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We study the decisions of state-chartered banks to join the Fed in its first decade. Ours is the first study to combine state regulatory environment characteristics and individual bank characteristics to explain Fed membership choice. Regulatory environments that reduced the benefit of discount window access or increased the regulatory cost of joining the Fed led to fewer banks joining. Individual bank characteristics that affected the magnitude of benefits from accessing the discount window (either passing on liquidity risk reduction to respondents or reducing the member bank’s own seasonal liquidity risk) were even more important in determining which banks joined.
I believe that, through the Federal Reserve Banks, … the better shall we be equipped to cope with the problems ahead of us, of helping ourselves and of helping the world; I believe it to be the duty of every bank in the country to contribute its share in equipping our nation for this task; … I firmly believe that the future will belong to those banks—national or state—that are members of the Federal Reserve System.
—Paul Warburg, Speech at the New York State Bankers’ Association Convention, 9 June 1916
Seeking to reach the unbanked, the US Postal Savings System provided a federally insured savings alternative to traditional banks. Using novel data sets on postal deposits, demographic characteristics, and banks, we study how and by whom the system was used. We find the program was initially used by nonfarming immigrant populations for short-term saving, then as a safe haven during the Great Depression, and finally as long-term investments for the wealthy during the 1940s. Postal Savings was only a partial substitute for traditional banks, as locations with banks often still heavily used Postal Savings.
Financial network structure is an important determinant of systemic risk. This article examines how the U.S. interbank network evolved over a long and important period that included two key events: the founding of the Federal Reserve and the Great Depression. Banks established connections to correspondents that joined the Federal Reserve in cities with Fed offices, initially reducing overall network concentration. The network became even more focused on Fed cities during the Depression, as survival rates were higher for banks with more existing connections to Fed cities, and as survivors established new connections to those cities over time.
This article creates a new database that covers all U.S. banks in the census years between 1870 and 1900 to test the interaction between inequality and financial development when the banking system was starting over from scratch. A fixed-effects panel regression shows that the number of banks per thousand people in the South has a strong positive relationship with the size of farm operations. This suggests that large southern farm operators welcomed new banks after the Civil War. When the analysis is extended into the 1900s, the relationship becomes more negative, as bankers may have tried to block entrants.
We use a novel data set spanning 1820–1910 to assess the factors leading to the creation of formal bank supervisory institutions across American states. We show that it took more than a century for all states to create separate agencies tasked with monitoring the safety and soundness of banks. State legislatures initially pursued cheaper regulatory alternatives, such as double liability laws; however, banking distress at the state level as well as the structural shift from note-issuing to deposit-taking commercial banks and competition with national banks propelled policymakers to adopt costly and permanent supervisory institutions.
Studies have shown a connection between finance and growth, but most do not consider how financial and real factors interact to put a virtuous cycle of economic development into motion. As the main transportation advance of the nineteenth century, railroads connected established commercial centers and made unsettled areas along their routes better candidates for development. We measure the strength of links between railroads and banks in seven Midwest states using an annual transportation geographic information system (GIS) database linked to a census of banking. These data indicate that those counties that already had a bank were more likely to see their first railroad go through over the next decade, while new banks tended to enter a county a year or two after a railroad was built. The initial banking system thus helped establish the rail system, while the rapid expansion of railroads helped fill in the banking map of the American Midwest.
The passage of the National Banking Acts stabilized the existing financial system and encouraged the entry of 729 banks between 1863 and 1866. These new banks concentrated in the area that would eventually become the Manufacturing Belt. Using a new bank census, the article shows that these changes to the financial system were a major determinant of the geographic distribution of manufacturing and the nation's sudden capital deepening. The entry not only resulted in more manufacturing capital and output at the county level, but also more steam engines and value added at the establishment level.
Bank notes were the largest component of the antebellum money supply despite losses as high as 5 percent in some years. Using a comprehensive bank-level panel of note discounts in New York City and Philadelphia, I explain this contradiction by showing that the secondary market reduced losses by accurately discounting notes based on their individual risk of default. Note discounts were almost exclusively sensitive to those factors which increased a bank's probability of default: specie suspensions, falling bond prices, and undiversified portfolios. Thus, by accounting for a bank's composition and environment, the market protected noteholders and allowed notes to circulate throughout the economy.
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