds for the World’s Columbian Exposition. This was the first World’s Fair held in Chicago.

The early years of The First National Bank of Chicago were met with great success. This rich early history paved the way for continued expansion and continues to influence JPMorgan Chase’s longstanding commitment to the city.

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