Abstract: Rogue Bankers and Gentlemanly Capitalists: American Foreign Banking, 1890-1913

Peter James Hudson


In this paper I examine the international extension of American banking during the decades before 1913, the year the Federal Reserve Act permitted national banking associations to establish foreign branches. It revisits the histories of and the debates surrounding the formation of two early foreign banking institutions: first, the Pan-American Bank, a never-realized international banking institution that was called for by the delegates of the 1890 Pan-American Financial Conference in Washington, D.C.; second, the International Banking Corporation, chartered in Connecticut in 1902 and its New York affiliate, the American Bank. The paper demonstrates how bankers sought to create a new institutional or organizational form that could operate across the hybrid, plural, and uneven legal environment of international finance. It shows how these institutions found ways around the constraints of both federal and state regulation to establish a foreign presence. And, by unearthing the biographies of the clerks, examiners, and managers sent out into the foreign field, the "rogue bankers" who were the first generation of American international banking personnel, I show how financial intermediation across national borders was facilitated and brokered by a small network "on the ground." The experiences of these rogue bankers and of those early U.S. international financial institutions, I argue, would prove critical to the wave of foreign banking expansion that occurred following 1913.