You were a big bank...


Article Highlights

  • Of the 10 biggest US banks in 1981, only two still exist as independent companies

    Tweet This

  • "You were a big bank / Blink and now you're gone!"

    Tweet This

  • As Schumpeter rightly said, "Capitalism not only never is, but never can be, stationary."

    Tweet This

Here are some words to the tune of John Philip Sousa’s “Liberty Bell March,” written by a long-time friend and banking colleague, which reflect the banking history of the last few decades. They begin:

          You were a big bank,
          Blink and now you’re gone!

And here is the list of the 10 biggest banks by total assets in the United States in 1981, in order:

  •  Bank of America, San Francisco
  •  Citibank, New York
  •  Chase Manhattan, New York
  •  Manufacturers Hanover, New York
  •  Morgan Guaranty, New York
  •  Chemical Bank, New York
  •  Bankers Trust, New York
  •  Continental Illinois, Chicago
  •  First National Bank of Chicago
  •  Security Pacific, Los Angeles

Of the 10, only two still exist as independent companies.

These are Citibank, which has in the meantime been bailed out by the government, and Chemical Bank. Although the name “Chemical Bank” no longer exists, that is the bank which acquired Manufacturers Hanover, Chase Manhattan, and Morgan Guaranty—the whole thing then had its name changed to JPMorgan Chase, neither of which were surviving companies.

The Bank of America on the list was in its day the big California bank, which got bought by NationsBank of North Carolina, which changed its name to Bank of America.

Bankers Trust, Continental Illinois, First National of Chicago, and Security Pacific are long gone, all absorbed into other banks.

In 1981, these 10 banks represented 10 prestigious CEOs and 10 prestigious boards of directors. Now there are two of each.

As the great economist Joseph Schumpeter rightly said, “Capitalism not only never is, but never can be, stationary.”

Alex J. Pollock is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author


Alex J.

What's new on AEI

Defeating ISIS: AEI experts weigh-in before the president’s address on Wednesday
image Degrading, defeating, and destroying the Islamic State
image Wealth Building Home Loan: Building wealth through homeownership and retirement savings
image The $3 iPhone
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
Tuesday, September 16, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
The Constitution as political theory

Please join us for the third-annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture as James Ceasar, Harry F. Byrd Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, explores some of the Constitution’s most significant contributions to political theory, focusing on themes that have been largely unexamined in current scholarship.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 | 8:10 a.m. – Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 1:30 p.m.
Third international conference on housing risk: New risk measures and their applications

We invite you to join us for this year’s international conference on housing risk — cosponsored by the Collateral Risk Network and AEI International Center on Housing Risk — which will focus on new mortgage and collateral risk measures and their applications.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 2:15 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Speaker of the House John Boehner on resetting America’s economic foundation

Please join us as Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) delivers his five-point policy vision to reset America’s economy.

Event Registration is Closed
Friday, September 19, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Reforming Medicare: What does the public think?

Please join us as a panel of distinguished experts explore the implications of the report and the consumer role in shaping the future of Medicare.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.