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"The best way to fight an enemy is head on- and out in the open."
|The Baker family of New York had a major influence on American
banking and finance during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The patriarch of the family, George Fisher Baker, Sr., was a founder and president of the First National Bank of New York, later known
as Citibank. George F. Baker was also a noted philanthropist, and subsequent generations of the Baker Family continued a tradition of charitable
activity, especially in the field of education.
George Fisher Baker Sr. was born in 1840 in Troy, New York to Eveline Stevens and George Ellis Baker. He was the first of three children with two sisters, Martha Elizabeth and Eva Frances following. His father grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts and moved to Troy, New York finding work as a shoe store clerk and marrying Eveline Stevens. Having built enough capital and experience in Troy, the senior Baker moved his family to Brooklyn, New York and set up a shoe shop in Manhattan. During this period, George Ellis Baker made the acquaintance of Horace Greeley, owner and publisher of the New York Tribune. GEB wrote articles for the Tribune and realizing he was not much of a businessman, sold his shoe business and moved his family to Williamsburg where he became the village clerk and commissioner of deeds. In 1851 he was elected to represent Williamsburg in the New York Assembly. Through his political connections and friendship with Horace Greeley, New York Senator William Henry Seward invited Baker to be his personal secretary in 1853. He served this role for two years cementing political alliances, writing speeches for Seward and editing Seward's works. In 1855, Baker was appointed private secretary to New York Governor Myron Holley Clark. He served this role in 1855 and 1856.
As a child, George F. Baker, Sr. spent many summer months at his grandmother's Dedham farm with his uncle Fisher Ames Baker. Fisher was only three years older than George and they developed a very close bond. While the Baker family was living in Albany, New York, George F. Baker, Sr. was educated at the S.S. Seward Institute in Florida, New York, a boarding school founded by William Henry Seward's father. At the age of 16, he began working in the Banking Department of the State of New York as the junior most clerk. Baker proved to be one of the department's most efficient clerks and also one of the highest paid. At the outbreak of the Civil War, New York Governor Edwin D. Morgan appointed him Assistant Military Secretary, and for six months Baker served in the executive department attending meetings and taking the minutes. He returned to the Banking Department after his six month service having made important connections with men that would shape
his future decisions. In 1863, at the age of 23, he invested $3,000 to become an original shareholder and employee of the First National Bank of New York along with John Thompson, and his sons Samuel C. Thompson and Frederick Ferris Thompson. John Thompson had established, Thompson Brothers a New York brokerage firm in 1857. The Thompson's were well known to Baker; John Thompson had conducted business with Baker when he was traveled to Albany and Samuel had served on Governor Clark's staff with Baker's father. Frederick had married Gov. Clark's daughter, Mary Clark, who was a close friend and playmate of Baker during their childhood, when both were in Albany.
The First National Bank of New York opened for business July 25, 1863 with Samuel Thompson as president, James Curphey, formerly of Thompson Brothers as cashier, and George F. Baker as paying teller. The bank opened with only $200,000 capital. The government needed money to fund the war effort and looked favorably on the First National bank to handle its business. Between 1863 and 1864 Baker made frequent trips to Washington to confer with politicians regarding government bonds and deposits of which the government trusted to the First National Bank. By April 1864, the First National Bank had increased it's capital to $500,000 paying out bank shares and dividends to stockholders. Baker increased his share holdings each time the bank issued more stock. Baker's sound judgement and political connections drew favorable opinions from Washington and especially Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury. In January 1865, Baker was promoted from paying teller to assistant cashier. Three months later, he was appointed cashier.
The Civil War and years following were prosperous for the First National Bank; however, many facets of the economy were stretched thin due to liberal bond floating and general inflation. In 1872 the bank had deposits totaling more than $5 million dollars with net profits exceeding $280,000. When Jay Cooke & Co. declared bankruptcy in September 1873 people began to withdraw their money leading to a run on the banks. George F. Baker and the First National Bank of New York kept paying out the withdrawals to foster and ensure confidence. He believed that if banks united and paid out money, the panic would end. The failure of Jay Cooke & Co. impacted the First National Bank of New York from a personnel perspective. Harris C. Fahnestock, James A. Garland, and Francis O. French, all former employees of Jay Cooke, were hired by the First National. Fahnestock became Vice President, Garland 2nd Vice President and French, Director. Three of the smartest bankers in New York, now working for the First National along with George F. Banker, weathered the financial storm in the aftermath of the Panic of 1873. With the retirement of Samuel C. Thompson in 1877, George F. Baker was unanimously elected President. That year the bank had a net profit of more than $750,000. Baker's role as President of the First National Bank of New York kept him in close contact with many politicians in Washington D.C. He was frequently meeting with the Secretary of the Treasury and other high ranking finance officials about government bonds and deposits with the First National Bank of New York. At one point during 1879, government deposits totaled more than $200 million dollars.
As Baker's influence at the First National Bank of New York increased, so did the amount of time he spent on his own personal ventures. He was elected trustee of Mutual Life Insurance Company and began investing in railroads. In 1885 or 1886, he led a group of investors in slowly acquiring stock in the Central Railroad of New Jersey. After buying the majority of the company shares and improving the company three consecutive years, the railroad was financially viable and returning dividends to its' investors. Baker instituted a policy of careful incremental improvements including new track and equipment and updated time schedules. In 1901, Baker sold his shares in the Central Railroad of New Jersey to J. Pierpont Morgan for $23 million dollars. 1901 was a fantastically prosperous year for financiers and Baker played a major role. The US Steel Company purchased control of the Carnegie Corporation from Andrew Carnegie and a combined trio of Baker, James J. Hill and J.P. Morgan won control of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The First National Bank of New York increased its capital from $500 thousand dollars to $10 million dollars and absorbed the National Bank of the Republic and its' $25 million capital.
In 1869, George F. Baker Sr. married Florence Tucker Baker, of no relation. They welcomed their first child, Eva, in 1870, a daughter Florence, in 1876 who they called "Queenie", and son George Fisher, Jr., born in 1878. George F. Baker Jr. graduated from Harvard College in 1899 and moved back to New York City. He took a job as a runner or messenger with the First National Bank, a position he held for a few months before taking a similar job with J.P. Morgan & Company. He continued working for J.P. Morgan until 1901, when he returned to First National as assistant cashier. He would later be elected Vice-President of the Bank in 1906. Baker Jr. was an avid sailor and had the steam yacht Viking commissioned and built in 1909. He spent many vacations on the yacht cruising with friends and family to the Caribbean and Mediterranean. That same year George F. Baker Sr. retired as President of the First National Bank of New York and was elected Chairman of the Board. Baker Sr. had spent more than forty years with the First National and he was ready to leave the day to day responsibilities to his son, George F. Baker Jr., who was now Vice-President and Director. In 1911, Baker Jr. and Edith Brevoort Kane married in Tuxedo Park, New York.
In 1913, Baker Sr. and his powerful financier friends were called to Washington D.C. to testify in front of the US Congress as part of an investigation lead by Louisiana Congressman Arsene P. Pujo and the House Committee on Banking and Currency into the so called money trust. The money trust was a term coined to describe a group of powerful Wall Street bankers who some thought controlled the finances of the nation. The Pujo Committee received a lot of newspaper press and the stress contributed to the death of J.P. Morgan.
After the death of Florence Tucker Baker in 1913, George F. Baker Sr. turned to philanthropy.
He donated money in 1916 for the construction of Baker Court, a group of residency halls, and in 1919 donated a fund to construct the Baker Chemical Laboratory at Cornell University. He donated money for the Baker athletic fields at Columbia University and to build Baker Library at Dartmouth College in honor of his uncle Fisher Ames Baker, class of 1859. He also donated some of his art collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which he had purchased on his many trips through Europe.In 1924, Baker planned to donate a million dollars to fund the construction of the Harvard Business School campus, but after his initial thought changed his mind. He thought a donation of five million dollars to build the entire campus would be more appropriate. The campus was completed in 1927 and eighty-seven year old George F. Baker Sr. and his son attended the school's dedication on June 4 receiving a standing applause from the nearly 4000 people in attendance.
The library on the Harvard
Business School campus was named Baker Library in his honor.
George Jr. spent the later part of his life cruising to the Caribbean and Mediterranean on his steam powered yacht, the Viking II. He died while sailing across the Pacific Ocean in 1937.
George F. Baker, Jr's will established the George F. Baker Trust,
which funded educational programs, specifically the Baker Scholar
award. This award is still given to business students who represent
academic excellence, superior character, integrity and motivation.
George Baker III, 66, Financier and Pilot, Is Presumed Dead
The foundation carrying the family name was created under the
will of his son, Mr. Baker's grandfather, and was established in