ANCHORAGE CHAMBER CENTENNIAL KICK-OFF! - #7 - A Race To Open The First Bank In Anchorage

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A race to open the first bank in Anchorage

By Wells Fargo Bank Alaska

Wells Fargo Bank

Bank of Alaska President Andrew Stevenson was a man on a mission. He was determined to open the first bank in Anchorage and establish an Alaska branch banking network.

On March 31, 1916, a mere 11 days after founding the bank in Skagway, Stevenson got wind of the construction of a railroad bringing an estimated 15,000 people to the frontier boom town of Anchorage in the impending summer months.

Stevenson also heard that Anchorage merchants Brown and Hawkins were vying to establish a bank of their own to complement their successful general mercantile business in town. The race to open Anchorage’s first bank was on.

On April 22, shortly after learning that the port of Anchorage was ice-free, Stevenson announced Bank of Alaska’s decision to open a branch in Anchorage. As one Anchorage man told Stevenson, “The businessmen here, and the public as a whole, are glad to see a new bank come in, especially a bank that is not connected with the merchandising business.”

Stevenson employed physician Julius Westermann as his point man to embark on a “moderately rough” steamship voyage (as described by SS Alameda ship officers) from Skagway to Anchorage with a portable steel building, large safe, an adding machine, and other supplies on board.

As soon as he set foot in Anchorage, Dr. Westermann leased a lot on the corner of Fourth Avenue and E Street – directly across from the Brown and Hawkins Store. He worked with highly-regarded merchant A.A. “Double A” Shonbeck, Bank of Alaska’s first and largest Anchorage business customer, to build the corrugated steel, 14-foot by 20-foot, “office building” in only three days.

On May 18, 1916, Bank of Alaska welcomed Anchorage customers as the first bank in the community, beating Brown and Hawkins’ Bank of Anchorage by just two days. As soon as Westermann opened the doors, the Anchorage office would be the busiest branch of Bank of Alaska.

Despite its initial success, Bank of Alaska was on the doorsteps of collapse in 1918 due to sour loans and poor economic conditions with the onset of World War I.

Enter Swedish immigrant and lauded bank attorney, minister and teacher E.A. Rasmuson. Under Rasmuson’s principled guidance, Bank of Alaska would rebuild its reputation, and its capital, to become the strongest financial institution in Alaska. In 1925, Bank of Alaska purchased the struggling Bank of Anchorage for approximately $3,000.

Over the next eight decades, the Rasmuson family would realize Stevenson’s branch banking vision, establishing 50 branches serving customers in 29 Alaska communities from Ketchikan to Barrow. In the summer of 2000, National Bank of Alaska merged with Wells Fargo & Company, marking the return of the stagecoach to The Last Frontier after an 82-year hiatus.   

Much has changed in the Alaska banking industry over the last century. From Wells Fargo agents delivering gold by dog sled over the rugged Iditarod trail, to instantaneous money transfers with the swipe of a finger on your mobile device.

However, one thing remains. Wells Fargo is committed to helping every Alaskan family, in every Alaskan community, achieve financial success.  



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