The bank that helped St. Louis survive and thrive

When St. Louis was a young city with a struggling working class, Boatmen’s Savings Institution, a Bank of America heritage bank, helped the city to strengthen and grow.

Bank of America’s oldest heritage bank west of the Mississippi, originally known as Boatmen’s Savings Institution, helped the young, struggling city of St. Louis to strengthen its working class. As a result, St. Louis not only survived but grew despite numerous disasters that marked its early history, including a cholera outbreak that killed 6 percent of the city's population, the Great St. Louis Fire that destroyed 23 steamers and at least 430 buildings, and a financial crisis related to the start of the Civil War.

When St. Louis was a new city with an uncertain future, a wealthy financier landed on its shores and decided to call it home. In 1835, George Knight Budd brought his family to St Louis along with a store of merchandise from his travels in South America and the Mediterranean. After a few years, Budd formed a financial institution, one of the first in the city, with business partner Andrew Park. The firm, Budd & Park, earned Budd a prominent place in the community and eventually aided his entry into public service when he was elected to city council in 1846.

It was there that Budd learned of the struggles of the working class in St Louis, many of whom were boatmen on the Mississippi. He saw that many of the boatmen were drinking and gambling their money away, rather than saving and investing it for their families and their future. Driven by his desire to help, Budd started Boatmen’s Savings Institution, a bank designed to help the industrial and working classes, rather than cater to commercial enterprise. It was to be the first independent bank in the state of Missouri and, as such, encountered opposition from bureaucrats who wanted to protect the state’s control of the commercial banking business. The bureaucrats argued that a private bank would compete with Missouri’s commercial bank and pointed out that the Missouri legislature had shot down dozens of petitions from other people who wanted to start private, noncommercial banks.

Budd reasoned that the future of the city was at risk when its working class was not able to achieve financial independence. He argued that the entire city would benefit because welfare and charitable needs would be reduced. With an independent bank, a system would be put in place that would direct working people’s money into more productive assets like homes and durable goods, and investment capital would be generated for St. Louis.

The Missouri legislature was sold on the idea and Boatmen’s Savings Institution opened for business on October 18, 1847. Banking days were Monday through Friday, though Fridays were set aside for "the female community.” Budd created this time for women in an effort to help ensure that some of their husbands’ pay would be saved before it was squandered over the weekend. This helped the bank to grow rapidly in 1847 and get the city’s working class on stronger financial footing.

This legacy of supporting community and strengthening the working class has grown into what Bank of America is today—a global enterprise with a local focus.

Visit one of our Heritage Centers for an up close look at this and other stories from our bank’s history. Learn more