CONTEXT

August 1, 2010

il primo

This first of the month is full of firsts:

Martin Francois Tielemans: Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), 1829

In 1785, Caroline Herschel is the first woman to discover a comet. She was the sister of  William Herschel – the astronomer, not the great fingerprinter.

Her brother took her away from their parents in Germany, brought her to England, and let her serve as his housekeeper and then astronomy assistant.  But Caroline did some observing on her own and ultimately identified no fewer than eight comets.

In 1858, the first street mailboxes were put up in Boston.  Before that, you had to go to a post office.

In 1867, for the first time, African-Americans were able to vote – in Tennessee, as it happens.

Photo: Courtesy Cable Car Museum

In 1873, the San Francisco cable cars had their first trial run. The cable cars, the only ones in the world still operational, are the only transportation system listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The photo records the event.

Although I read that among the many firsts on this date was the opening of the first branch of the Bank of Italy in San Francisco, I suspect that that is not quite accurate.  As everyone knows, the Bank of Italy, created by Amadeo Giannini, started in a San Francisco saloon in 1904.  Banks then – as now – didn’t really like dealing with actual people.  They liked the institutional aspects of banking.  So Giannini found a niche market of everyday folks.

Early Bank of Italy building.

After the great earthquake of 1906, banks couldn’t open.  The heat from the fires that swept the city had melted the vaults and banks had to wait weeks for things to cool down.  But Giannini got hold of some cash, set a plank across two barrels in the street and started lending to small businesses so they could rebuild.  He did business with a handshake and liked to recall years later that all those loans were repaid.

Don’t you miss the days when bankers stood in the street and offered loans?

Anyway, Giannini prospered and merged with a North Carolina bank, took its name, and now the Bank of Italy is the largest bank in the world – Bank of America.

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1 Comment »

  1. and of course America is also the name of the Italian that paid for part of columbus’s expedition so we go all the name way around America

    Comment by avery zia — August 3, 2010 @ 8:28 pm | Reply


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