Amadeo Peter (A.P.) Giannini was born on May 6th, 1870 to Italian immigrants in San Jose. When he was 7, his father died fighting over a dollar and his mother remarried soon after to Lorenzo Scatena, a teamster in the produce industry.
When A.P. Giannini turned 14, he left school and set off to work by his stepfather's side. Five years later he would become a partner in a sucessful business venture and was known for his integrity. At the age of 31, he announced that he would retire, and sell his half-interest to his employees.
Giannini's story could have ended here, but around a year later, he was asked to join the board of directors of the Columbus Savings & Loan Society. Giannini tried the convince other directors of the market to open up to the working class. He was harshly rebuffed at a time when banks existed mainly for the wealthy. This did not disuade Giannini and with $150,000 of his stepfather's and 10 of his friends' money, opened the Bank of Italy across the street from the Columbus Savings & Loan.
With the Bank of Italy open, Giannini set off to tell the people about his new bank. Traveling to neighborhoods, talking to people on the street, and creating uproar in the banking community, as they considered soliciting banking services unethical. However, as history shows, his work paid off.
The Bank of Italy not only catered to the working class, but also to industries that many other banks had little promise, and refused to give loans. He helped jump start California's now flourshing wine industry, and supported many Hollywood ventures. United Artists was created when in 1923 he created a motion picture loan division and also gave a loan to Walt Disney when Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs went $2 million over budget.
He and his bank gained high prestige early on when the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake struck. Following the inital destruction, he immediately went to the destroyed bank, and borrowing a produce wagon, took $2 million worth of coins, securities, etc. in the bank and went home. He also helped the city's reconstruction by forcing other banks to stay open despite the damage because he had set up a simple desk near the city's docks and continued with business.
In 1919 he created the Bancitaly Corporation to launch new branches througout California, and in 1928, created the TransAmerica Corporation as a holding company with interests in financia services. It was also that same year that he would purchase the Bank of America in New York City.
By 1930, Giannini decided to retire to Europe and left the reigns of his company to his chosen sucessor. However, following the Great Depression his company shifted focus and feeling betrayed, he regained control. It also included a 1932 proxy fight where he went door-to-door to encourage people to vote for him. After taking back control, Giannini quickly consolidated AmericaCorp's California holdings under the Bank of America name until the company was broken up a few years after Giannini's death in on June 3rd, 1949.
At his death, America's greatest banker was only worth less than $500,000 although he could have been a very rich man, he thought he would loose touch with the people he helped if he did so.