Bank of Delaware records1812-1816 1839-1974
The Bank of Delaware was a statewide financial services company that was organized on June 1, 1795. It received its original charter on February 9, 1796, becoming the first bank in and of the State of Delaware. In 1865 it received a national charter under the National Banking Act and was renamed the National Bank of Delaware at Wilmington. It operated under this name until its 1930 failure and subsequent acquisition by the Security Trust Company. The name "Bank of Delaware" was revived by the successor company in 1958. The Bank of Delaware's holding company was merged into PNC Financial Corp. in 1989. The Bank of Delaware collection consists of minute books, stock certificate books, letter books, journals, and ledgers of the Bank of Delaware and nine of its predecessor, merged, and acquired financial institutions.
- Bank of Delaware (Organization)
123 Linear Feet
The Bank of Delaware was a statewide financial services company organized on June 1, 1795. It received its original charter on February 9, 1796, becoming the first bank in and of the State of Delaware. In 1865 it received a national charter under the National Banking Act and was renamed the National Bank of Delaware at Wilmington. It operated under this name until its 1930 failure and subsequent acquisition by the Security Trust Company. The name "Bank of Delaware" was revived by the successor company in 1958. The Bank of Delaware's holding company merged into PNC Financial Corp. in 1989.
Bank of Delaware's history follows the statewide pattern of establishing differing and specialized classes of banks, their proliferation throughout the state, and finally, the combination of these independent banks through merger and acquisition into large, statewide, multi-service banking institutions.
The late nineteenth-century incorporation of this first bank places Delaware at the forefront of the new American states' economic activity. The state chartering of a bank (as opposed to creating a private pool) expresses the semi-public character (similar to that of utility companies) that banks had in this period and the consequent interest the several governments had in their creation and control. State banks were to return a profit to their investors/shareholders; more importantly, at least in a historical sense, they were to perform the public role of furnishing an increased and relatively secure medium of exchange, a safe place of deposit for capitalists, and ultimately to aid and abet general economic growth. These activities benefited the investors, the state, and citizens (as represented by the legislature).
The Bank of Delaware, conceived, organized, chartered, and managed by leading Wilmington businessmen, was a mercantile, currency regulating, and stabilizing financial institution. Subsequently, in 1807, Delaware became a strong partner in the second bank is chartered, the Farmers' Bank, charging that bank to provide the more localized lending functions on land and real property lacking in this currency circulating and credit facilitating character of the Bank of Delaware.
If the first step in creating a banking system was to create a mercantile bank and the second one to form a "land" bank with strong lending responsibilities, then the third was to charter local banks to serve a state's growing population and economy. Such often, small town or country banks followed the population into areas of rapid growth to encourage and enable economic growth by providing home and business loans, depository services, protecting borrowers from usurers, and inculcating habits of punctuality among debtors. Due to a public desire for local ownership and administration of banks, these services were, for the most part, only provided by local banks; Delaware was one of the few states to permit, and to do so on generous terms, branch banking offices. However, even in this state, each branch had to be specially authorized by the state, dependent upon the proof of need. The modern Bank of Delaware comprised both classes of banks - those that were independent one office local banks (e.g., those at Millsboro and Odessa) and those that opened with at least one branch (the Commercial Bank of Delaware and the Bank of Smyrna).
The next significant stage in the development of the banking industry in Delaware was brought about by federal action. In the final years of the Civil War (1864), the controversial National Bank Act was passed under the guise of being necessary to carry out the war effort. The intent was to impose order on the chaotic situation with the nationwide proliferation of banks, each issuing its own notes. National charters were given to banks to prove a need for their existence and demonstrate "proper character" and intent. These banks were then required to maintain a minimum reserve concerning deposits, only issue bank notes backed by United States bonds, and were forced to adhere to minimum capital requirements. In 1865, the act was reinforced by imposing a ten percent tax on banknotes issued by the state banks. The immediate effect was to cause a number of those banks with large mercantile and note-issuing businesses to convert to national charters. The records of the Bank of Delaware reveal several such instances, most notably perhaps the rechartered and renamed National Bank of Delaware at Wilmington.
The final quarter of the nineteenth century introduced a new class of financial activity to Delaware yet: the trust company. Trust companies were designed to hold and administer money, investments, and real property in a disinterested and corporate manner in "trust" for an individual or corporate entity. Trust Companies acted as the receiver and trustee in bankruptcy cases and under some charters to grant annuities and insure both lives and titles to land.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the distinctions between trust companies and banks blurred. Trust companies were opening savings departments to provide savings bank services to non-laborers and banks, assuming safe deposit activities, accepting trust accounts, and creating trust departments. Again, as will be seen within the histories of the Security Trust Company (1885) and the Equitable Trust Company (1889), the modern Bank of Delaware has drawn together several banks that exemplify this heritage.
A separate but related facet of the developing financial industry in Delaware was that of the building and loan institution. The Bank of Delaware did not contain any institution formed specifically as a building and loan; it did contain banks (e.g., the Commercial Trust Co.) that functioned in that manner following a "mission" of promoting the local economy through the provision of funds for building homes or small businesses. This genre of an institution is further related to the country bank in serving a local population; it is different only in that the audience was an urban, class, and/or ethnic "neighborhood" rather than a rural community.
In the years after World War II, the funds required to establish a business, build a house or, more likely, undertake a new and expensive corporate project or building development increased dramatically. The system of small, closely-held local banks with restricted credit facilities proved insufficient to meet this demand. Further, as the decades progressed and technological developments permitted centralized handlings of numbers of accounts and communication with far-flung offices, the economies of scale became apparent. The result was the acquisition of independent local banks and their transformation into the branch offices of large city banks; the merging of institutions with complementary areas of expertise or fields of activity, and the creation of statewide financial services companies as the Bank of Delaware, the parts of which were:
The predecessor merged and acquired financial institutions of the Bank of Delaware represented in this collection each have separate historical notes at the series level of this finding aid.
Scope and Contents
The Bank of Delaware collection consists of minute books, stock certificate books, letter books, journals, and ledgers of the Bank of Delaware and nine of its predecessor, merged, and acquired financial institutions. Included are records of the Central National Bank of Wilmington (1885-1951), Commercial Bank of Delaware (1812-1836), Commercial Trust Company (1921-1974), Equitable Trust Company (1889-1954), First National Bank of Seaford (1865-1959), Millsboro Trust Company (1907-1970), National Bank of Delaware at Wilmington (1795-1930), National Bank of Smyrna (1821-1957), New Castle County Bank of Odessa (1835-1956) and the Security Trust Company (1885-1954).
The records represent a wide variety of financial service companies, including commercial banks, trust companies, country banks, neighborhood banks, and building and loan companies. They document the economic development of Delaware in general and the cities of Wilmington, Smyrna, and Odessa in particular. The impact on banking in Delaware of the Great Depression and the financial collapse of the 1930s is well described.
The records also document the role of the banks in financing and acting as transfer agents for several Delaware companies, including Bancroft, Curtis, Bellanca Aircraft, the Tobacco Products Corp., and the Diocese of Delaware. The records of the downstate banks include some information on local industries like oyster packing. There are also records of the trust fund of Alice du Pont Buck (1891-1967) and the Eugene du Pont estate.
The records of the Equitable Trust Company include admittance registers from the Home for Aged Women (1864-1908). The registers contain a name, age, date and place of birth, signature or mark of the woman admitted, household goods and/or amount of money transferred to the home. The records show that some of these women had no families or were placed in the institution by their children. There are also cash books from St. Michael's Home for Babies, which are not attributed to any one bank.
There is a detailed description in the scope and content note for each series.
No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.
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- Bank of Delaware (Organization)
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- Bank of Delaware records
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- 2021: Encoded by Angela Schad