In 1904 San José native Amadeo Peter Giannini started the Bank of Italy in San Francisco. A. P. Giannini’s bank became Bank of America in 1930 and his practices revolutionized the banking industry with a commitment to previously underserved members of the community such as the working class, immigrant populations, and small businesses. The bank also encouraged children to start saving, financed California’s booming agricultural economy at a time when it was difficult for farmers to get loans, and started a Women’s Banking Department in 1921.
The bank helped finance the Hollywood film industry with loans for projects such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gone With the Wind, and director Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Capra based the main character in his 1932 film American Madness on A. P. Giannini. In another major undertaking Bank of America financed the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1932 during the heart of the Depression.
In addition, Giannini created the first successful branch banking system in the United States. Bank of Italy’s first branch outside of San Francisco was in San José. The bank bought San José’s Commercial and Savings Bank in 1909 and converted it to Bank of Italy. This building is a replica of that first Bank of Italy branch, reconstructed in 1977.
- The Bank of Italy is featured in the People at Work and Coming to America, The Immigration Experience School Programs.
- View archival images of the Bank of Italy and the Giannini family from History San José’s Collection.