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By: Bill Medley

Highways of Commerce
Central Banking and The U.S. Payments System

By: Bill Medley

Highways of Commerce

Central Banking and The U.S.
Payments System
Published by the Public Affairs Department of
the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City
1 Memorial Drive • Kansas City, MO 64198
Diane M. Raley, publisher
Lowell C. Jones, executive editor
Bill Medley, author
Casey McKinley, designer
Cindy Edwards, archivist
All rights reserved, Copyright © 2014 Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise,
without the prior consent of the publisher.
First Edition, July 2014

The Highways of Commerce •


Chapter One



A Calculus of Chaos: Commerce in Early America

Chapter Two


“Order out of Confusion:” The Suffolk Bank

Chapter Three


“A New Era:” The Clearinghouse

Chapter Four


“A Famine of Currency:” The Panic of 1907

Chapter Five


“The Highways of Commerce:” The Road to a Central Bank

Chapter Six
“A problem…of great novelty:” Building a New Clearing System

Chapter Seven
Bank Robbers and Bolsheviks: The Par Clearance Controversy

Chapter Eight
“A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper:” The Rise of Banking Automation

Chapter Nine
Control and Competition: The Monetary Control Act

Chapter Ten


The Fed’s Air Force: A Plan for the Future

Chapter Eleven
Disruption and Evolution: The Development of Check 21

Chapter Twelve


Banks vs. Merchants: The Durbin Amendment

The Path Ahead

Sources and Selected Bibliography
Photo Credits



Contents •



As Congress undertook the task of designing a central bank for the United States in 1913,
it was clear that lawmakers intended for the new institution to play a key role in improving the
performance of the nation’s payments system. At the time, payments were largely dependent
on the movement of checks between disconnected—and often distant—financial institutions.
The process of clearing and settling was risky, slow, costly and insufficient to meet the demands
of a large, growing country.
The day before the Federal Reserve Act was signed into law, Rep. Carter Glass of Virginia
compared the flow of payments in the economy to “highways of commerce.” Glass used this
metaphor to illustrate how the Federal Reserve, through a number of regional Reserve Banks
located across the country, would provide currency to fuel the economy and serve as the hub of
a national clearing network for checks.
Technology has progressed dramatically since then, sparking innovations with the
potential to offer consumers and businesses better ways to pay. Over the past century of this
evolution, Congress has repeatedly turned to the Federal Reserve to ensure these payments
improvements are universally available and that the system remains safe and secure. No
other institution—public or private—has that responsibility. It is a dynamic that tends to
surface prominently during crisis events. It is appropriate that the central bank exercise its
leadership as a retail payments regulator and network operator to ensure it is meeting this
public expectation.
The following pages tell the history of the Federal Reserve’s involvement in the U.S.
payments system, beginning with a largely free-market system in New England during the 19th
century, to the decades-long battle over interchange fees assessed on card transactions, to the
present discussions over the Federal Reserve’s vision and roadmap for a faster and more secure
system. This history is not all-inclusive, but it is intended to provide context to the key events
and issues that inform the Federal Reserve’s future role in this critical mission area.

Esther L. George
President and Chief Executive Officer
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City
July 2014
Foreword •


This cartoon from the early 1800s includes a caricature of Philadelphia banker Stephen Girard.
A gold coin is floating in front of the banker, who states he must collect specie to pay his debts “or the
game would be up at once.” The satirical drawing reflects the suspicion many had of banks during
the post-Revolutionary era.

Chapter One

A Calculus of Chaos

Commerce in early America

In early 19th century America, paper money was easy to come by, but not so easy to use.
The currency of the time was issued by private banks, and each banknote represented
a promise by the issuing bank to exchange the note for an equal amount of gold or silver,
known as specie, to anyone who redeemed the note in person at the bank’s counter. But
using this currency also forced merchants, consumers, workers and bankers to perform a
chaotic daily calculus.
Bank charters issued by state legislatures came with a license to print money, and
banks exercised this right fully. In the wake of the War of 1812, nearly 200 banks across the
United States were printing their own currency, and by 1825, the number of banks issuing
notes grew to more than 700. Soon, railroads, canal builders, insurance companies and
other private businesses, with the blessings of state politicians, added their own notes to the
growing pool of currency circulating throughout the country.
Using cash was not as simple as handing over a piece of paper in return for a good
or service. For consumers and merchants who might come across notes from dozens of
different institutions in the course of their daily business, paying with currency required
everyone involved to consider a series of questions: What bank issued this note? Where was
the bank located? What kind of financial shape was it in? Was this a real banknote, or a
counterfeit? Could the issuing bank honor its pledge to redeem the note for gold or silver?
Bankers and merchants in major commercial centers, such as Boston, Philadelphia and
New York dealt with this uncertain, risky and inefficient system on a daily basis, and their
experiences were typical of the
structural challenges faced by
others across the new nation.

Coins made from silver and gold
ore, like that seen here, backed the
currency issued by private banks
during the early 19th century.

A Calculus of Chaos •


�e state of commerce in the early 1800s

The lifeblood of trade and finance in early America was the exchange of paper
currency and coins made of precious metals known as “specie.”
While the U.S. Constitution provided that only the federal government could mint
coins, private banks determined individual paper notes’ design, denominations and quantity.
For consumers and merchants who exchanged banknotes from numerous institutions as
they received wages, paid creditors or shopped for goods, the value of an individual note
depended on the issuing bank’s distance, its reputation and its perceived financial condition.
In most major cities, there were essentially two kinds of banknotes: those issued by
banks located in the same city, which circulated at face value, and those issued by rural, or
“country” banks. While the city banknotes were worth their full face value in transactions,
the notes issued by country banks were
generally worth just 95 to 99 cents on
the dollar, a discount that reflected the
risk associated with accepting notes issued by unfamiliar and far-away rural
banks. In fact, the nation’s first bank
failure, in 1809, involved a distant rural bank, and its story was well known
throughout Boston and the rest of
New England.
After recognizing the problems and
risks involved in the nation’s currency
system, Andrew Dexter Jr., the nephew
of a U.S. senator from Massachusetts,
gained control of a small bank in a
remote village in Rhode Island. With
Andrew Dexter Jr. used worthless currency printed by creditors closing in and facing personal
his Rhode Island bank to pay off his debts in Boston. financial ruin from a failing speculative
The scheme unraveled and he fled to Canada. real estate project in Boston, Dexter
ordered his Rhode Island bank to print
notes solely so he could pay his mounting


• A Calculus of Chaos

debts with the bank’s currency. Dexter counted on his bank’s isolated location and distance
from Boston to prevent creditors and others from traveling out of state to redeem the notes for
specie. However, the scheme eventually unraveled, and after Dexter fled to Canada, authorities discovered he had directed his bank’s cashier to print and issue a total of $600,000 in
banknotes, backed by just $86.48 in specie in the bank’s vault.
“Country banks have frequently, if not generally, been established with very little real
capital,” wrote prominent Boston merchant Nathan Appleton, one of the first to catch on
to Dexter’s scheme. “The motive and object in their establishment,” he added, was not “the
investment and employment of capital, but the profit to be derived from the circulation of
bank notes.”

‘Speculators and bloodsuckers’

Appleton’s concerns and views about rural banks and their motives were common
throughout Boston. Rural banks regularly issued their banknotes throughout the city by
making loans to individuals and businesses. The rural institutions would then order their
agents in the city to re-purchase the notes at a discount and continue the cycle by making
new loans. This largely unregulated practice—along with the fact that city dwellers were
unlikely to travel to small, remote locations to redeem rural banknotes for specie—led
many Boston merchants and bankers to accuse rural banks of issuing too many banknotes
and engaging in unsafe practices.
“Many banks were established in remote places, mainly for the purpose of making a
profit on circulation,” wrote D.R. Whitney, a Boston banker. “The more distant they were
from the business centres the more expensive it was to send their [notes] home for redemption,
and the more difficult it was for the general public to know their true financial condition.”
For Appleton and other city merchants, the system of multiple currencies of questionable
values also slowed the gears of commerce. To complete a sale, merchants often had to accept
whatever banknotes their customers offered. When a merchant counted his money at the
end of the day, he had to separate the city banknotes from the country banknotes and then
refer to newspapers and other publications find out the going rate for the country notes
and whether the notes might be counterfeit. The Boston banknotes, which were redeemable at
their full face value, could be deposited into the merchant’s bank account without discount
or redeemed for specie at the issuing banks, if the merchant had time to travel to each
individual institution.
A Calculus of Chaos •


But traveling outside the city to redeem the country banknotes for specie wasn’t a
practical option. Usually, the country banknotes were passed on as wages to workers, used
to settle debts or sold to brokers,
who offered to buy the out-oftown notes at a discount. These
brokers, who also charged a commission for their services, would
then trade them with other brokers or attempt to redeem the
notes in person by traveling to
the country banks themselves.
Meanwhile, people held on to
their city banknotes because they
were more valuable, and they
didn’t circulate as frequently as
a result.
Merchants felt the burden of
this system “most severely,” Apple0
ton wrote. The brokers, whose
commissions were seen as unfair,
were despised by merchants, who
Boston merchant Nathan Appleton voiced concerns about considered them “speculators and
New England’s currency system, especially the banknotes bloodsuckers, whose extirpation
issued by rural banks. would be a public benefit.”
But despite the merchants’ perceptions, the brokers provided a service by agreeing to
assume the risk of the country banknotes for a fee. Banking historian Bray Hammond
noted the brokers, by using their “expert knowledge” of country banknotes, “provided a
useful market for such notes and stabilized the dealings in them.”
The brokers’ job wasn’t easy, either. When they arrived at rural banks to redeem
banknotes for specie, the banks, which had often printed more notes than the gold in their
vaults could back, made the brokers’ task as hard as possible. For example, cashiers made it
a practice to deal with other customers first, counted and recounted the notes presented to
them, exchanged the notes for the smallest possible coins available, and then recounted the


• A Calculus of Chaos


coins again.
“The state of the currency became the subject of general complaint,” Appleton wrote.
“(T)he brokers were denounced as the authors of the mischief and the cause of scarcity of
money, and the country banks made no scruple of throwing every obstacle in the way of
their operations.”
The merchants and bankers of Boston decided they had had enough of the risks and
costs inherent in this system. Seeing an opportunity to cut out the money brokers, and to
lower their own costs, they came up with a plan.

A Calculus of Chaos •


Commerce in Boston during the early 1800s involved banknotes issued by a number of competing
institutions. Notes from city banks were considered sound and usually carried their full face value,
while those from “country” banks were viewed with suspicion and circulated at a discount.

Chapter Two

“Order Out of Confusion”
The Suffolk Bank

As notes from rural banks across New England flooded Boston in 1819, the directors
of the city’s large Suffolk Bank felt they could make a profit for themselves, and oil the gears
of commerce, by opening what amounted to a regional currency clearing system. The Bank
of New England had operated a similar system for a few years in which it accepted country
banknotes from other banks at a discount of 1 percent. The Bank of New England then
assumed the risk of the country banknotes and would attempt to redeem the notes on its own.
Once it started its own clearing business, the Suffolk Bank “at once entered into a
lively competition” with the Bank of New England. The discount on country notes was
cut in half to 0.5 percent, but by 1822, the Suffolk Bank ended the new venture because the
profits were too small.
The brief experiment also had the effect of angering rural banks, which did not welcome
couriers from the Suffolk Bank showing up at their counters to redeem notes for specie. The
small banks’ “animosity…was naturally very much aroused…and much ill-feeling was
engendered,” Boston banker D.R. Whitney noted in the Suffolk Bank’s official history,
printed years later.
At the same time, a bank operating with a congressional charter, the Second Bank of
the United States, was engaged in a similar practice, but on a national level. Among their
goals for the Second Bank, the supporters of the national institution, which opened in
1816, sought to establish a national currency and better manage the credit of the growing
nation. The Second Bank, which had the benefit of being allowed to open branches across
the country, issued its currency by making loans to individuals and businesses and received
state bank notes in the form of deposits from its customers. It could choose to redeem those
notes for specie at the issuing banks to restrain their banknote issuance and provide a check
on credit. This method of affecting the ability of state banks to issue loans and banknotes
eventually proved to be “comprehensive and effectual,” even as it too, became the target of
complaints from other banks.
In Boston, the Suffolk Bank’s absence from the note-clearing business proved to be
brief as pressure from Boston merchants and the Suffolk’s own directors, who “had become
deeply impressed with the evils attending this undue issue of country money,” led it to

Order Out of Confusion •



reconsider its earlier decision to stop clearing banknotes.
The directors also had a specific goal in mind: eliminate the country banknotes that
had flooded the city. One estimate pegged total rural banknote circulation at $7.5 million,
while the total capital of all Boston banks was just $300,000. As the rural banks’ agents lent
notes much more freely, and people tended to hoard the city banknotes rather than spend
them, the Boston bankers felt they were losing out on “much valuable business.”

Residents of Boston gather at Boston Common in the mid-19th century.

The Suffolk Bank proposed that it would accept banknotes at their full face value—
known as “par” value—from banks that agreed to join its system. To join, the Boston banks
had to deposit $5,000 each in specie at the Suffolk Bank. Rural banks could join the system
by depositing $2,000 or more depending on their capital, plus an additional variable deposit
designed to cover any unexpected note redemptions. The member banks would receive no
interest on these deposits, but the Suffolk Bank would accept all their banknotes at face
value, handle sorting duties and make the necessary credits and debits to each institution’s
account under a net settlement system. For merchants, this system proposed to eliminate
inefficiencies; for the Suffolk, the plan had the potential to increase its influence and power
across the region.
But for the rural banks, the proposed system was “like paying for heating a poker to
be thrust through their own bodies.”


• Order Out of Confusion

Beyond requiring a significant deposit of much-needed specie, the Suffolk Bank’s plan
to redeem all notes at face value would cut the rural banks’ profits. If all currency circulated
at par value, the new system threatened to eliminate the rural banks’ practice of lending and
then re-purchasing their own banknotes at a discount.
But the Suffolk Bank was committed to convincing rural banks to join its system, and
it was prepared to see its plan through. The Suffolk purchased rural banknotes at a discount
in Boston and waited until it had collected enough to dispatch a courier to the issuing bank
who would attempt to redeem all of the accumulated notes for specie. For those banks that
had issued more banknotes than their actual specie reserves, this was a threat with potentially
significant consequences that could lead to a loss of bank charter, public embarrassment and
personal financial ruin for the bank’s directors.
The rural banks protested immediately. An agent working for a country bank in
Springfield, Mass.—angry that a Suffolk Bank messenger had traveled to the bank to redeem
$22,600 in notes for specie—went to the Suffolk Bank’s president and “applied some very
abusive remarks,” according to Whitney. The Springfield bank’s agent later apologized “in
so far as (the remarks) were abusive,” but “he would make no other apology satisfactory
to the board, or change his opinion of the action of the bank in its transaction with the
country bank.”

Paper money was often the target of satirical drawings in the 1800s. This depiction includes references
to President Andrew Jackson, who strongly opposed banks.

Other country banks “naturally were very much excited,” Whitney recalled. “In derision,”
they called the Boston banks “the ‘Holy Alliance’” and other names.
But the Suffolk Bank ignored the complaints, and it continued to target resisting rural
institutions by dispatching messengers with demands to redeem banknotes for specie until
Order Out of Confusion •



the small banks gave in and agreed to join the system.
The country banks, Whitney wrote, “soon became convinced that a promise to pay,
printed on the face of a bank-note, meant a promise to pay specie on demand; that such
a demand was likely to be made upon them at any time; and that the associated banks (in
Boston), with the Suffolk as the agent, were not to be frightened or turned out of their
course by sarcastic words.”
One by one, the rural banks throughout Massachusetts accepted the Suffolk’s terms
and joined the system. The Suffolk Bank then moved into other New England states, where
they encountered resistance again. In Maine, bankers complained to their state lawmakers
that after the legislature granted a charter to a new bank, the bank could not open until it
sent a representative to Boston, “and laying down the bags of tribute money at the feet of
the President of the Suffolk Bank, received from him permission and the terms upon which
it may operate.”
Despite the protests, the number of banks that joined the Suffolk system continued
to grow steadily, and by 1838, about 300 banks in New England, nearly all the banks in the
region, had accepted the Suffolk Bank’s terms. “Many of these banks were started with
little or no real capital,” Whitney wrote, adding “the bills of these banks, loaned in violation of
the usury laws at high rates of interest, were used in the wildest speculations.” The Suffolk
Bank wasn’t successful in driving out the rural banknotes from Boston, but the new system
was a clear improvement.
Appleton, the Boston merchant, noted that having currency that circulated at face
value throughout the region eliminated much of the risk of the previous system, and he
proclaimed the country banks “have been obliged to submit in silence.”
The silence, however, was to be short-lived.

Suffolk’s regulatory role

In addition to removing much of the risk and guesswork for Appleton and other
merchants, there were a number of other benefits stemming from the Suffolk system.
Through its ever-present threat to send banknotes back to issuing institutions for specie,
the Suffolk Bank provided a check on a largely unregulated financial system.
While country banks might have profited temporarily by overextending credit or by
issuing too much currency due to “their ignorance of the principles of sound banking,” the
Suffolk Bank stood ready to show them the error of their ways, Whitney wrote.


• Order Out of Confusion

By allowing banks to run overdrafts on their accounts at the Suffolk Bank, and by
threatening to demand payment on those debts or else return notes to the rural banks for
immediate specie redemption, the large Boston institution, in the words of one 19th century
historian, “had a stranglehold on the country banks.”

Banks that issued currency in the 19th century used intricate engravings to distinguish their notes.
This example is from around 1840.

Additionally, the Suffolk could always remove a bank from its system, a move that
“discredited their bills.” Such action would be disastrous for a bank, a financial journalist
wrote at the time, because “being current in Boston inspires confidence in the soundness of
the bank,” and confidence kept a bank’s notes in circulation.
The Suffolk Bank used these threats to regulate its members, and it didn’t hesitate to
warn banks that were treading into dangerous territory by making risky loans with currency
that might not have been backed up by gold or silver. As banking historian Bray Hammond
later wrote, the Suffolk “had a puritan conviction of the moral importance of its policy and
pursued it with zeal. It scolded its country correspondents like bad boys and admonished
them as if their souls and not merely its own earnings were at stake.”
This zeal is evident throughout the bank’s communications to other institutions. In an
1842 letter to the president of the Woodstock Bank in Maine, the Suffolk Bank criticized
the smaller institution because “too large a portion of your loan … cannot be relied upon
at maturity to meet your liabilities.” The letter went on to question the Maine bank’s plans
to pay off its overdraft at the Suffolk by expanding the circulation of its banknotes. The
Suffolk Bank concluded with a veiled warning: “Since you are now placed at the head of
Order Out of Confusion •


the institution, we hope you will take measures to change the character of your loan, and
render it more available in case of need.”
To the Eastern Bank of Bangor, which had taken numerous overdrafts from the Suffolk
Bank, the Suffolk’s representative wrote: “I can only say if all the banks in New England
were moving on at the same rate you are, it would require more than all the capital of the
banks in this city to supply their want.” To the president of another rural bank who had
apparently blamed problems in the lumber industry for its delay in paying its overdraft
charges, the Suffolk wrote, “If the water ran in the Penobscot (River) as freely as the specie
has run from our vaults since the first instant, you would have no difficulty in getting your
lumber to market.”
The Suffolk was in a unique position. No official body had appointed it to be a regulator
of New England’s banking system. But its attempts at unofficial regulation, as crude as
they were, developed from its role as the clearinghouse for the entire region. It was a role
similar to that of a regional central bank, although its authority was based on market forces.
It filled a void, and as one contemporary journalist explained, “the safety to the public is
greatly increased, and the trouble of looking into the condition of the banks by the people
themselves, (is) almost entirely avoided by the adoption of the Suffolk Bank System.”

The Panic of 1837 led many banks to suspend specie payments. This cartoon depicts the harsh financial
conditions caused by the panic.


• Order Out of Confusion

The Suffolk’s regulatory actions powers were also helpful during an era when financial
panics struck every few years. During the Panic of 1837, when banks across the country
suspended specie redemption, the Suffolk system remained operational, and New England
currency continued to circulate at face value and actually increased in value in some
places. Several economists have also found the Suffolk’s operations helped prevent even
greater financial damage throughout the region by acting as a lender of last resort for some
banks through its overdraft practices.
Following the Panic of 1857, the Maine Banking Commission praised the Suffolk
Bank, saying its presence “has proved to be a great safeguard to the public.” Noting that
only three banks in the state had run
into trouble during the panic, it added, “Whatever objections may exist
to the system in theory, its practical
operation is to keep the (currency)
circulation of our banks within the
bounds of safety.”

Simmering hostility

In the Suffolk Bank’s official
history, Whitney wrote that its “underlying principle” was that any bank
issuing currency should “keep itself
at all times in a condition to be able
to redeem it.” In carrying out this
duty, Whitney said, the Suffolk used
“strict justice and impartiality” in
deciding when to take action against
rural banks.
Suffolk Bank shareholders received large dividends, leading to
Those lofty principles, however, conflicts with many rural banks throughout New England.
wouldn’t be enough to overcome the
simmering hostility rural banks felt toward Suffolk’s tactics and power over the years. While
Whitney portrayed the Suffolk as being primarily concerned with promoting financial
stability for the region, the owners of the bank also reaped their own rewards: Suffolk paid
Order Out of Confusion •


its shareholders sizeable dividends, its stock price was usually among the highest of all
companies in Boston, and even Whitney remarked the banknote-clearing business was
“very remunerative.”
These profits were a sticking point for some rural banks, which felt the Suffolk was
benefiting at their expense, and their anger continued to simmer. In the early 1830s, similar
feelings on a national level led to political battle over the Second Bank of the United States
that was driven by a belief that the Bank had too much power. After winning the 1832
presidential election, Andrew Jackson vetoed a bill to renew the Bank’s charter and moved
the government’s deposits from the Second Bank to state banks. In 1836, the Bank’s charter
expired and the nation’s second attempt at a central bank ended.
In 1852, the same kind of distrust and concerns over the power of a large bank exploded
into the public view in New England. The details are unclear, but the South Royalston Bank
in Vermont asked the Suffolk Bank “to make an arrangement…differing from that usually
made with other banks.” The Suffolk declined the request and then sent its own courier to
redeem $10,000 of the Vermont bank’s notes for specie. “Instead of paying, by some process
of Vermont law the bills were attached and the messenger put under arrest,” Whitney wrote.
“A novel way of paying one’s promises!” The matter was eventually worked out, but the
rural banks’ resentment grew.
Three years later, a number of rural bankers finally convinced the Massachusetts
legislature to grant a charter for another institution to compete with the Suffolk Bank in
the note-clearing business. Whitney dismissed this development as the result of a “growing
impression” that the Suffolk was too profitable and “the old feeling of ill-will among the
weak banks, which had been compelled to keep their circulation within bounds.”
It took a few years for the new institution, the Bank of Mutual Redemption, to open
its doors, but when it began operations in 1858, a number of banks withdrew their deposits
from the Suffolk and joined the new bank’s clearing system. In response, the Suffolk refused
to recognize the new coalition and the banknotes of its former members, setting off a series
of final conflicts with the rural banks.
Detailed accounts of the Suffolk’s redemption visits to rural banks—and those banks’
efforts to resist note redemption—began appearing in local newspapers. Headlines shouted
“Suffolk Boar Enraged” and “Suffolk Tyranny Rebuked.” In New Hampshire, a cashier of
a bank that had left the Suffolk system wrote that the Suffolk’s messenger “kindly proposed
to drive (the bank) into insolvency,” and in Lowell, Mass., a local newspaper sponsored a


• Order Out of Confusion


petition to ask the legislature to revoke the Suffolk Bank’s charter. Even in friendly Boston,
newspapers warned the Suffolk to end its “‘rule or ruin’ policy.”
Despite the criticism in the press, the Suffolk Bank continued to send large amounts
of banknotes to rural institutions for specie. In another visit to the same New Hampshire
bank as before, the Suffolk messenger was stymied and forced to wait as the town’s residents
suddenly materialized to make deposits and conduct other business at the bank. The Lowell
newspaper suggested that other rural banks and residents work to delay the Suffolk’s agents
so that “the extreme chilliness of the atmosphere might render rapid movements by the
clerks difficult in the presence of Suffolk messengers.”
That fall, three “eminent” lawyers working on behalf of the Bank of Mutual Redemption
issued a statement accusing the Suffolk Bank of unlawfully interfering in the business
of its new competitor. The lawyers further alleged the Suffolk’s practice of accumulating
banknotes in massive quantities and then attempting to redeem them at rural banks
was the kind of activity that might support a charge of criminal conspiracy against the
Suffolk’s officers.
If that wasn’t enough, the Massachusetts Bank Commission paid a visit to Suffolk and
warned that it was concerned about the impact the Suffolk’s actions had on other banks
and the monetary system as a whole, and it ordered the Suffolk Bank to recognize the Bank
of Mutual Redemption and its members’ banknotes. Soon after, instead of following the
commission’s orders, the Suffolk Bank simply announced it would stop receiving banknotes
at face value.
Even in the end, the Suffolk Bank remained defiant and confident of its position.
It published a notice stating that its opponents had worked to “place the bank in a false
attitude before the public” and that it did “not wish to stand in the way of the attempted
experiment of a foreign money system to be conducted on less stringent principles.”

The Suffolk’s legacy

Even after the Suffolk ended its clearing system in late 1858, “the bank had not labored
in vain,” Whitney later wrote. “It found the currency of New England in a chaotic state;
but…it had brought order out of confusion.”
As he reflected on the Suffolk’s successes, Whitney highlighted three “useful lessons”
from the bank’s role as a regional clearinghouse and de facto regulator.

Order Out of Confusion •


This engraving, representing the agriculture industry, adorned a banknote from the mid 1800s.

First, Whitney argued, a currency “must be redeemable at some central point” for it
to remain “sound and healthy.” Secondly, when the public is confident of paper currency’s
value, “the more widely it will circulate, thus benefitting both the banks and the public.”
Finally, “banks should complain of no reasonable expense that will accomplish so desirable
an object.” Furthermore, for Whitney, the Suffolk Bank’s experience proved that such
goals “might be effected by private enterprise at less expense, and yet with as much safety
to the public.”
In a history of U.S. banking in the 19th century, John Jay Knox, an early advocate for
a national banking system and a longtime comptroller of the currency in the late 1800s,
praised the Suffolk’s efficiency, writing that “the fact is established that private enterprise
could be entrusted with the work of redeeming the circulating notes of the banks, and it
could thus be done as safely and much more economically than the same services can be
performed by the Government.”
For its supporters, the Suffolk Bank proved the private sector could play a significant
role in assuring the payments system’s safety and efficiency, and in some ways, it played a
role similar to that of a regional Federal Reserve Bank in the payments system and bank


• Order Out of Confusion


regulation nearly a century before the Federal Reserve came into existence. The Suffolk also
operated along with the Second Bank of the United States in seeking to restrain private banks’
printing presses and lending, and while both institutions met their ends amid questions over
power, the Suffolk Bank operated more than two decades longer than the country’s official
central bank and without the resources and authority provided by federal law.
But the complaints that plagued the Suffolk system and the Bank of the United
States—primarily that a large institution profited at the expense of smaller ones, that financial
power should not be concentrated into a single entity, and that some regulation could be
heavy-handed and unreasonable—would echo for years to come.

Order Out of Confusion •


The New York Clearing House Association was established to serve as a central location for banks throughout the city
to clear checks. The association held its first meeting in a basement in 1853 at 14 Wall Street and moved in 1896 to the
building pictured here. One banker described the white marble structure as “an adornment to the city and … one of the
architectural gems of the world.”

Chapter Three

“A New Era”

The Clearinghouse

On a typical New York morning in the 1890s, two clerks from each of the city’s 50
or so largest banks would gather at “a beautiful and commodious” room inside a domed
marble building in the heart of the financial district. The clerks, carrying envelopes filled
with checks drawn on accounts at other banks, settled into their assigned places to await
the start of the day’s business at the New York Clearing House.
At 9:59 a.m., the clearinghouse manager struck a bell as a warning that business was
about to commence. A “delivery clerk” from each bank lined up on the outside of the
room, while their colleagues—the “settling clerks”—took their positions at a line of desks
on the inside. Any clerk not in place when the bell sounded was fined $2.
“Ready,” the manager said, and at 10 a.m., he struck the bell a second time to mark the
beginning of that day’s settlement. With “all the precision of a military drill,” each delivery
clerk exchanged an envelope of checks for a receipt from each settlement clerk. Within 10
minutes, millions of dollars in checks had exchanged hands, and all accounts were settled
early that afternoon.
This scene at New York’s clearinghouse—the oldest and largest such organization in the
country—is repeated daily in other major U.S. cities to support the growth of the country’s
newest payment method—the check.

Clerks from banks in New York City met daily at the clearinghouse to exchange checks with
military-like precision.

A New Era •


“Unavoidable blunders”

By the mid-19th century, the check began to replace currency and coin as the preferred
method of payment by businesses and wealthy individuals. At the same time, the banking
industry in large commercial centers such as New York City was expanding at a rapid pace.
In New York, the number of banks more than doubled from 24 in 1849 to nearly 60
by 1853. Messengers from each of these banks traveled across the city daily to deliver checks
and drafts drawn on accounts at other banks. These messengers “crossed and re-crossed each
others’ footsteps constantly; they often met in companies of five or six at the same counter,”
and their deliveries could take hours to complete.
Each bank made daily notes in their ledgers for the checks they received, but settlement
for the week took place on one day. According to custom, the messengers gathered each
Friday outside one of the banks on Wall Street to settle accounts with specie, but the entire
process “was one of confusion, disputes, and unavoidable blunders,” according to one
observer, who described a typical Friday meeting:
Thomas had left a bag of specie at John’s bank to settle a balance, which was due from
William’s bank to Robert’s; but Robert’s bank owed twice as much to John’s. What had
become of that! Then Alexander owed Robert also, and William was indebted to
Alexander. Peter then said, that he had paid Robert by a draft from James, which he,
James, had received from Alfred on Alexander’s account. That, however, had settled
only half the debt. A quarter of the remainder was cancelled by a bag of coin, which
Samuel had handed over to Joseph, and he had transferred to David.

This illustration depicts the chaos of “The Old Fashion of Settlement on Friday” in New York City
before the clearinghouse was established.


• A New Era

“It is entirely safe to say, that the Presidents and Cashiers of the banks themselves
could not have untangled this medley,” the observer concluded.
New York was stuck with this inefficient settlement system even as the popularity of
checks as a payment method grew and threatened to choke the payments system. Some,
including Albert Gallatin, who had served as Treasury secretary for 13 years under Thomas
Jefferson and James Madison, criticized the haphazard weekly settlement method, writing
that it “produces relaxations, favors improper expansions and is attended with serious
In 1851, George Lyman, a clerk at the Bank of North America, wrote a letter to the
New York Journal of Commerce proposing that all banks gather daily at a single institution that
would serve as a place of exchange for checks and bank drafts to be settled at a set time.
Lyman and others who backed his idea hoped the change from a weekly settlement to a daily
settlement would reduce the inefficiency and risk involved in clearing and settling checks.
Eventually a committee of the city’s banks was organized to find a location for a new
clearinghouse. In October 1853, the New York Clearing House Association opened in the
basement of 14 Wall Street, with Lyman as its manager. On its first day, the clearinghouse
settled $22.6 million in checks, and the concept gradually expanded to other cities, including
Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City and beyond.
The establishment of the clearinghouse was viewed as an immediate improvement. “Its
complete success soon banished all feelings but those of gratification and common interest,”
wrote New York banker J.S. Gibbons. The clearinghouse, he added, “has brought about a
new era in our city banking. …In a few months, it has done more real service to the interests
of trade in New York, than the Chamber of Commerce in the century of its existence.”

Growth of checks

As the New York Clearinghouse opened for business, check usage continued to become
more popular. By 1855, the value of checking accounts in the United States was higher than
the value of all currency in circulation, and new banking laws established in the 1860s
helped promote the use of checks further. The National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864
established federally chartered banks, and the nation soon developed a uniform currency
printed by the government and backed by the U.S. Treasury. The laws also resulted in
the formation of new correspondent banking relationships between rural banks and their
urban counterparts.
A New Era •


Under the National Banking Acts, rural banks were allowed to count their own deposits
held at other banks in designated “reserve cities” as part of their required reserve amounts. In
addition, all banks were allowed to hold reserves with banks in New York City, making New
York “a clearing house for the whole country, as well as for its own immediate traffic.”
These correspondent relationships also allowed for easier settlements between banks.
With bank reserves housed at correspondent banks in a few key commercial cities, rural
banks could often settle a payment obligation with another institution by asking its city
correspondent to transfer funds from its reserve account as needed. This reduced rural
banks’ reliance on couriers to transport currency and coin to multiple banks, some of which
were located in distant places.
With these developments, use of the check continued to grow, and the amount of
currency in circulation continued to fall. In 1867, the value of deposits held at banks was
nearly twice that of the value of currency in circulation; by 1890, the nation’s bank deposits
were three times the value of all currency.
But despite the improvements in settlement and payment practices across the country,
new problems arose.

From Rochester to Birmingham via
Cincinnati and Baltimore

According to custom, a check that was presented in person at the counter of the bank
on which it was drawn was paid at full face value. But, banks that received checks by mail
were allowed to assess a charge, typically ranging from 0.1 percent to 0.25 percent of the
face value, although this varied by bank.
In many cases, competition forced city banks to absorb these charges on behalf of custom2
ers who brought in out-of-town checks. However, rural banks, which weren’t members of
urban clearinghouses, received many checks by mail from city banks and assessed a charge on
each one. These so-called “exchange fees” were a significant source of profit: According to some
estimates, between 20 percent and 50 percent of a typical rural bank’s profit was a result of not
remitting the full face value of the checks written by its account holders.
In an attempt to avoid these charges, banks would avoid mailing an out-of-town check
directly to a “non-par” bank. Instead, banks sent the check to a correspondent bank in
another city, which in turn sent the check to its own correspondent somewhere else. This


• A New Era

“circuitous routing” led to new inefficiencies and delays. A check could take weeks to reach
its destination, one banker noted, moving “along from station to station, on its erratic
course, until such time as by accident or otherwise, it finds its final lodgment.”
In 1910, James G. Cannon, vice president of the Fourth Bank of New York City and
an expert on the operation of clearinghouses, described the journey of a check made out for
$43.56 by a business in Sag Harbor,
N.Y., to another business in Hoboken, N.J. To avoid the exchange
charge, the Second National Bank
of Hoboken, which accepted the
check from its customer, first sent it
to Harvey Fisk & Sons in New York
City. From there, it traveled through
nine institutions across the region
before finally reaching its final destination at a bank in Sag Harbor—
all to avoid an exchange charge
from the Sag Harbor bank.
Several years later, W.P.G.
Harding, the second chairman of
the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, recalled another notable Early checks from the 1850s often carried ornate designs.
check. A bank in Rochester, N.Y.,
sent a check drawn on a Birmingham, Ala., account to a correspondent bank in New York,
which sent it along to a bank in Jacksonville, Fla. From there, it traveled to Philadelphia,
Baltimore and Cincinnati before it finally reached the originating bank in Birmingham.
Bankers across the country tried to address these delays, but there wasn’t enough support
for a single solution. A national conference of clearinghouses convened in 1899 to attempt
to coordinate collection charges across the country, but the effort was abandoned. Later, a
committee organized by the American Bankers Association held annual meetings to study
the problem, but there was no agreement on establishing standard check-clearing charges
or developing larger, regional check-clearing systems. Rural bankers did not want to give

A New Era •


up their revenue from assessing fees on checks, urban banks feared they would lose the
accounts of their rural bank correspondents if standard fees were established, and bankers
in large cities such as New York wanted consumers and businesses to stop using checks
altogether in favor of bank drafts, which cost less to settle.
In New York, members of the clearinghouse agreed to charge customers who deposited
any out-of-town checks a minimum of 10 cents per check, with higher charges for largervalue checks. These fees discouraged the use of rural checks within the nation’s largest financial
center. Any clearinghouse member that didn’t follow the fee schedule was fined $5,000
for the first offense and would be kicked out of the clearinghouse for the second offense.

Supervision and other duties

By the turn of the century, clearinghouses across the country had expanded their
operations beyond the clearing and settlement of checks, and the clearinghouse had evolved
into “a medium for united action” for member banks to deal with “all questions affecting
their mutual welfare” Cannon said.
Some clearinghouses required members to agree to pay a set interest rate on deposits,
and, much like the Suffolk Bank had during its time, the clearinghouses acted as a bank
supervisor, requiring members to submit to regular examinations, meet capital requirements
and undergo regular audits from clearinghouse employees. Clearinghouses also examined
member banks in response to rumors about their condition and made the results public as
a way to assure confidence in an institution. Banks were kicked out of the clearinghouse for
not agreeing to these conditions, and they applied for readmission routinely.
In Kansas City, Stanley Young, an accountant who held the title of Clearing House
Examiner, said the new supervisory role of clearinghouse was “justifiable” and made it
“possible for the confidence of the public to be restored during any unwarranted run on
an individual bank by the announcement of clearing house support.” Examiners such
as Young were becoming more common at clearinghouses across the country, and these
specialists were “ready to go to work at a moment’s notice.”
Young also described another emerging role at the Kansas City Clearinghouse: that
of a credit bureau. Members of the Kansas City Clearinghouse exchanged information on
borrowers, with the idea that any borrower who attempted to take out large loans from
multiple institutions would be flagged as a credit risk. Young noted that “it is feasible to
gather valuable credit data; all large borrowers are indexed and observed, and facts as to


• A New Era

their total local obligations are quickly available upon request for any interested member of
the association.”
Despite the inefficiencies surrounding the circuitous routing of checks, clearinghouses
and the correspondent banking
system helped create a network
connecting thousands of institutions and millions of check
writers across the country by
the beginning of the 20th century. However, many remained
concerned about the banking
system’s continuing tendency to
fall into a crisis every few years
and the long chain that ultimately linked each bank’s health
to that of their correspondent
In 1906, Jacob Schiff, a se- Banks settled accounts at the end of each day by bringing bags of specie
nior partner in the investment to the clearinghouse. A specie clerk would then pay out any amounts due
to banks by 2 p.m.
bank Kuhn, Loeb and Co., and
a rival of J.P. Morgan, warned in
a speech to the New York Chamber of Commerce that unless the country acted to reform
its financial system soon, “a panic would sooner or later result compared with which all
previous panics would seem as child’s play.” A year later, his prediction came true.

A New Era •


Police stand guard outside a failed bank in New York City in early 1908. A financial panic the
previous fall led to a shortage of currency across the country, leading many to adopt unique forms of
payment such as clearing house loan certificates, small-denomination checks and streetcar fare tickets.

Chapter Four

“A Famine of Currency”
The Panic of 1907

On Tuesday, Oct. 22, 1907, anxious depositors, bank couriers and onlookers gathered
in front of the Knickerbocker Trust Co. before it opened for business that morning. For the
past week, New York’s financial community had been rocked by a series of revelations about
the Heinze brothers, who had failed in an attempt to corner the copper market. Questions
about the brothers’ involvement with brokerages, banks and trust companies across the city
fed a growing sense of doubt about the safety of the entire financial system.
During the previous week, the New York Clearing House Association attempted
to ease the fears with pledges to stand by banks rumored to be close to failure. After a
“prolonged meeting” lasting through the night on Saturday and into Sunday morning, the
clearinghouse announced that after careful examination, its member banks were solvent
and it stood ready to meet “all legitimate demands upon the banks.” The pledge by the
clearinghouse, which also ordered an associate of the Heinze brothers to leave the New York
banking industry, resulted in a “wave of relief which swept through Wall Street.”
However, the new burst of confidence faded quickly. On Monday, the National Bank
of Commerce announced it would no longer clear payments for the Knickerbocker Trust
Co., which was not a clearinghouse member and didn’t receive the same protection as member
banks. The next day, lines began forming at the Knickerbocker’s headquarters on Fifth
Avenue and at branches in the outlying boroughs.
While the line included depositors attempting to withdraw cash from their accounts,
many others were couriers from banks seeking to cash checks drawn on accounts at the
Knickerbocker. One courier complained “bitterly” about the line’s length to the New York
Times’ correspondent that morning, saying “Every half hour is costing me five dollars. I
have got to get cash for the Clearing House and I am fined for each half hour’s delay.”
Throughout the morning, tellers methodically paid out cash to depositors and cashed
the checks presented to them by other banks. “Many of the men carried satchels, showing
they were prepared to carry off every dollar coming to them,” the Times wrote. “(A) young
man, with hands trembling, stacked his trousers pockets full of one-hundred-dollar and
twenty-dollar bills.”
At the Knickerbocker’s Brooklyn branch, a courier from the Hanover National

A Famine of Currency •


Bank presented the teller with
a check drawn on an account at
the Knickerbocker for $1.5 million. “The paying teller handed
out the money, and immediately
closed down his window,” the
Times wrote. Shortly afterward,
the trust company’s other offices
stopped payments and closed
their doors.
The withdrawals from New
The October 1907 failure of the Knickerbocker Trust Co. in
New York City led to a severe financial panic that affected York set off a chain reaction
banks across the country. across the country, and banks in
other cities began withdrawing money from their New York correspondents.
“Everywhere the banks suddenly found themselves confronted with demands for
money by frightened depositors,” one contemporary economist remarked. “Everywhere
also banks manifested a lack of confidence in each other. Country banks drew money
from city banks and all the banks throughout the country demanded the return of funds
deposited or on loan in New York.”
In Chicago, banks halted all currency shipments to their smaller correspondent banks.
In Minneapolis and St. Paul, banks stopped making payments on checks and certificates of
deposit, and in New Orleans, banks limited outgoing payments to $50 each. Many who
could withdraw cash from banks stashed it away in safe deposit boxes or attempted to profit
by selling it at a premium to money brokers.
The nation’s latest banking panic was underway.

A cash shortage

As banks in New York and other cities faced a spreading cash shortage fueled by fear and
hoarding, local clearinghouses turned to a tool that had a proven track record—clearinghouse
loan certificates. These pieces of paper, issued by clearinghouses during past crises, served
as a currency substitute for member banks to settle payments among themselves. By using
the certificates—which some considered illegal under the national banking system—banks
could free up their cash for payments to depositors. In the past, the certificates were only


• A Famine of Currency

used in transactions between banks at the clearinghouse. However, during the 1907 panic,
the certificates found their way into the hands of the public, and they were used as cash in
everyday transactions in many cities.
Banks also began limiting the amount of cash depositors could withdraw, which was
also illegal under the banking laws of the time. However, state banking regulators in 1907
made it clear they would look the other way on such violations.
In Iowa, regulators recommended that bankers “take the depositors into the confidence
of the bank; fully explain to them the situation and ask them to co-operate to the extent of
accepting checks, drafts and other forms of credit. …It may be necessary for your bank to limit
the amount of cash payments to depositors.” In Oklahoma, the state banking commissioner
said that he could not officially endorse a proposal from the Oklahoma Bankers Association
to limit cash withdrawals from banks, but he conceded that “no banks would be closed
because they followed the plan.”

The Kansas City Clearing House Association was one of dozens of groups that issued clearinghouse
loan certificates in their local markets to deal with a nationwide currency shortage.

A Famine of Currency •


Along with clearinghouse loan certificates, other forms of alternative currency circulated
in local markets. In Denver, Kansas City and Omaha, clearinghouse checks, cashier’s checks
and other items were used as forms of payment. Rural towns, such as Hastings, Neb., Sedalia,
Mo., and Guthrie, Okla., also adopted similar payment forms, and clearinghouse loan
certificates circulated in cities that did not have a clearinghouse before the panic. These
certificates were issued and backed by local bankers who formed temporary committees
that dubbed themselves “clearinghouses” in order to deal with the currency shortage in
their communities.
With little cash available, businesses, which traditionally paid workers only in currency,
were forced to find other ways to meet their payrolls. U.S. Steel broke with custom and
decided to pay its workers with a combination of cash and small-denomination checks.
Businesses in New York, Birmingham, Ala., and Pittsburgh issued millions of dollars in pay
checks in denominations of $1 or $2. “The offices of large corporations were also very busy
places before pay-days, as all the checks had to be signed,” one observer noted. “Some clerks
could sign 400 to 500 checks in eight hours, and the amount of men required and the labor
involved in issuing from 30,000 to 40,000 checks twice a month can be appreciated.”
Businesses elsewhere took unusual steps to ensure workers were paid. Employees of the
streetcar system in Omaha were paid in the nickels received as fares, and streetcar workers in
St. Louis received 5-cent fare tickets as wages. Some factories, however, were forced to
shut down, lay off workers or reduce production because of “the sheer impossibility of
securing any medium for the payment of wages.”
Remarkably, these alternative payment methods seemed to work in some cities. An
observer noted the substitutes passed “almost as freely as greenbacks or bank-notes from
hand to hand and from one locality to another,” and clearinghouse certificates issued in San
Francisco were used as far away as Philadelphia and Hawaii. Competition in St. Louis
among merchants who advertised that they accepted wage checks resulted in one jeweler
offering a 10 percent discount for customers who used the checks instead of other forms
of payment.
In its 1907 Annual Report, the Comptroller of the Currency noted “one of the peculiar
features” of the crisis was “that there has actually been more of a panic among the banks
themselves than there has been among the people. …It has been remarkable how patiently
and with what forbearance the people in the business community generally have borne
with the situation and helped the banks to deal with the emergency.”


• A Famine of Currency

A. Piatt Andrew, a Harvard economist who would become director of the U.S. Mint
and, later, a congressman, noted that “most of this currency was illegal, but no one thought
of prosecuting or interfering with its issuers. …In plain language, it was an inconvertible paper
money issued without the sanction of law, an anachronism in our time, yet necessitated by
conditions for which our banking laws did not provide.”
Eventually, confidence in the banking system returned and the cash shortage ended.
In New York, the clearinghouse loan certificates circulated publicly for about five months,
while in other cities, certificates, checks and other items circulated as currency from eight
to 10 weeks.

Lessons learned

In the immediate wake of the 1907 panic, the clearinghouses received some of the
credit for preventing the crisis from being even worse. “I believe that one of the most potent
factors in stopping the force of the recent panic was the issue of these Clearing House loan
certificates by the clearing houses throughout the country,” remarked James Cannon, vice
president of the Fourth Bank of New York.
Another important factor in halting the crisis was the role played by financier J.P. Morgan,
who had previously bailed out the government during a crisis in 1895. During the 1907
panic, Morgan pooled together the resources of bankers and others to provide liquidity to
the markets, serving in a lender-of-last resort role. However, many felt the crisis exposed
the financial system to the whims of wealthy individuals and called for a more structured
way to respond to financial crises.
Some felt the roles filled by a clearinghouse—specifically that of a backstop for member
banks during a panic—should be expanded. Somewhat ironically, in the same edition in
which it reported the failure of the Knickerbocker Trust Co., The New York Times printed
a commentary from an Illinois banker calling for “the incorporation of Clearing Houses
under a Federal law in every State of the Union.” These institutions, the banker wrote,
“could by the immediate emission of legal and well secured issues prevent such a contraction
of credits, which is such a strain upon the business interest of the country, making wreckage
of many solvent firms.”
A few years later, economist O.M.W. Sprague also made note of the lingering banking
and economic problems highlighted by the crisis. Sprague argued that “somewhere in the
banking system of a country there should be a reserve of lending power, and it should be
A Famine of Currency •


The headquarters of the Kansas City Clearinghouse Association located in downtown Kansas City,
Mo. Many commentators credited the actions of local clearinghouses for limiting the negative effects of
the Panic of 1907.


• A Famine of Currency

found in its central money markets. Ability in New York to increase loans and to meet the
demands of depositors for money would have allayed every panic since the establishment
of the national banking system.”
William Ridgely, the comptroller of the currency during the panic, was even more
forceful in his review of the crisis. Describing “a famine of currency” in 1907, he wrote that
“banks have been fearful that the reserve system would break down, and in consequence it
has broken down.” In addition, he argued, the example set by the clearinghouses “should
carry us further and to the inevitable and logical conclusion and lesson to be drawn from
it, which is that we should have a national central bank of issue and reserve.”

A Famine of Currency •


Republican Sen. Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island proposed a National Monetary Commission to
investigate the causes of the Panic of 1907. Aldrich’s plan would also allow banks to form associations
and issue emergency currency that could be used in financial panics. Later, Aldrich backed a central
bank system that was criticized for being dominated by banking interests.

Chapter Five

“�e Highways of Commerce”
The road to a central bank

As the immediate effects of the 1907 crisis faded and economic conditions returned to
something resembling normal, a nagging question remained: What, if anything, could be
done to prevent the nation’s banking and payments system from seizing up every few years?
Sensing an opportunity to capitalize on the issue during an election year in 1908,
lawmakers brought their numerous ideas to Washington. “Scarcely a senator or representative
presented himself in Washington without some measure of ‘currency reform’ framed to
forestall the recurrence of such distress,” wrote one contemporary observer. These included
bills to establish a central bank, proposals allowing the Treasury Department to issue special
currency during panics and calls to simply legalize clearinghouse certificates—the temporary
currency issued by private coalitions of banks during panics.
In laying out the challenge facing Congress that February, the powerful Republican
Sen. Nelson Aldrich described the Panic of 1907 as “the most acute and disastrous” financial
crisis in the country’s history up to that point. “The suspension or disarrangement of business
operations threw thousands of men out of employment and reduced the wages of the
employed,” he added. “If the business interests of the country are left defenseless through
the inaction of Congress, the most serious consequences may follow.”
Aldrich’s plan, which was combined with a similar measure in the House from fellow
Republican Rep. Edward Vreeland, would allow 10 or more banks to form an association
that could issue emergency currency backed by the banks’ commercial paper and other
assets during a panic. The Treasury secretary would distribute the emergency notes, which
would be heavily taxed until they were pulled out of circulation. As passed by Congress,
the Aldrich-Vreeland Act also established a National Monetary Commission composed of
lawmakers who would study the causes of the Panic of 1907, travel to observe other nations’
financial systems and then report back to make further recommendations.
For critics, the Act was a hodgepodge of half-measures that had little chance of working
during an actual panic. “It is evident from the start, that the haste with which it was pushed
through Congress must have made careful legislation impossible,” wrote University of Chicago
economist J.L. Laughlin a few months after the Act became law. “Certainly the law is a
failure, if it was expected to quiet the urgent demand for banking reform; and the political

The Highways of Commerce •



gains are far to seek.”
Laughlin felt the process of forming a currency association among multiple banks
would be too slow and ineffective amid a panic, and he predicted the financial system
would simply turn once again to using clearinghouse certificates. The law, he said, was “a
Pandora’s box full of unknown possibilities for evil. It is an amazing lesson on the folly of
politics in banking.”
Democrat Sen. Robert Owen
of Oklahoma also voiced objections.
An attorney and banker, Owen had
personal experience with previous
panics, noting in a memoir that
his bank in Muskogee, Okla., lost
half its deposits during the Panic
of 1893. Owen remarked that the
Aldrich-Vreeland Act’s emergency
currency might be helpful following
a crisis, but the Act’s “cumbersome”
requirements “defeated the object of
preventing panic.”
“It should always be kept in
mind that it is not the welfare of
Sen. Robert Owen of Oklahoma felt Aldrich’s plan for the bank, nor the welfare of the deissuing emergency currency would not prevent another
positor which is the main object to be
financial panic.
attained,” Owen said, “but it is the
prevention of panic, the protection of our commerce, the stability of business conditions,
and the maintenance in active operation of the productive energies of the nation which is the
question of vital importance.”

National Monetary Commission

Despite the criticisms, the National Monetary Commission, led by Aldrich, began its
work. After traveling across Europe for many months, hearing from experts and publishing
dozens of volumes of reports, the 18-member group finally submitted its recommendations,
along with another reform bill, in 1912.


• The Highways of Commerce

The commission’s final report contained an extended list of the nation’s banking problems,
which included a lack of “cooperation of any kind among banks outside the clearing-house
cities.” In addition, the report argued the clearinghouses “have, in fact, never been able to
prevent the suspension of cash payments by financial institutions in their own localities in
cases of emergency.” The report also stated there was “no effective agency covering the entire
country” that would promote an efficient and unified national payments system.
To remedy these and other problems, Aldrich’s new bill called for the establishment
of a National Reserve Association (NRA) with 15 branches. The association would have
the power to transfer deposit balances between member banks, “by mail, telegraph, or
otherwise.” In addition, local associations could establish clearinghouses in their cities
with the approval of three-fourths of their members and the NRA.
The bill planted the seeds for a national clearing system, however, critics focused on
the proposed association’s board, which would be led by 46 directors dominated by the
banking industry with little public oversight.
“The effect of the plan was to place absolutely in the hands of the banks the control
of the reserve system,” and the association’s “stupendous power” would rest “in the hands
of five men in New York City” serving as officers, Owen remarked later. Owen also noted
there was “very resolute opposition in Congress toward turning over the entire control of
the credit system of the United States to private hands and practically uncontrolled by the
national government.”
With Democrats now in power, Aldrich’s plan went nowhere, and a separate effort
by other lawmakers would lend additional support to the notion that New York’s financial
industry already had too much power.

The Pujo Committee

In May 1912, a congressional committee led by Rep. Arsene Pujo of Louisiana began
its own investigation into the causes of the Panic of 1907 and the concentration of wealth
and power on Wall Street. The committee sought to expose a “money trust” involving a
network of New York bankers, the New York Stock Exchange and other financial interests.
While much of the focus was on individual bankers such as J.P. Morgan, Jacob Schiff
and others, the committee’s final report in early 1913 also examined the role of clearinghouses during the panic, specifically the New York Clearing House Association. The
committee acknowledged the clearinghouse provided “a most useful and important
The Highways of Commerce •


Rep. Arsene Pujo led a congressional investigation into the concentration of wealth and power on
Wall Street in the wake of the Panic of 1907.

function” as long as it was “confined to its legitimate purpose.” However, in New York, the
clearinghouse could act as both “a power for good or evil.”
The committee found that “sacredly guarded” information on the condition of banks
obtained by examiners from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency was “freely
exchanged” with staff of the New York Clearinghouse. As a result, the committee of bankers
who oversaw the management of the clearinghouse gained “an intimate knowledge of the
business and affairs of their competitors,” the committee alleged.
In addition, membership in the clearinghouse was compared to a “private club” by
some witnesses who testified before the committee. Small bankers claimed that when
the New York Clearinghouse removed their ability to clear checks through a clearinghouse
member, depositors and others viewed the decision as a vote of no confidence in the smaller
banks, which “were compelled to close their doors within a day after the privileges of the
association had been withdrawn from them.”
The committee also criticized the clearinghouse’s practice of setting and enforcing
check collection charges for members. The practice “suppresses competition in a very
important commercial service and is a clear usurpation of power,” the committee said.
Because they played such a “vital and delicate” role in the financial system, the clearing


• The Highways of Commerce

The Pujo Committee found clearinghouses were “useful and important” but also called for the
institutions to be placed under government control.

houses’ “supervision and regulation in the interest of the public are essential,” the committee
argued. As such, the committee concluded the institutions should be placed under government

The Federal Reserve

A few weeks before the Pujo Committee released its report on the “money trust,” in 1913
Rep. Carter Glass of Virginia and Henry Parker Willis, a professor, newspaper correspondent
and, now, a congressional aide, traveled to Trenton, N.J., to present a draft of their own
reform bill to the newly elected president, Woodrow Wilson.
The three had met earlier to outline a bill that included a central bank, and the version
Glass and Willis now presented to Wilson contained a new measure that would eliminate
exchange charges, allowing checks everywhere to be collected at their full face value—or
“par.” Glass contended that the widespread banking practice of assessing fees on checks
received through the mail, which he blamed on “selfish country banks,” constituted “a very
heavy burden upon business” that cost anywhere from $75 million to $125 million a year.
The Highways of Commerce •


Glass was also concerned with another “much more serious evil” caused by bankers
attempting to avoid exchange charges—the circuitous routing of checks. Banks could deposit out-of-town checks with their correspondents in other cities who would immediately
credit their institutional customers’ accounts with the full amount while the correspondent
attempted to collect the checks themselves. This delay between the time when a check was
credited to an account and its final settlement posed “a serious danger to banking liquidity
or solvency due to the existence of an immense amount of what was called ‘float,’” Glass
said. The new reform bill would address this by consolidating bank reserves into a single
entity that could also serve as a clearinghouse for its members, providing for faster settlement
and less risk.

Rep. Carter Glass of Virginia felt the nation’s new central bank should serve as a national
clearinghouse to improve the payment system’s efficiency and reduce risk.


• The Highways of Commerce

Willis later noted that giving the Federal Reserve a role in clearing payments would
allow the new central bank to “attain its full stature” and secure “a regular flow of business
to and from its member banks.” If the central bank was not involved in check clearing,
the reserves held by the system would be “merely dead sums of cash held simply because [it
was] required by law.”
The idea of using the central bank to help institute par collection of checks was “heartily
approved by Mr. Wilson,” Glass wrote later in his memoir, but it was “frantically opposed by a
combination of small banks” that saw a threat to their revenues.
The par collection measures were also aimed at addressing some of the problems revealed
by the Pujo Committee’s hearings. A national clearing system that eliminated exchange charges
“would result in correcting the clearing house evils which were then under investigation of
the Money Trust Committee,” Willis wrote. Furthermore, the proposal “could honestly be
put forward as a means of correcting the faults that had been complained of in the existing
structure of financial organization in such places as New York.”
Meanwhile, Owen’s own proposal in the Senate for a central bank gained momentum,
and it was combined with Glass’ plan. To Owen, the “first and most important feature” of the
bill was the fact that it “concentrates and mobilizes the banking reserve of the nation,” which
previously had been scattered across thousands of individual banks. Another important
feature, Owen felt, was that par check collection—with regional Reserve Banks across the
country serving as clearinghouses for the nation—would provide “a much higher velocity
to the great credit system of the United States.”
However, Owen, like Glass, noted a number of small, rural banks had “raised a great
cry against the clearing of individual checks at par by the federal reserve banks.”
One such banker, responding directly to Owen, argued the bill “puts the burden on
the country bank and is all to the advantage of the banks in large cities.” Remarking that
there is always a cost involved in clearing and settling checks, the banker said “the burden,
if any, should be on the collector. If the holder of a check is unwilling to pay the expense
of collection he should demand payment of his bill in funds current in his own place
of business.”
Some of the most vocal opposition came from bankers in the South. A resolution passed
by southern bankers during the debate over the bill contended that the charges assessed by
small banks to clear checks through the mail were reasonable, and the idea of universal par
clearance was “pernicious and will result disastrously to the earnings of country banks.”
The Highways of Commerce •


Robert Maddox, vice president of the American National Bank in Atlanta, warned the
Senate Banking and Currency Committee during a hearing that allowing regional Reserve
Banks to serve as clearinghouses would result in “enormous labor, expense and risk” for the
Federal Reserve, and by connection, the government. The nation’s clearing system did not
need reform, he argued, because banks “are now satisfied with the existing arrangement,
and their patrons are pleased.”
Fearing that momentum behind the bill was growing, some members of the American
Bankers Association and others filed protests attacking par clearance and other parts of the
Federal Reserve plan. In early October, a number of rural bankers gathered in Boston to
issue a formal complaint to Congress.
In their complaint, the bankers argued their exchange charges were “proper” and necessary for providing “a fair service.” The bankers also warned that if par collection were
instituted, “most country banks will show net operating losses, instead of the reasonable
profits we now enjoy.” (The group of rural bankers was led by Atchison, Kan., banker Willis
J. Bailey, a former Kansas governor and congressman, who, ironically, would become the
head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in 1922.)
But opinion throughout the banking industry was far from unanimous, and some
bankers supported the potential benefits that would stem from a central bank role in check
clearing. Echoing Glass’ concerns, W.M. van Deusen of the National Newark Banking Co.
in New Jersey told a New York audience the delays caused by circuitous check routing resulted
in “fictitious balances,” or float, at banks and “much unnecessary work.” Establishing par
collection with the Federal Reserve as a central clearinghouse, he said, “cannot help being
of benefit to the banks as a whole and to the commerce of the country.”

Final passage

The bankers who opposed the par collection measures in the bill scored a temporary
victory in the Senate, where that chamber’s version of the bill eliminated the language
requiring the Federal Reserve to establish a par collection system. However, lawmakers in
the House, led by Glass, successfully fought to reinsert the language in the final version
hammered out in a conference committee.
In a speech on the House floor a day before the final bill was sent to President Wilson
for his signature, Glass again criticized “the flagrant abuse involved in excessive charges by
banks throughout the country for collections and exchanges.” While “thousands of banks”


• The Highways of Commerce

A House/Senate conference committee negotiated the final version of the Federal Reserve Act, which
included language to establish a par clearing system.

had argued against the measures, “those of us in the House who sought to tear down these
tollgates upon the highways of commerce prevailed.”
Glass acknowledged that “some banks will have their profits diminished,” but, he
argued, “it will be profits to which they are not fairly entitled and for the loss of which they
will be more than compensated by the better and speedier facilities afforded for the transaction
of business.”
With passage of the Federal Reserve Act on Dec. 23, 1913, the nation now had a
national clearinghouse and a way to promote par check collection. It would still take nearly
a year for the new central bank to open for business, and while its founders hoped the
Federal Reserve would soon improve the nation’s payments system, implementing the
plan would have its own challenges.

The Highways of Commerce •


Bankers visiting Kansas City for the American Bankers Association’s conference in 1916 were treated
to a day at Longview Farm in eastern Jackson County, Mo. While there, the bankers and guests filled
the estate’s grandstand to watch horse races along a half-mile-long track.

Chapter Six

A “Problem …of Great Novelty”
Building a new clearing system

While visiting Kansas City for the American Bankers Association’s annual convention
in late September 1916, thousands of bankers from across the country toured the city’s
famous stockyards, attended a special screening of the motion picture “The Dollar and the
Law,” and joined their colleagues for a round of golf at the exclusive Mission Hills Country
Club. For one afternoon’s activities, convention organizers had arranged for a fleet of 1,000
cars to drive the bankers 20 miles east to lumber magnate R.A. Long’s 1,582-acre estate for
an afternoon picnic, where they sipped coffee and smoked cigars while Long and his daughter
entertained their guests by racing horses along a half-mile track.
Amid the distractions, there was also official convention business to deal with, and the
Federal Reserve System’s first two years of operations dominated the bankers’ discussions
and speeches in Convention Hall.
Opinion over the new central bank was split. On one side, many of the larger urban
banks that dominated the ABA’s leadership felt the 12 regional Reserve Banks and the Board
of Governors were already successful in a number of areas, including consolidating gold
reserves and issuing a new currency in the form of Federal Reserve notes. However, the
smaller, “country” banks located outside major cities still carried a large amount of resentment
over the Federal Reserve Act’s check-clearing provisions, which threatened to cut into their
profits by prohibiting them from charging a small fee on each check they paid.
While the Federal Reserve Act directed the central bank to organize and operate a
check-clearing system, there was little guidance in the law for how it should accomplish
this goal. “The problem,” the Board wrote in its first annual report in 1914, “is one of great
novelty and calls for the application of a high degree of technical skill.” By taking a
methodical approach and slowly phasing in aspects of a clearing function, the Board hoped
to avoid any “undue disturbance and violent derangement of customary commercial and
banking methods.”
In the summer of 1915, the Board took its first step and announced banks could agree
to use the Reserve Banks as clearinghouses and voluntarily stop charging exchange fees on
depositors’ checks that were returned through the mail. To the Board and its supporters,
the benefits of par clearance were obvious—merchants and businesses would receive full

A “Problem …of Great Novelty” •


The Federal Reserve Board of Governors recognized the challenge of establishing a national check
clearing system required “a high degree of technical skill.”

credit for checks sent to and arriving from distant cities, banks would stop sending checks
on meandering routes through correspondents to avoid paying an exchange charge, and the
entire financial system would benefit from a more efficient settlement process.
However, the voluntary plan proved to be a complete failure as few banks agreed
to join the Federal Reserve System and give up the revenue they received from exchange
charges. The Board of Governors expressed “severe disappointment” that its voluntary plan
was not more popular, and it blamed merchants and wholesalers—who often faced the
direct costs of exchange charges—for failing to persuade their banks to join the system.
Realizing it would have to rely on more than an appeal to bankers’ “foresight and
enlightened self-interest” to convince them to start clearing checks at par, the Board decided
to take a more aggressive approach. In May 1916, the Federal Reserve announced it would


• A “Problem …of Great Novelty”

start a compulsory program and require its member banks—which included all national
banks and those state-chartered banks that chose to join the system—to clear checks sent
through the Federal Reserve at their full value. In addition, the Board said it would start
working to promote par clearance “as rapidly as possible” among nonmember banks, which
included thousands of state-chartered institutions that opted out of joining the Federal
Reserve system.
Under the compulsory plan, the Board felt that “in the near future, checks upon
practically all banks in the United Sates can be collected at par by the Federal Reserve
Banks.” In addition, the Board predicted, banks would soon begin to close their accounts
at correspondent institutions and shift those reserves to the central bank in order to take
advantage of the new clearing system, which would “soon come to be appreciated not only
as a convenience but as a necessity.”
However, the Board’s lofty goals were viewed as a declaration of war on country bankers’
long-established way of doing business, and when they arrived in Kansas City for their
industry’s annual convention, their anger drove them to action.

The bankers gather

Gathering in Kansas City before the ABA general conference began, the country bankers
held their own meeting to discuss their concerns over the Federal Reserve’s new par clearance
policy and to develop a formal strategy to get the Federal Reserve Act’s check-clearing provisions either changed or revoked.
It was “the country banker
who furnishes the credit and the
brains to finance the farmers of
this country and the small merchants,” said Nathan Adams, a
Texan who led the meeting. As
such, the country banker was “entitled to some remuneration for
the average charge and the risk he
takes in transmitting the money.”
Another banker at the gathering The American Bankers Association’s 1916 convention was
chimed in that if the Federal Re- held at Convention Hall in Kansas City, Mo.
A “Problem …of Great Novelty” •


serve was allowed to enforce par check clearance, then the government could also “compel
farmers to sell butter and eggs below cost.”
A plan soon emerged. First, the bankers would try to persuade Congress to change the
Federal Reserve Act to allow them to continue to charge exchange fees. If that tactic failed,
they would take the Federal Reserve to court.
While the plan had overwhelming support at the meeting, C.A. McCloud, president
of First National Bank of York, Neb., stepped forward to say he was “shocked” the other
country bankers would consider suing the central bank, and he compared their complaints
over par collection to “a family of children who are out in the woodshed trying to work out
some rebellion over authority.”
McCloud reminded his colleagues that many of
them were stockholders in their regional Reserve Banks,
others supported the Reserve Banks by serving as directors, and any lawsuit supported by shareholders or
directors threatened to “strangle the Federal Reserve
System in a maze of legal technicalities.” He urged the
bankers to make their case before the Federal Reserve
Board and Congress rather than in the courts.
“I am more interested in the future of our country,
in the solidity and firmness of its banking institutions, than I am in the continuity of service between
the country bank and its city correspondents,” he
added. However, if anyone else felt the same way,
they remained silent as McCloud’s spirited defense
Banker C.A. McCloud of York, Neb., warned of the Federal Reserve was mocked by other country
his fellow rural bankers about taking court bankers.
action against the Federal Reserve.
However, despite the country bankers’ desire to
take some kind of formal action against the Federal Reserve’s check-clearing orders, the
large, urban bankers assembled in Kansas City weren’t convinced there was a pressing need
to address the issue. The ABA’s president, San Francisco banker James K. Lynch, acknowledged that some parts of the Federal Reserve System could be improved, but he generally
backed the central bank’s goals. In a speech to the full convention, Lynch, who would later
serve as the governor of the San Francisco Fed, said that while he was sympathetic to the


• A “Problem …of Great Novelty”

concerns of country bankers, he supported the Federal Reserve’s plan for check collection,
and he looked forward to the expected efficiencies it would provide. In fact, he said,
opposition to the Fed’s par clearing plan “puts us in the position of workingmen objecting
to labor-saving devices.”
Federal Reserve Chairman William P. Harding also sought to calm the country bankers in
a speech at the convention, saying the Federal Reserve’s check-clearing authority “shrinks into
insignificance” when compared to the System’s overall goals. “No member of the Federal
Reserve Board has any desire to antagonize the legitimate banking interests of this country,”
he added. “I see no reason why this whole problem should not be solved to the satisfaction
of all concerned.”

Congress takes action

Even as they devised their plan, the country bankers had already convinced several in
Congress to support their cause. Before the 1916 bankers’ convention, U.S. Rep. Claude
Kitchin of North Carolina, the Democrat majority leader, had introduced
a bill to repeal the Federal
Reserve’s check-clearing authority and allow member
banks to continue assessing exchange charges. But
Kitchin’s motives for introducing the bill were considered questionable. Before
his election to Congress, he
had served as president of
Planters and Commercial
Bank in Scotland Neck,
N.C., a small rural bank
that, according to one acRep. Claude Kitchin of North Carolina, a former rural banker,
count, earned at least half unsuccessfully attempted to repeal the Federal Reserve Act’s
its revenue through “ex- check-clearing authority in 1916.
A “Problem …of Great Novelty” •



change nipped off its own checks.”
However, there were other lawmakers willing
to take up the country bankers’ cause, including
Democrat Sen. Thomas Hardwick of Georgia.
Following the country bankers’ complaints at the
ABA convention, Hardwick attached an amendment to a World War I funding bill that would
allow banks to charge an exchange fee of 10 cents
for every $100 in checks they received. The bill,
which also would have forced the Reserve Banks
to start paying exchange fees to commercial
banks, passed the Senate by “a scant margin,” and
it moved to a conference committee to work out
the differences with a House version.
Federal Reserve Chairman William P.G.
The measure, however, remained mired in
Harding, who served from 1916 to 1922,
opposed limiting the Fed’s ability to collect the committee as lawmakers were flooded with
checks at their full face value. letters from wholesalers and merchants urging
repeal of the Hardwick amendment, while rural bankers pushed for passage. The Federal
Reserve also weighed in with a significant lobbying effort that seemed to contradict Fed
Chairman Harding’s assurances a few months earlier about the “insignificance” of the central
bank’s check-clearing plans.
In a letter to Sen. Robert Owen of Oklahoma, the Democrat chair of the Senate Banking
and Currency Committee and an author of the Federal Reserve Act, Harding wrote that the
Board of Governors would consider passage of the Hardwick amendment “as most unfortunate,” because “it is the duty of every bank to pay without deduction or discount, at its
own counter, checks drawn by its depositors against their balances.” Furthermore, Harding
warned, the amendment’s passage would “create a strong protest all over the country, which
would be far stronger than the pressure that is now being brought to bear for its enactment.”
A month later, Harding wrote to Democrat Rep. Carter Glass of Virginia, another
author of the Federal Reserve Act, to express the Board’s concerns over the full bill’s structure,
which included measures allowing the government to sell Liberty Bonds to fund the nation’s
entry into World War I.
According to Harding’s letter, Benjamin Strong, the governor of the New York Fed,


• A “Problem …of Great Novelty”

estimated that if the bill were passed in its current state, the U.S. government would be
required to pay $1 million in exchange charges to banks in order to clear the checks citizens
used to purchase the bonds. In addition to Harding’s letter, one of the regional Reserve
Banks attempted to sway opinion on the amendment by sending a telegram to its member
banks asking them to “please wire your Senators and Representatives in Congress, urging
reconsideration of vote on the Hardwick amendment for exchange charges.”
In a special report on the amendment in the ABA’s monthly Journal, the association
said Harding’s correspondence with Congress was “keenly resented” by bankers, who felt
their patriotism was being called into question by the suggestion they would profit from
exchange charges on Liberty Bond purchases. “It is unfortunate that (a) letter of this character
should emanate from those in high authority at a time when every possible effort should
be made to unify the banking system and marshal the banking resources…to meet in an
adequate way the additional burdens that will fall upon the banks because of America’s
entrance into war,” the ABA’s report stated.
But among the clashing views on the bill, perhaps no opinion carried more weight
than that of President Woodrow Wilson, who entered the debate with his own letter to
Owen that was read on the Senate floor.

President Woodrow Wilson was “a good deal disturbed” by congressional attempts to alter the Federal
Reserve Act’s check clearing provisions.

A “Problem …of Great Novelty” •


Wilson wrote he was “a good deal disturbed” by the Hardwick amendment. “I should
regard such a provision as most unfortunate and as almost destructive of the function of the
Federal Reserve banks as a clearing house for member banks,” Wilson wrote, adding that he
hoped the amendment would be “adjusted.”
After much debate, the bill finally emerged from the committee, but in a completely
different form. Hardwick’s measure was altered to prevent the Reserve Banks from paying or
being charged exchange fees. It also allowed the Board to regulate the amount of exchange
charges member banks assessed, and it permitted nonmember banks to hold deposits at the
Reserve Banks for clearing purposes.
Hardwick complained his amendment had been changed so much that the final version
completely negated what he had intended. Because of Wilson’s letter, Hardwick said, the
amendment had been turned into “the ghost of what it was, a mere remnant of what it was
intended to be—something that appears and purports to mean something and yet means
nothing.” In a further blow, Hardwick’s name was still attached to the amendment, and
after lawmakers voted to approve it, many later claimed they did not fully understand the
language of the amendment and were confused about what they were voting for.
Wilson signed the bill and requested an official opinion on the Hardwick amendment
from the attorney general, who determined the law did, in fact, prohibit banks from
assessing exchange fees on checks cleared through the Federal Reserve.
Armed with the blessing of both Congress and the administration’s legal opinion,
the Board of Governors felt it had a clear mandate to continue its pursuit of universal par
clearance. But despite the Board’s confidence in its interpretation, there were still enough
questions for the country bankers and their congressional allies to continue their fight.


• A “Problem …of Great Novelty”

Sen. Thomas Hardwick of Georgia said his proposal to limit the Fed’s check-clearing authority was
changed so much that the final version was “a mere remnant of what it was intended to be.”

A “Problem …of Great Novelty” •


Main Street in Pierce, Neb., shown here in a photograph from around 1920, was the site of several
confrontations between the town’s bankers and agents from the Federal Reserve who sought to end the
practice of non-par banking throughout the country. The Fed’s tactics often angered rural bankers, who
called the agents bank robbers and other names.

Chapter Seven

Bank Robbers and Bolsheviks
The par clearing controversy

During a below-freezing afternoon in November 1919, two men exited a car on Main
Street in Pierce, Nebraska, and rushed into Cones State Bank, leaving their vehicle running.
The visitors, later described as “hard boiled and armed,” drew attention in the small town
for their mode of transportation—a “Cole 8” automobile, one of the few models in the
country equipped with an eight-cylinder engine.
Along with a gun, the men were armed with nearly $40,000 in checks written on
accounts at the banks in Pierce. At Cones State Bank, they identified themselves as agents
of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Omaha Branch, and they had come to redeem
the checks for cash. According to custom, any checks presented to a bank in person had to
be paid in full, immediately.
The cashier paid out several of the smaller checks until reaching the final one, written
for $30,100. The amount was more than what the bank had in its vault, and was about
$13,000 more than it was required to hold in on-site reserves at any given time. The cashier
offered to pay the men with a bank draft—essentially a check written on the Cones State
Bank’s own account at another institution in Omaha. The two agents refused to accept the
draft and said they would wait in the lobby until they received cash.
If the bank could not pay the check, the agents could mark the document as “protested,”
a move that might eventually lead to the bank losing its state charter and result in disgrace
and financial ruin for the bankers. The situation for the bank’s employees was even more
confusing, as the bank’s president, Woods Cones, was out of town to visit a doctor. After
a quick discussion, one of the bank employees hurried off to another bank in town and,
somehow, scraped together enough cash from the cross-town competitors to pay the Federal
Reserve agents. The men took the money, got back in the car and headed south to Norfolk
over muddy roads to catch the next train to Omaha, carrying the modern day equivalent
of about $540,000 in cash.
The incident, which played out during a single afternoon, would later be compared
to a bank robbery, even though the actions of the Federal Reserve agents were completely
legal and had been carried out elsewhere across the country without much complaint. But
depending on the person retelling the story in the coming months, what happened in Pierce

Bank robbers and Bolsheviks •


was either an example of federal power run amok or another instance of selfish rural bankers
refusing to cooperate with attempted improvements to the nation’s payments system.
The incident also brought into focus the passionate feelings surrounding the seemingly
mundane issue of the Federal Reserve’s role in clearing checks.

The campaign

The Omaha Branch agents’ trip to rural Nebraska was part of a wider Federal Reserve
effort aimed at convincing state-chartered institutions, many of which were not Federal
Reserve members, to begin remitting checks at their full face value, or par. Under a measure
passed by Congress in 1917, the Federal Reserve was allowed to regulate the so-called
“exchange charges” some banks charged on checks they received through the mail. Under
this practice, the bank typically deducted a minimum of 10 cents from the face value of the
check and kept it for itself.

This 1920 Federal Reserve map shows the number of “par points” located in each state. Each point
represented a bank that had agreed to remit all checks at their full value, or at “par.” The Board of
Governors kept a running tally of par points in each district and issued monthly reports to the
Reserve Banks.


• Bank robbers and Bolsheviks

While the Fed’s authority to regulate this charge was limited to its member banks,
it interpreted Congress’ passage of the measure as a mandate to bring about universal
par clearance among all banks, including those that had decided not to join the Federal
Reserve System.
During a meeting of Federal Reserve officials in 1918, representatives from each regional
Reserve Bank agreed to participate in a formal, national campaign to institute universal
par clearance. In addition, in an attempt to make membership in the Federal Reserve
System more attractive, the Board of Governors eliminated the service charge Reserve Banks
charged member banks to process and mail checks.
Under the Fed’s new campaign, the Reserve Banks sent sharply worded letters and
made personal visits to thousands of non-member banks to explain the financial benefits of
a par clearing system. If a bank continued to assess exchange charges, the Federal Reserve
accumulated a number of checks drawn on that bank and then dispatched an agent to cash
the checks for their full face value in person. In some cases, a Reserve Bank would publicly
advertise that it was able, through its network of member banks, to collect checks at par on
institutions that were known as “non-par” banks.
The Board of Governors insisted the pressure it applied to the holdout institutions—
most of which were located in rural areas—was “not a local or selfish undertaking.” Rather,
it was a nationwide effort designed “for the convenience of the public and the promotion
of commerce.”
The Fed’s campaign had the solid backing of the nation’s merchants, who felt they
were ultimately paying the exchange charges. If a customer paid for a good or service with
a check from a non-par bank, the merchant would often not receive the full amount. In
the same way, wholesalers would require merchants to include an extra fee to cover any
exchange charges the wholesaler might face when they or their bank sought payment for
the merchant’s check.
The exchange fees amounted to what St. Louis hardware company owner Wallace
Simmons called an “unnecessary tribute” to banks. Speaking to the Annual Convention
of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1918, Simmons argued the Fed’s push for universal
par clearance would result in a more efficient and fairer way of settling payments. The Fed’s
campaign “will mean that any good check you receive will be worth one hundred cents on
the dollar,” he told the convention audience. “You cannot afford to put your name on any
check that is worth less than its face value.”
Bank robbers and Bolsheviks •


“The business men of the United State have been overly
good-natured, patient, and long suffering,” Simmons continued.
“It is time that one and all should insist upon universal conformity
to the methods established by the Federal Reserve Board.”

More extreme measures

In the Tenth District, the Kansas City Fed had found some
success in convincing non-member banks to remit at par. Assistant
Cashier E.P. Tyner noted in the fall of 1919 there were “only a very
few cases where we have had to take more extreme measures,” which
usually consisted of “presenting a large volume of items totaling so
large an amount that the bank would be unable to pay.”
To avoid embarrassment—and to prevent a Federal Reserve
agent from cleaning out their vaults—banks that found themselves
in the Kansas City Fed’s crosshairs agreed to sign a par agreement
about 80 percent of the time after receiving a request from the
Reserve Bank, Tyner estimated.
The Kansas City Fed’s methods may have produced results,
but some state-chartered banks that were not Federal Reserve
members were incensed. The Republic State Bank in Republic,
Kan., told Tyner in a letter that the Reserve Bank’s demand that it
remit at par “smacks not a little of big-stick Bolshevik methods.”
The Kansas City Fed’s method of accumulating a large amount of
checks to cash at one time was “not so spectacular as the manner
in which the yeggs hold us up, nevertheless, it is [quite] effective,”
the bank wrote, using the era’s slang for bank robbers.
The Kansas bank’s protest was mild compared to the complaints coming from Nebraska, where Federal Reserve agents were
called names worse than Bolsheviks or bank robbers.
This news article describes a 1914 bank robbery and
shootout, a common event that led many rural banks
to carry small amounts of cash in their vaults.


• Bank robbers and Bolsheviks

A war of words

If the Federal Reserve agents who visited Cones State Bank in November 1919 thought
their dramatic actions would convince the bankers in Pierce, Neb., to join a par clearing
system, they misjudged the resolve of the local bankers, and that of their leader, Woods
Cones, president of the Cones State Bank. Cones was a second-generation banker and
former classmate of William Jennings Bryan at Illinois College. He founded the first bank
in Pierce County, Neb., in the early 1880s and later served as Pierce’s first mayor.
In late 1919, employees at the Kansas City Fed’s Omaha Branch began hearing rumors
that Cones “had a few monkey wrenches up his sleeve to block the Federal Reserve machine.”
One of the Omaha Branch employees, A.A. Davies, who frequently visited banks in and
around Pierce, told another area banker to “advise Mr. Cones to oil up these wrenches as I
was coming down there with a steam roller.”
Word of Davies’ comments quickly spread throughout the tight-knit banking community in Pierce and nearby Osmond, and the bankers agreed to put aside their competitive
differences to stop what Cones later called “a steam-roller on the way from Washington”
sent “to crush me personally and ruin my bank.”
Davies made another visit to Pierce in December 1919 with the hope of convincing
Cones to sign a par agreement with the Kansas City Fed. Davies was taken to a back room
when a “very angry and excited” Cones “rushed in” and shouted at Davies.
“Don’t lay your hands on a gun unless you mean to pull a trigger,” Cones warned,
adding that he had a gun of his own that was “a little larger.” Davies left town that day
without obtaining a par agreement from the bank, and he continued to run into resistance
from other bankers.
In a later visit to a bank in Osmond, Neb., Davies asked a cashier if he could speak
with the bank’s president about signing a par agreement. The president, according to a
signed affidavit by Davies, “looked me straight in the eye saying: ‘I have no time for the
sons-of-bitches.’” At another Osmond bank, Davies and a colleague encountered a cashier
who “flew into a rage” at the sight of the Federal Reserve representatives in the bank lobby.
The cashier could not contain his anger and called the two men “a couple of bastards.”
That same day, Davies visited Pierce once again and spoke with Cones to try to smooth
things over. However, Davies recalled, “I was given a good cussing,” by Cones, who added
that Davies “was too dam [sic] smooth for him.”

Bank robbers and Bolsheviks •


Nebraska bankers chose C.A. McCloud, left, and Woods Cones, right, to represent their views on the
Fed’s check collection efforts.

Taking action

Within a few weeks, bankers across the state of Nebraska had heard about the “steamroller” on its way from Washington to Pierce. In January 1920, at Cones’ urging, the Nebraska
Bankers Association called an emergency meeting in Omaha. The 185 bankers in attendance
prepared a lengthy list of grievances alleging the Federal Reserve was acting with “the very
evident purpose of intimidating and embarrassing” non-member state banks.
The group argued the Fed’s methods were “unwarranted by law, a distinct departure
from well established customs, and an unjustifiable invasion of the legal rights of state institutions by the Federal Reserve Board, which has no jurisdiction whatever over State banks.”
The bankers requested help from their city correspondents, recommended that other banks
revoke their par agreements with the Fed and asked Congress to investigate the issue.
The opposition would be led by a “Committee of Three,” consisting of Cones, C.F.
Gund of Blue Hill, Neb., and York, Neb., banker C.A. McCloud—the same banker who
had attempted a vigorous defense of the Federal Reserve System three years earlier at the
American Bankers Association convention in Kansas City.
Not all state banks in Nebraska agreed with the Committee of Three. One such bank


• Bank robbers and Bolsheviks

was the Farmers Bank of Prairie Home, Neb., which wrote to their fellow Nebraska bankers
that charging exchange “had proved itself such a nuisance to us that we were glad when the
Federal Banks started the movement to do away with it. We at once agreed to co-operate
with them and see no reason now for changing our attitude.”
Two days later, the Omaha Bee reported on “a little war cloud that has blown up between
the Nebraska bankers and the Federal Reserve.” The Bee’s sympathies, however, laid with the
rural bankers; its correspondent wrote the Federal Reserve “seems to possess the power for
oppression as well as service.”
Soon after the bankers’ meeting, Nebraska banking
regulators, concerned the Federal Reserve was stepping into
their turf, entered the conflict. In a letter to Kansas City Fed
Governor Jo Zach Miller, Nebraska Secretary of Trade and
Commerce J.E. Hart, who was responsible for regulating
state-chartered banks, said he had received many complaints
“of what country banks call ‘rough neck’ and ‘hold-up’ methods” by Federal Reserve employees. Hart explained he had
instructed banks to carry as little cash as possible in their
vaults due to a spate of bank robberies across the state, and
the Federal Reserve was causing more problems.
“Now come your agents, driving over the State in
high-powered automobiles, with big guns in their pockets
and bulging packages of checks, demanding the cash over
the counter [instantly] and threatening to put the banks out
of business unless they produce,” Hart wrote. He warned
that the matter would be referred to the Nebraska attorney
general, and if he thought the Federal Reserve agents’ actions
had damaged “any state bank in the eyes of the community,”
the Nebraska officials would be “compelled to arrest your
agents in defense of the State’s dignity.”
In a measured, matter-of-fact response, Miller wrote
to Hart that the complaints of the Fed employees’ actions
Kansas City Fed Governor Jo Zach
were “entirely unfounded,” adding that “the statements Miller was at the center of a par
made by certain Nebraska bankers have been misleading, banking conflict in Nebraska.
Bank robbers and Bolsheviks •


to say the least.” Miller assured Hart the Federal Reserve was not attempting to coerce
any state banks into joining the Federal Reserve System, and he pledged continued
cooperation with the state regulator.
While he was occupied with calming the concerns of the Nebraska authorities, Miller
would soon find himself having to answer additional questions from Washington.

Trouble in the South

Meanwhile, bankers elsewhere were voicing their objections to similar methods being
used by Reserve Banks in their regions. In December 1919, the Atlanta Fed warned the nonmember banks in its district that unless they agreed to remit at par, the Atlanta Fed “would
very much regret to be forced to adopt other methods of [check] collection that would prove
embarrassing, annoying and expensive to you.”
Angry bankers in the Atlanta Fed’s district gathered in New Orleans early in 1920
and formed the National and State Bankers’ Protective Association to combat the Federal
Reserve’s actions. The association, which thousands of banks eventually joined, also called for
a congressional investigation into the Federal Reserve’s activities involving non-member
banks. For good measure, the association’s members urged Congress to look into the Federal
Reserve System’s profits and the allegedly high salaries of its employees.
The Federal Reserve’s push for par remittance was “un-American, unfair, unbusiness-like
and almost cowardly,” said Charles Claiborne of New Orleans, the group’s chairman, in
a speech to members of the American Bankers Association. The Federal Reserve Act, he
added, “bears every ear mark of the present day socialistic tendencies of the government—
something for nothing.”
Meanwhile, a smaller group of bankers in Georgia took the Atlanta Fed to court, asking
a federal judge to prevent the Reserve Bank from sending agents to non-member banks
to cash checks in person. At the same time, legislatures in Mississippi and other Southern
states passed laws requiring all banks to assess exchange charges on any checks presented
to them, including those presented by the Federal Reserve. The law was in direct conflict
with the Fed’s interpretation of federal law, which prohibited it from paying exchange
fees to any bank, and the Fed’s own policy, which prohibited member banks from assessing
exchange fees.
Farther north, the Cleveland Fed was dealing with its own controversy. In April 1920,
an agent from its Cincinnati Branch, H.A. Magee, who had been attempting to persuade


• Bank robbers and Bolsheviks

banks in Northern Kentucky to sign par agreements, was indicted by a local grand jury in
Catlettsburg, Ky., for “making and circulating statements derogatory” to the Farmers and
Merchants Bank. According to a federal lawsuit later filed against Magee and the Cleveland
Fed, Magee was “domineering, dictatorial and boisterous” and engaged in “loud and quar2
relsome conversations” with cashiers when he presented checks at the bank’s counter. 		
According to the lawsuit, Magee set up
shop daily at a drug store, “the most prominent place in the city,” across the street from
the Farmers and Merchants Bank, where he
would lay out all the checks to be collected on a
counter. He remained at the drug store for up
to five hours at a time “walking up and down
in the storeroom and looking across the street
at the bank as though he were on the watch
for what was being done there.”
Magee’s techniques mirrored those used
in Nebraska, but he took them a step further.
Along with making daily visits to the Farmers and Merchants Bank, he visited the bank’s
customers, including the area’s largest merchant
and an auto dealer, in an attempt to persuade The Cole 8 automobile was the preferred mode of
them to pressure the bank to sign par agreements transportation for Federal Reserve agents in the central
with the Fed. Magee told the customers— bank’s early days.
incorrectly—that the Farmers and Merchants Bank had refused payment on their checks.
Magee left Catlettsburg following his indictment and never returned, but the Cincinnati
Branch promptly replaced him with Mary McCall, a local woman “who had the respect
of the people of Catlettsburg.” However, even as she was held in high regard, her methods
were also viewed as strong-armed: She openly carried a pistol to protect herself from being
robbed and was usually accompanied by one or two guard dogs for added protection when
she collected payments from banks.
A federal judge agreed with the Farmers and Merchants Bank’s contention that the
Cleveland Fed’s methods amounted to “a kind of refined highwaymanship” and were similar
to “a holdup.” He granted the bank’s request for an injunction ordering the Reserve Bank
Bank robbers and Bolsheviks •


to stop attempting to collect checks in person, giving the Federal Reserve’s opponents a
victory and providing momentum for their cause in other parts of the country.

Congressional concerns

While Kansas City Fed Governor Jo Zach Miller was trying to manage the situation
in Pierce and Osmond, Neb., things in Washington began to heat up. On Jan. 19, 1920,
the Senate, acting on complaints from non-member banks, passed a resolution requesting
the Board of Governors provide information about “any method of coercion” to force state3
chartered banks to join the Federal Reserve System. In response, W.P.G. Harding of the
Board of Governors said the regional Reserve Banks “have never been anything other than
both patient and considerate” with non-member banks, although, he acknowledged, there
may have been a few cases where individual employees showed “an excess of zeal” in their
attempts to collect payment on checks.
In his response to the Senate,
Harding also included a brief report
from each Reserve Bank governor in
which they addressed the charges. One
by one, the Reserve Banks denied they
had established formal policies to coerce
non-member banks to join the System
or that they had acted improperly when
visiting non-member banks.
For Miller’s part, he was sure the
source of many of the complaints to
the Senate had come from Nebraska.
“The bankers of Pierce, by intimidation or otherwise, have prevented use
of the facilities common to the public,”
Miller wrote in his report. In addition,
he contended, at the recent meeting of
Nebraska bankers, the country bankers’
Fed Chairman William P.G. Harding said the Reserve Banks
had been “both patient and considerate” with rural banks in leader, Cones, “made certain false and
their collection efforts. misleading statements.”


• Bank robbers and Bolsheviks

Only a few days after Harding submitted the responses of Miller and the other Reserve Bank governors
to the Senate, members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation brought up the issue in the House. Rep. Charles
Frank Reavis alleged there was “almost a universal complaint among members of Congress” regarding the Re6
serve Banks’ “policy of oppression toward State banks.”
His fellow Nebraskan, Rep. William E. Andrews, introduced a resolution accusing the Federal Reserve “with
unwarranted and injurious demands upon State banks
in different parts of the country.” To make sure his
point was clear, Andrews sent a personal letter to the Nebraska Rep. William E. Andrews
criticized the Fed’s check collection
Omaha Branch with a copy of his resolution attached. efforts, which targeted state-chartered
“There is something wrong some where and we desire to banks.
ascertain the facts,” Andrews warned.
With Congress turning up the pressure, Miller called on a new member of the Board
of Governors who knew a thing or two about rural bankers.

An assist from the Board

President Woodrow Wilson’s nomination of Henry A. Moehlenpah to the Board of
Governors in September 1919 caught many by surprise, especially on Wall Street, where, a
reporter noted, “there are few bankers to be found here who ever heard of Mr. Moehlenpah
That was likely because he had spent his career as a banker in small-town Wisconsin,
most recently serving as president of a small bank in Clinton, population 1,200. According
to acquaintances contacted by The Milwaukee Journal, Moehlenpah was “a man of forceful
character, a good speaker and active in championing the cause of the country banker.” How9
ever, others described him as “a live wire with rather radical views,” and “quite a politician.”
In mid-February, 1920, the recently confirmed Gov. Moehlenpah stopped in Kansas
City to visit Miller on his way to a bankers’ convention in Texas. Moehlenpah offered to
help Miller deal with the Nebraska bankers, and he canceled a speaking engagement in San
Antonio so the two could travel to Omaha to meet Cones and his “Committee of Three.”
Despite the presence of a member of the Board of Governors who could empathize
Bank robbers and Bolsheviks •


with the Nebraska bankers’ point of view, the four-hour meeting with the Nebraskans “was
stormy and at times sulphurous,” Miller reported later. It was, he added, “the most strenuous
[meeting] that I have experienced in 20 years. The accusations and calumnies came from
the opposition thick, fast and furious, sparing no Government official, (or) member of the
Federal Reserve Board, but concentrating their severest condemnation on the officers and
agents of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.”
While aware of bankers’ concerns,
Moehlenpah was still surprised by the level
of anger voiced by Cones, McCloud and
Grund. “There was a bitter attack made upon
Governor Miller by Mr. Cones,” Moehlenpah recalled. “It was an uncalled for attack,
to my mind, which could bring no good, but
Governor Miller kept still.”
Moehlenpah, who viewed his role in
the meeting as akin to an umpire, heard the
bankers out, and during the last half-hour,
the meeting’s tone surprisingly shifted to an
“atmosphere … of universal brotherly love,”
Miller recalled later. As the meeting drew to
a close, Cones shocked the Federal Reserve
officials by conceding that he was not opposed to the idea of universal par collection.
Federal Reserve Governor Henry Moehlenpah, a former Rather, his problem was with the Fed’s “coerbanker from rural Wisconsin, sought to ease the Nebraska
cive, strong-arm” methods to bring it about.
bankers’ concerns.
Before leaving, Moehlenpah and Miller
convinced the bankers not to take any further action until the Southern bankers’ lawsuit
against the Atlanta Fed was settled.
But Moehlenpah and Miller weren’t done yet. While the bankers had calmed down,
their congressmen were still pushing the issue, and both Fed officials were called to testify
at a hearing on the issue held by the Board in Washington later that month.
The format of the Board’s hearing would be considered unconventional by today’s
standards. Along with being questioned by Harding, the Board’s chairman, both Miller


• Bank robbers and Bolsheviks

and Moehlenpah would face direct
questioning from lawmakers, including
Rep. Reavis of Nebraska. However, the
hearing resulted in little fanfare, and a
second hearing, held in Nebraska to
accommodate bankers who were unable to travel to Washington, resulted in
even less publicity as no one showed up
to lodge formal complaints against the
Kansas City Fed.
Eventually, the conflict ended
when the Kansas City Fed agreed to
withdraw its agents from Pierce and
to stop collecting any checks drawn on
the Cones State Bank. In return, the
Nebraska bankers agreed not to take
the Federal Reserve to court.
Nebraska Rep. Charles Frank Reavis, a critic of the Fed’s

The conflict continues

check collection methods, questioned Fed officials at a
hearing on the issue in 1920.

The rural bankers in the South wouldn’t be mollified so easily. It would take several
more years and two rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court for the Georgia bankers’ request
for an injunction against the Atlanta Fed to be settled.
First, in an opinion written by Justice Louis Brandeis, the court ruled the Atlanta Fed
had overstepped its authority in threatening to embarrass state banks. Brandeis’ opinion
held that the rights of any business—including a Federal Reserve Bank—were limited by
the rights of other businesses. While Brandeis’ ruling was encouraging for the banks, the
case was sent back to the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, which ended up ruling in the
Atlanta Fed’s favor.
This decision was appealed, and in 1923, the Supreme Court combined the Atlanta
case with another involving a suit against the Richmond Fed brought by North Carolina
bankers. This time, the verdict was mixed. In one sense, the Supreme Court’s new ruling
favored the Reserve Banks by rejecting the argument that they were acting coercively. The
court also ruled the Reserve Banks could continue to cash checks in person at any bank,
Bank robbers and Bolsheviks •


just as any commercial bank had a right to do.
“Country banks are not entitled to protection against legitimate competition,” Justice
Brandeis wrote in this decision. “Their loss here shown is of the kind to which business
concerns are commonly subjected when improved facilities are introduced by others, or a
more efficient competitor enters the field.”
However, while bolstering the Federal Reserve’s authority in some aspects, the Supreme
Court’s ruling also dealt two significant blows to the central bank’s self-imposed mission to
institute universal par clearance. The Federal Reserve Act, the court ruled, merely permitted
the Reserve Banks to act as clearinghouses for banks. In other words, there was no requirement
that all banks participate in the Fed’s clearing system, and the central bank would have to
find a way to compete with clearinghouses and correspondent banks when it came to clearing
checks. In a further cut against the Federal Reserve, the court also upheld the numerous state
laws allowing state-chartered banks to charge exchange fees if they desired.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote two key decisions on the Federal Reserve’s check-clearing
authority. As a result of his second decision, the Fed brought its par clearing campaign to an end.


• Bank robbers and Bolsheviks

As a result of the ruling, the Federal Reserve withdrew its agents across the country
and ended its formal campaign for universal par clearance. Under new regulations, the Board
of Governors prohibitied Reserve Banks from accepting checks from nonpar institutions. Fed
officials, merchants, and even other bankers would continue to call for an end to nonpar
banking during the coming years, but for several more decades, the nation’s banking system
would continue to be divided between par banks and a small number of nonpar institutions.
During the middle part of the 20th century, several states began amending their banking
laws to restrict nonpar banking, but the practice of charging exchange fees on checks was
not completely eliminated. A few studies have found most of the remaining nonpar banks
were located in rural areas that were not as competitive as other markets. As these largely
rural banks began to experience more competition as a result of technological advances in
communication and transportation, their ability to collect exchange fees on checks eventually
faded away.
Decades after the Federal Reserve’s designers had used heated rhetoric to call for the
elimination of exchange fees on checks, a footnote found at the bottom of a chart deep
within the Board of Governors Annual Report for 1980 matter-of-factly announced there
were no longer any nonpar banking offices in the United States.

Bank robbers and Bolsheviks •


This exhibit shows the average volume of checks, 204,000, processed daily by staff at a single Federal
Reserve Bank in 1924. The growing volume of checks flowing through the U.S. banking system over the
coming decades required commercial banks, and the Fed, to dedicate more resources to handling paper. The
advent of computerization in the 1950s offered a solution.

Chapter Eight

“A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper”
The rise of banking automation

On Sept. 22, 1955, the engineers and scientists of the Stanford Research Institute were
ready to show off their latest top-secret project. The researchers had spent the past five years
helping Bank of America—one of the nation’s largest banks—find a way to deal with the
crushing volume of checks generated by its 4.6 million accounts. The problem showed no
signs of letting up; Bank of America’s customers throughout California were opening about
23,000 new checking accounts every month. Each account produced a never-ending stream
of checks that had to be sorted by hand at multiple locations.
A group of reporters from The New York Times, Fortune, Life, Newsweek and other
publications were bused in for a special demonstration led by SRI’s lead engineer, Thomas
Morrin. After getting the thumbs-up from a colleague that everything was working, Morrin
began the demonstration of a massive computer that could sort checks at an astounding
speed and electronically record information such as the account number and amount of the
check. The 25-ton machine, composed of 17,000 radio tubes and 1 million feet of electrical
wiring, took up 4,000 square feet and generated so much heat it required its own specially
designed cooling system.
A key source of the computer’s power came from a seemingly small change to the
information printed on each check. By adding a tiny line of numbers printed in magnetic
ink on every item sent through the machine, the computer could “read” the check and store
the information to a magnetic drum spinning at 33 revolutions per second. This information
was transferred to a magnetic tape that could be transported to another location and read
by another computer.
The Stanford engineers had initially dubbed the computer FINAC, a technical-sounding
abbreviation of “financial accounting” that sounded similar to the names of other, betterknown mainframes such as ENIAC and UNIVAC. However, Bank of America’s public
relations team, seeking a friendlier way to describe the machine to its customers, decided it
should be called “Electronic Recording Machine-Accounting.” The name change appeared
to have the desired effect, as The New York Times’ reporter personified the new system as a
“plump automatic bookkeeper named ERMA.”
The machine promised to dramatically change banking—and the larger business

A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper •


world—forever. It was “the biggest single advance in bookkeeping in the history of banking,”
Bank of America President S. Clark Briese told the assembled reporters. The computer
would cut the bank’s check processing time by 80 percent, allowing some bank staff to be
reassigned to other positions where a human touch was better suited, Briese added.
“ERMA is a new concept in banking,” he would later say. “Its effects will be far-reaching,
touching such things as bank architecture and new banking services undreamed of today.”
By bringing computers, which had been primarily confined to the military and universities, into the banking industry, SRI and Bank of America also sparked a wider discussion about
the possibilities this new era provided for the future of commerce.

A deluge of paper

The development of ERMA was a direct response to several significant problems the
banking industry faced in the post-World War II economy. As more people and businesses
experienced the benefits of economic prosperity following the war, they wrote more and
more checks to pay for cars, groceries and other things. From 1939 to 1952, the number
of checking accounts in the United States ballooned from 27 million to 47 million, while
the number of checks written annually jumped from 3.5 billion to
8 billion. By 1960, Americans
were writing 14.5 billion checks a
year, and banks were struggling to
keep up.
“What banker has not groaned
on eyeing the swelling stream of
checks written by Americans everywhere?” the Atlanta Fed asked
in a 1960 publication. “Only a
modest Hollywoodian adjective
like supercolossal can adequately
describe the growth in check
The Federal Reserve Banks relied on a large number of employees to usage in recent years.”
handle, sort and process checks. The volume of checks exploded in the
Banks’ problems were made
1950s, straining the banking system.
worse by a lack of technological


• A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper

advancement. Banks were equipped with several mechanical tools, such as cash registers,
proof machines and bookkeeping machines, but there was essentially no significant advance
in banking technology from 1919 until after the end of World War II.
Along with the limited technology, the larger problem was one of people: There simply
weren’t enough. While employment throughout the entire economy had increased 20 percent
from 1946 to 1960, banks gobbled up many more jobs than other industries. During the
same period, the number of jobs at financial institutions exploded by 65 percent.
In a typical 40-person bank branch, seven employees were devoted to clerical work,
and their days were spent sorting, verifying, filing or bundling paper checks—a mundane
and sometimes unsatisfying job that had a huge turnover rate. In many cases, banks had
to close at 2 p.m. so that staff could catch up and deal with the checks that had arrived
earlier in the day. In addition, most of the clerical workers who handled checks were young
women from the ages of 18 to 24—a group that was leaving the workforce in large numbers
to start families during the Baby Boom.
“In fact, banking is having trouble finding enough workers right now,” the Philadelphia
Fed warned in 1960, while noting that a recent edition of the Sunday paper was filled with
classified ads from companies in other industries looking for clerical workers. “Clerical
help is scarce. The low birth rates of the 1930s, plus earlier marriages and motherhood have
trimmed the supply of young female workers.”
On top of these problems, there was very little standardization throughout the banking
industry when it came to checks. They did not come in a specific size, and they were not

The lack of check standards made processing more difficult. Check designs, sizes and shapes
varied widely.

A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper •


pre-printed with any information, resulting in potential errors due to sloppy handwriting by
customers filling out blank boxes and lines on the check. This also raised issues surrounding
security, as the only safeguard against fraud was often a bank clerk who compared the signature
on a check with the customer’s signature on file. These account files, however, were in constant
flux because they were ordered alphabetically by customers’ names. Clerks were forced to
constantly reorder and re-sort the files to adjust for new or departing customers.
Bank clerks were also well familiar with so-called “headache” items that required special
handling and sorting because of their strange shape, color or some other issue. Companies
sending rebate or promotional checks to customers would print them on paper shaped
like boats or sausages. The checks sometimes came printed with the picture of a company
president or a factory, and they could be printed in sizes as large as a newspaper. “You could
even write a valid check on a golf ball,” the Philadelphia Fed noted.
It was clear that change was needed, and the emerging power of computers offered
a solution.

A private-sector partnership

Executives at San Francisco-based Bank of America realized they were losing the battle
against paper checks, and in 1950, they turned to experts at the nearby Stanford Research
Institute for help.
The engineers at SRI first focused on the bank’s manual sorting and filing practices.
They recommended that Bank of America stop sorting bank account information alphabetically by customer name, and instead use a system where each account had its own
number. By moving to a number-based system, new accounts could simply be assigned the
next available number instead of being inserted into a fixed alphabetical position, changing
the order of all files that followed the new account.
The next task was not as simple. To enable a machine to read the information on a
check, the engineers had to develop a new language that could be easily understood by both
people and machines. Scientists at IBM had been working on a bar code system that could
be printed on checks, but the staff at SRI had devised a different kind of system that relied
on a string of numbers printed at the bottom of each check.
The numbers were printed in magnetic ink, which made it possible for a computer to
sense and record the information. The system, known as magnetic ink character recognition
(MICR), also had the advantage of durability: When clerks handled checks, normal ink


• A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper

would rub off or get smudged, but magnetic ink could still be read by a computer even if it
was damaged. In addition, the MICR system, which humans could still read and understand
if a computer was unavailable, was viewed as a better alternative to IBM’s bar code system,
which some bankers considered “spooky.”
In 1956, after visiting several companies and hearing about potential solutions, a
committee sponsored by the American Bankers Association chose MICR as the new standard
for checks. The Federal Reserve System, which most checks in the nation passed through at
some point, provided feedback throughout the process.
After the committee determined the size of the MICR font to be used, the location
of where it would be printed on a check and other important details, the Federal Reserve
agreed to conduct a pilot test of new check processing technology in 1960. In the test, five
Reserve Banks tried out equipment from manufacturers such as IBM, Burroughs Corp.,
and National Cash Register Company. The Boston Fed, which served as one of the test
sites, faced a unique problem from the start. Its headquarters, which was built in 1922, did
not have stairwells or elevators large enough for the computer equipment to fit through,
so workers removed the windows on the Bank’s third floor and used a crane to install the
massive machine.
Meanwhile, after its ERMA prototype demonstration for the press
proved the system could work, Bank
of America contracted with General
Electric to mass produce the machines
for use at several of its branches and
processing sites. In 1959, the bank
and GE, with the help of spokesman
Ronald Reagan, demonstrated the
completed model at an event televised
to four cities via closed circuit. A
skilled human bookkeeper could hope
to manually process just 245 accounts
an hour, but GE officials told reporters
the new computerized system could Before he was president, Ronald Reagan was a spokesman for
General Electric. In 1959, he hosted a televised demonstration
“read, sort and post 550 checking of a check sorting computer developed by GE.
A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper •



accounts a minute, or 33,000 an hour.”
The rest of the banking industry soon recognized that the check clearing solutions
provided by the private sector, with Federal Reserve support, would provide a more efficient
system, and by 1967, 98 percent of the checks processed by the Federal Reserve contained
a MICR code. At the same time, the processing speed of the machines had almost doubled
to 60,000 checks per hour. The leap forward in progress also sparked imaginations across
the banking industry about what the future of payments might look like.

The checkless society

The efficiency and productivity gains computers brought to banking were obvious.
But some wondered if the power of computing could take things further and eventually
eliminate the check completely. In the late 1960s, a “checkless society” was within reach,
according to the experts, and banks had only scratched the surface of what was possible.
In the near future, “paper will give way to electronic pulses as the main method of
storing and transmitting financial data,” Dale Reistad, leader of the American Bankers
Association’s automation efforts, wrote in 1967. This new system would “employ terminals,
communication links, computers, and related technologies in a system based on electronic
funds transfers.”
According to one of several futuristic scenarios that began appearing in academic journals
and newspapers in the late 1960s, Mary Doe, a “prudent housewife,” could use an identification card inserted into a home telephone to pay her bills directly from her bank account.
At the grocery store, Mrs. Doe would hand the cashier her “money card” in the checkout
line. After she entered a secret three-digit code on a keypad, a light would flash a billionth of
a second later, signaling that her bank had cleared the transaction by transferring money from
her account directly into the store’s account. Back at home, Mr. Doe inserted his children’s
money cards into the telephone and keyed in amounts to transfer money into their accounts
for their weekly allowances.
Other scenarios asked readers to consider the possibility of paying bills electronically
by using a bank card at a computer terminal located on the nearest street corner. Workers
would no longer receive physical pay checks under this system. Their employers would
simply instruct their bank to deposit money into employee accounts on a monthly, weekly,
or even daily basis.
Those promoting this future system were not outside of the mainstream. In fact,


• A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper

one of the most vocal advocates of
the “checkless society” was George
Mitchell, a member of the Federal
Reserve’s Board of Governors. His
wife, Mary, recalled years later that
Mitchell was “a fanatic on the subject
of the Board’s reluctance to initiate
change.” Mitchell was also “contemptuous of the check as a means of payment,” because of the large resource
commitment required to clear paper
through the Federal Reserve and
commercial banks. In speeches and
essays, Mitchell argued it would be
only a matter of time before the check
became a relic of the past.
“I expect check usage as we
know it will have largely disappeared”
within a few years, Mitchell said in a
1965 speech to the American Economic
Association. Settling and clearing pay- Federal Reserve Gov. George Mitchell was an early advocate for
electronic payments. He supported the idea of a “checkless society”
ments would instead be conducted and predicted check usage would eventually end.
through a vast network of 250 com9
puter centers across the country, he predicted.
“Depositors will have no need to visit their banking office any more often than they
now visit their telephone or electric utility company office,” Mitchell said. Instead of taking
their paychecks to a bank branch, the bank would notify customers when a credit had been
electronically posted to their account. “Not only will the computer reduce the risks in paying
bills, it will also take over the chores in banking—such as a trip to the bank and the standing
in line to make a deposit, the writing of checks and mailing them to creditors, and similar
routine tasks,” he said.
In a memoir written several decades later, Mary Mitchell acknowledged that some of
her husband’s predictions were “hard to swallow,” and were “greeted with skepticism and
A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper •



even derision in some quarters.” However, Mitchell’s innovative thinking and continued
support of an electronic payments system led some to recognize him as “the father of
electronic payments.”

Workers at the Omaha Branch of the Kansas City Fed in the mid-1960s use a high-speed check
reader produced by IBM.

Other experts predicted the checkless society would become a reality by the early
1980s, but even that timeline proved to be too optimistic as consumers, who were “slow
to change and difficult to educate,” were not yet ready for such a drastic change.
The ABA’s Reistad suggested in the late 1960s that a complete shift to electronic payments
would take at least a generation, as fears of an erosion of privacy and the unknown impact of
computers on society were still widespread. The youngest consumers, those born in the 1950s
or later, “will expect the computer to work them and will have no fear of its performance,” he
predicted. “They will demand, not resist, change in financial actions that are compatible
with greater efficiency and the reduction of paperwork.”


• A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper

Automated clearinghouses

Amid the speculation of what the future might look like, new technologies and
improvements were still being developed.
A significant improvement in processing paper checks came with the opening of Federal
Reserve Regional Check Processing Centers (RCPCs) in 1972, an idea that had first been
proposed in 1954 but had been taken up with renewed vigor by the Fed Gov. Mitchell. The
centers—located across the country in cities that did not have a Federal Reserve Bank or a
branch—cut the average time to clear a check substantially.
The fact that the Federal Reserve did not charge member banks to use these facilities
also made the central bank an attractive clearing option for some banks. Thirty-five RCPCs
were available for member institutions to use by 1973, in addition to the 35 Reserve Bank and
Branch office locations that were already processing checks. Soon, smaller clearinghouses that
were unable to compete with the Fed’s free services began closing.
Meanwhile, larger clearinghouses continued to look for ways to innovate and saw an
opportunity. The clearinghouse associations in San Francisco and Los Angeles began work
on developing a system to settle payments electronically between banks and formed the
Special Committee on Paperless Entries (SCOPE) in 1968. At about the same time, the
Atlanta Fed partnered with Georgia Tech University on an electronic payments project that
would involve a test market composed of banks in Georgia and Florida.
Within four years, similar Automated Clearing House (ACH) associations formed
across the country and focused on developing a paperless method to help settle recurring
payments, such as mortgage payments, insurance premiums and paychecks.
The Federal Reserve was already in a position to support the ACH efforts through its
existing check-clearing system and the Regional Check Processing Centers. While the payment
information running through the ACHs were recorded on magnetic tapes, they still had to
be transported to various locations, and Gov. Mitchell, who had been named vice chair of
the Fed in 1973, pushed the Fed to use its physical check delivery infrastructure to support
the development of ACHs across the country. In many cases, ACH associations eventually
turned over their operations to their nearest regional Reserve Bank, which provided additional
critical support to the electronic system’s development.
The federal government also saw an opportunity to automate its billions of dollars in
payments for Social Security and other programs, and the Treasury turned to the ACH system
to help cut costs. In 1975, at Mitchell’s prodding, the Air Force began using the ACH
A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper •


By the early 1980s, computerized high-speed check readers were common throughout the Federal
Reserve and commercial banks.

system to provide direct deposit services to its personnel, delivering magnetic tapes to the
Reserve Banks containing information for some 270,000 paycheck recipients. The Treasury
Department estimated that by the end of 1976, more than 6.5 million federal workers
would receive their paychecks electronically through the ACH.
A congressional committee assigned to study the issue of electronic payments also
endorsed the Fed’s role in the effort. In its 1977 report, the National Commission of Electronic
Funds Transfers, which included bank regulators, financial institutions, a retailer and members of the public, recommended the Fed continue to provide ACH services and promote
access to the ACH network. The commission also recommended the ACH networks and
the Fed begin charging for the service in order to promote the possibility for private sector
competition. This finding, and the lack of any public governance recommendations,
illustrated the commission’s emphasis that market forces would drive improvements in the
payments system. The commission’s report also urged Congress to pass legislation covering
a wide range of consumer issues surrounding electronic payments.
Congress acted on the commission’s recommendations a year later with the Electronic
Fund Transfers Act, which required the Fed to establish regulations for consumers and
banks regarding electronic payments. As a result of the Act, Congress had formalized the


• A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper

framework that placed the central bank in the dual roles of both an operator and a regulator
within the electronic payments system.

The Atlanta Fed’s Cyber M1000 was used for wire transfers and ACH
transactions. The system’s control panel is pictured in this photo from the

A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper •


Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker warned Congress in 1979 about competitive differences
between banks and thrift institutions, which could offer higher interest rates on deposits but could not
access the Fed’s financial services. The Monetary Control Act sought to level the field by requiring the
Fed to charge for its financial services and offer its services to all depository institutions.

Chapter Nine

Control and Competition

The Monetary Control Act

As Paul Volcker took his seat before the Senate Banking Committee on Sept. 26,
1979, the new Federal Reserve chairman found himself under intense scrutiny as inflation
appeared poised to continue its dramatic rise. Only a few weeks into his new job, and
amid signs that unemployment was rising, the media and the White House were already
questioning whether Volcker’s plans for more restrictive monetary policy would steer the
economy back into health.
A few days before his Senate appearance, a report in The Wall Street Journal noted that
officials in the Carter administration were “becoming increasingly nervous about monetary
policy under the direction of Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, fearing that it could prolong
and deepen the recession.” The report also noted that “some White House officials” were
privately hoping Volcker’s recent clashes with other Fed governors over the direction of the
discount rate meant the chairman would stop pursuing tighter monetary policy.
Beyond the issue of inflation and the whispers from the White House, Volcker had yet
another challenge to deal with. In his prepared remarks to the Senate committee, he warned
lawmakers that a growing number of commercial banks were leaving the Federal Reserve
System in order to escape the Fed’s reserve requirements. The Federal Reserve did not pay
interest on these reserves, and as a result, member banks were beginning to treat the funds
as an unacceptably high cost of Federal Reserve System membership.
In an environment of rising interest rates, the appeal of maintaining these reserves was
declining, and member banks faced a choice. They could continue holding reserves at the
Fed in return for free access to the Fed’s payments services, such as check clearing and wire
transfers, as well as access to the discount window—an important safety mechanism.
Alternatively, member banks could pull their reserves to make loans and take advantage of
historically high interest rates. While that decision would require the bank to revoke its Fed
membership and give up access to the Fed’s payment services, a number of large, private-sector
correspondent institutions offered check clearing and other services and would be able to
meet those needs.
For many member institutions, the choice was clear, and hundreds of banks were now
leaving the Federal Reserve System. Federal Reserve officials had repeatedly warned lawmakers

Control and Competition •


about the problem, and during the 1970s, more than 300 banks out of 14,500 in the Federal
Reserve System revoked their membership. Fed officials were worried the number would
continue to grow.
The issue, Volcker now told the Senate, involved a problem of “competitive inequalities,”
between member banks, which were at a disadvantage because of the Fed’s reserve requirements
and other regulations limiting the amount of interest they could offer on savings accounts.
Other institutions, such as savings and loans, credit unions and non-member banks, didn’t
face the same restrictions and could offer new products, such as interest-bearing checking
accounts, that traditional banks were prohibited from offering to customers. If the decline
in Fed membership continued, Volcker warned, it would “ultimately threaten our ability to
conduct effective monetary policy.”
A solution, though, was at hand. Volcker pointed to two pending bills the Federal
Reserve found “acceptable.” The measures would first treat all depository institutions equal
by making banks, thrifts and credit unions subject to the central bank’s reserve requirements.
Secondly, the bills would permit all depository institutions to use the Fed’s financial services,
such as its check processing facilities and the automated clearinghouse, and require the
Fed to charge institutions (including member banks) for using those services. As a result,
member banks would be placed on equal competitive footing with other institutions.
By passing the bills, Volcker suggested, Congress might improve the effectiveness of
the Fed’s policies by placing more of the nation’s money, in the form of reserves, back under
the central bank’s influence by increasing the monetary base. The measures could also lead
to a more efficient payments system.
“Intelligently implemented, we believe this approach can contribute to the efficiency,
competition, and safety of the financial system,” Volcker told the senators. “These questions
have been long debated, and I sense a convergence of views. Now, this Committee has the
chance to bring the long process to the edge of conclusion. I urge you to seize that chance.”
Volcker left the senators to consider his comments, but he wasn’t going to wait on
Congress to make the changes the Fed needed. Several days after the hearing, Volcker
announced a series of policy actions aimed at corralling inflation by targeting the supply of
banking reserves in the system.
Meanwhile, Congress continued to debate the competitive inequalities Volcker had
mentioned and other issues related to the Fed’s role in the payments system.


• Control and Competition

The rise of thrifts

For some lawmakers and those in the banking industry, the problems Volcker highlighted were nothing new and reflected ongoing arguments that started several years earlier
about the regulatory differences between commercial banks and other classes of depository
institutions—primarily savings and loan associations.
Initially designed to serve as a source of mortgage lending, changes to federal law in
the mid-1960s allowed savings and loans, also known as thrift institutions, to pay higher
interest rates on deposits than what traditional banks were allowed to offer. Lawmakers
had determined that a higher interest rate on deposits at thrifts would attract more funds
that could then be used to boost mortgage lending, and thus, promote homeownership.
In 1970, Congress broadened thrifts’ powers further by giving them the authority to make
transfers on account holders’ behalf to third parties for “household-related expenses.” A few
years later in 1976, Congress permitted thrifts located in New England offer a new financial
product not available to traditional banks—interest-bearing checking accounts. Federal
Reserve regulations prohibited commercial banks from paying interest on similar accounts.
In order to process their customers’ payments, thrifts sought access to the nation’s automated
clearinghouses (ACHs), which were operated by the Federal Reserve Banks but governed by
associations made up of commercial banks. Perhaps not surprisingly, the commercial banks
did not welcome their new competitors.
In California, the regional automated clearing house association, CAHCA, decided
that thrifts would only be able to access the ACH if they held “pass-through” accounts with
an association member bank acting as a correspondent. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve,
as operator of most of the nation’s ACHs, supported the bankers’ position, saying it would
be open to allowing thrifts to access the system as long as they were also required to meet
the same reserve requirements and interest rate restrictions as commercial banks. Federal
Reserve Gov. George Mitchell, the Fed’s point person on payments issues, put the issue
squarely at the feet of Congress.
“If Congress said, ‘We want all the institutions to be part of the money system,’ then
there wouldn’t be any question about it,” Mitchell said at a 1974 hearing. “You know what
the arguments are for making them (thrifts) more like banks, giving them the same reserve
requirements and giving them the same interest ceiling arrangements—that is essentially
what we are talking about.”
However, Congress delayed taking any significant action on the issue and left the
Control and Competition •


regulatory differences in place.

The government takes notice

At the same time, the thrifts found a sympathetic ear at the Department of Justice.
In a 1974 statement, the Department’s Antitrust Division warned that the ACH system
was “an essential facility,” and as such, those who controlled it “must grant access to it
on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms to all competitors,” which included thrift
Three years later, the Justice Department acted on its warning. In 1977, the government
sued the Rocky Mountain Automated Clearinghouse Association and CACHA in two
separate actions, alleging the associations had essentially created monopolies that benefited
from their connections with the Federal Reserve. The government further alleged the Federal
Reserve’s involvement prevented the emergence of any private-sector competition to the
automated clearinghouse. The government won the lawsuits, forcing the associations to
begin allowing thrifts access the ACH.
Meanwhile, Congress began to take notice of the access problem for thrift institutions
and the cost to the Federal Reserve of providing clearing and other payments services to
member banks for free. By 1976, the Federal Reserve was spending $400 million to provide payments services for its members, an amount
equal to 60 percent of the central bank’s entire op1
erating budget. To many in Congress, this was an
unnecessary expense that ate into the profits the Fed
returned to the U.S. Treasury every year.
During a two-day hearing on the issue in 1977,
Democrat Sen. William Proxmire of Wisconsin,
chair of the Senate Banking Committee, summarized
the views of several witnesses representing thrift institutions and private sector payment providers. The
Sen. William Proxmire, chair of the Senate Banking
Committee, held hearings on the Fed’s role in the witnesses were urging lawmakers to “encourage the
payments system during the late 1970s. greatest amount of competition” and “open up the
role of the private sector in the payments mechanism,” Proxmire said in summarizing their
testimony. He then indicated that he supported a larger role for the private sector in the
payments system.


• Control and Competition

“The current framework is stifling competition” from private-sector service providers,
Proxmire said. “It is clear that the private sector is not only willing, but they are eager—you
might say very eager—to compete with the Fed.”
Representing the Federal Reserve at the hearing was Gov. Philip Coldwell, who argued
the Fed’s role in the nation’s payments system “ensures that the entire nation has the benefit
of a uniform, basic level of payments mechanism services.” Coldwell, echoing Mitchell’s
position from a few years earlier, asked that Congress remove the “burden” of Fed membership by requiring all depository institutions to hold reserves at the central bank. In return,
Congress should require the Fed to open its payments services to all institutions and charge
for the services.
By doing so, Congress could address the decline in Fed membership and foster private
sector competition in the payments system. Coldwell added that it was time to eliminate
regulations that gave thrift institutions an advantage over banks by allowing thrifts to pay
higher interest rates on deposits and offer checking accounts that paid interest.
It would take some time, however, for lawmakers to agree on a resolution. Over the
next two years, several proposals were introduced, but they all failed to advance in meaningful
ways. The Carter administration also tried to address the issue by establishing commissions
that offered their own legislative ideas, but the problems were still lingering when Volcker once
again visited the Senate Banking Committee in February 1980.

Volcker pushes again

Despite his warnings during the previous hearing in September about the effect
declining Fed membership was having on the central bank’s ability to conduct monetary
policy, Congress had still not taken any action to address the problem. If anything, Volcker
now told the Senate Banking Committee on Feb. 4, 1980, the membership problem would
get worse in light of interest rates that were rising at an even faster pace.
While some 300 banks had withdrawn from Federal Reserve membership during the
1970s, a new internal Fed survey found that an additional 320 banks “were considered
certain or probable to withdraw” their membership, while another 350 “were actively considering withdrawal,” Volcker said. If these banks, which held $71 billion of the banking
system’s total deposits, left the system, only 64 percent of the nation’s deposits would be
held at Fed member banks, the chairman added. It was a level that threatened to limit the
effectiveness of monetary policy.
Control and Competition •


“As one banker has put it, the cost of membership
is ‘too high to be a member of anything,’” Volcker said.
“I would remind you that loss of members has several
adverse effects on monetary control, the soundness of
the banking system, and the strength of the Federal
Reserve.” Once again, Volcker urged lawmakers to seriously consider addressing the membership problem
and to mandate that the Fed start charging for its payment services. Without action, the nation’s central bank
was coming “perilously close” to the point of losing control
of its ability to manage the country’s monetary system,
Volcker warned.
President Jimmy Carter signed the
Mindful of Volcker’s statements, Congress at last passed
Monetary Control Act in March 1980.
the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary
Control Act in late March 1980. The new law contained a number of provisions, including
the following:
• All depository institutions would be subject to the Federal Reserve’s reserve require		 ments, which would be phased in over several years. Because more institutions
		 would be required to hold reserves at the Fed, the requirements would be lower for
		 many member banks than they had been previously.
• The Federal Reserve would be required to begin pricing its services starting in
1981. These services, which included currency and coin services, check clearing
		 and collection, wire transfers, automated clearinghouse services, securities safekeeping
		 and any other electronic funds transfers, would be available at explicit prices for all
		 depository institutions.
• As part of the Fed’s price structure, the central bank would be required to add a
		 “private sector adjustment factor” to its prices to account for the depreciation,
		 capital expenses, taxes and other costs faced by service providers in the private
		 sector. The Federal Reserve would also be required to cover its costs of providing
		 payment services.
• Interest rate ceilings would be phased out over the next several years, and all institu		 tions would be allowed to pay interest on checking accounts.


• Control and Competition

During a White House signing ceremony for the bill,
President Jimmy Carter said the new law would “help
small savers and address more effectively the relationship
of the Federal Reserve System with the banks throughout
our nation.” Carter also praised the work of his Treasury
Secretary, William Miller, who, he said, “deserves a great
deal of credit for having pursued this effort, even when the
prospects for success were very bleak.”
However, some observers felt Volcker was largely
responsible for pushing the various measures through
Congress. “The new banking legislation gives the central
bank more clout through establishment of a universal and Treasury Secretary William Miller
uniform system of reserves,” The New York Times wrote. was credited for the Monetary Control
Act, but observers felt Volcker was
“Paul A. Volcker, the Fed’s chairman, showed himself as responsible for its passage.
a skilled negotiator in wheedling the changes from the
legislators after his two predecessors, G. William Miller and Arthur Burns, had failed.”
In return for help in addressing the membership problem, the Federal Reserve now
found itself thrust into a formal role as a competitor in the payments industry. Almost
immediately, it encountered new challenges.

The Fed as competitor

Soon after passage of the Monetary Control Act, the Board of Governors issued a
policy statement explaining how it would set prices for Federal Reserve services and fulfill
lawmakers’ intentions. The policy stated that prices would be set by an explicit fee schedule,
that all services covered by the fee schedule would be available to non-member depository
institutions, that revenues for “major service categories” match the Fed’s costs, and that the
structure of fees and service agreements would “reflect desirable longer-run improvements
in the nation’s payment system.”
In August 1981—the first month the Fed’s pricing system went into effect—the central
bank’s processing and clearing volume dropped nearly 20 percent as commercial banks
turned to other institutions for better and cheaper payment services. It was a clear sign
that the Fed’s regional Reserve Banks, which had essentially provided their services for free
before, would have to quickly adapt and improve in this new competitive environment.
Control and Competition •


“It’s like taking a bunch of zebras and telling them that because they have stripes,
they’re tigers,” one unnamed Federal Reserve Bank president told Fortune magazine for a
feature story on the Fed’s attempts to set competitive prices for services that previously were
free for member banks. “They have to learn to pounce instead of trot.”
Some Reserve Banks adjusted better than others by developing slick brochures and
other marketing materials and hiring sales staff to visit depository institutions. One brochure
produced by the Kansas City Fed announced that “No Job is Too Small for Us,” while the
San Francisco Fed prominently marketed its FedLine package, which offered institutions an
IBM personal computer, a printer, training, maintenance and access to a communications line
for $175 a month. “One of our representatives can demonstrate and explain the FedLine
concept,” the San Francisco Fed’s marketing materials read. “Call or write today. You can’t
afford not to know about FedLine.”
While lawmakers had intended that the new pricing requirements for the Fed would
promote private sector competition, some in the financial services industry didn’t see it that
way. Correspondent banks that had offered their clearing and payments services to other
banks for decades were angry that the Fed, with its massive nationwide network of clearing
sites originally intended for member banks only, was now competing for the business of all
depository institutions.
“The commercial bankers are furious that the Fed is acting like a private enterprise,
and they accuse it of abusing its power as regulator to enhance itself as a competitor,” read
one news account in 1982. One banker at a “major commercial check clearer” told a reporter
that “The FAA doesn’t fly planes … and the SEC doesn’t buy stock. But here we are, competing
with our regulator.”
Another banker, George D. Norton of the Philadelphia National Bank, compared the
competitive situation to a football game where one team had to compete against the referees.
“It’s like you’re the defensive captain in the Super Bowl,” Norton said. “You look across the
line at the other team, and you see this big, husky quarterback in a football helmet, but he’s
wearing a black-and-white striped shirt.”
The Fed’s requirement that it add a “private sector adjustment factor” to its prices also
became a source of contention with the central bank’s competitors. From the beginning,
the Fed came under criticism from the private sector, as well as the Department of Justice,
for setting its prices too low and underestimating the PSAF, which was intended to serve as
a proxy for taxes, return on capital and other expenses that those in the private sector were


• Control and Competition


required to account for.
After initially setting the PSAF at 12 percent, the Fed faced significant criticism from
banks and the federal government. The Department of Justice said the proposed level was
“unrealistically low.” A more appropriate level, the department’s attorneys said, would be
closer to 15 percent. Bankers said it should be even higher, with one industry study suggest8
ing 24 percent would be more appropriate. An
American Bankers Association spokesperson sug9
gested it “could be at least 30%.” At last, the Fed
settled on a PSAF of 16 percent for the first year it
priced its services.
Such “argle-bargle,” would become an annual
event. Mark Olson, who served as a Fed governor
from 2001 to 2006, noted that “during every year
of my service as a Federal Reserve Governor, when
the private sector adjustment was being calculated,
I was reminded of the debate that took place on
the issue.”
The complaints from correspondent banks
were buttressed by congressional reports showing More than 20 years after the Monetary Control
the Federal Reserve had been slow to adjust its fees Act passed, Fed Gov. Mark Olson noted there
in a way that ensured it was truly covering its costs, was still annual controversy over its requirements.
as required by the Monetary Control Act. A 1982 report from the General Accountability
Office estimated the Fed had been under-pricing its services, and as a result, more than
$100 million in proceeds were “held back” from the U.S. Treasury.
A series of congressional hearings following the report collected a number of additional
complaints from the private sector about the Fed’s role in the market. One suggestion
called for placing the Fed’s financial services into a separate, private corporation. Lawmakers,
however, did not take any action and only recommended the central bank price its services
according to principles of fair competition.
Meanwhile, realizing it would now have to compete, the Fed was diligently working to
improve its services by guaranteeing the availability of funds for banks and finding ways to
cut costs. Private sector correspondent banks had a “credibility problem” with their customers
in this respect, one community banker said. “Availability is always more important than
Control and Competition •



unit pricing,” this banker told Fortune.
Despite the initial drop in clearing volume and the complaints from correspondent
banks, the Fed was able to cover its costs under the new pricing structure by 1984. Fed
Gov. Lyle Gramley acknowledged in a 1985 speech that “these past few years have been
challenging ones for the Federal Reserve” as it strived to meet the payment provisions of the
Monetary Control Act. Congress had forced
the Fed to re-examine its processes and reconsider whether it was efficiently meeting
the nation’s payments needs.
“We thought we were an efficient, lowcost provider of services, but we learned that
we had to do better,” Gramley said. “We
thought our services were high quality, and
that they met the needs of depository institutions. What we found was considerable dissatisfaction with the types and quality of ser5
vices we offered that forced us to improve.”
The Board of Governors was also well
aware of the criticism and “acute discomfort” from the industry regarding the central
bank’s dual role as a regulator and an operator in the payments system, Gramley said. As
a result, a number of “external and internal
Fed Gov. Lyle Gramley said the central bank
was challenged to meet the requirements of the safeguards” had been adopted by the Fed to
Monetary Control Act but noted the law resulted prevent any potential conflicts, including a
in improved services. policy that stated that any decision involving
the Fed’s supervision or lending to a bank “will be made without regard” to that bank’s
status as a Federal Reserve customer or competitor. Gramley added that, in any case, Congress had made its intent for the Fed’s role clear, and the new competitive landscape “is
something that you in the private sector, and we in the Federal Reserve, will have to learn
to live with.”
In general, some observers said, forcing the Fed to compete with the private sector
eventually led to “a great deal of market innovation and increased competition.” One


• Control and Competition

commentator noted in 1985 that “today, the Fed’s service is considered as good or better
than [what] can be obtained through a correspondent bank.”
It was a sentiment echoed by bankers across the country, who reported lower costs and
better services from both the Federal Reserve and correspondent institutions as a result of
increased competition. A 1985 comment from a banker at National City Bank in Evansville,
Ind., was typical. The bank sent small-denomination items to the Fed for processing, and
still used correspondents for large-denomination items. The banker, noting the benefits of
increased competition, said costs had fallen “at both the Fed and our correspondents.”
The new competitive payments landscape had laid the groundwork for further innovation
and improvements in the payments system, Gramley said.
“We find the world around us changing so rapidly that we dare not relax and rest on
our laurels,” he said. “In years to come, the payment system in this country will continue to
evolve as rapidly as it has in the recent past, if not more so. …In short, we can all contemplate
an exciting future.”

Control and Competition •


As the Federal Reserve began competing with the private sector to offer payment services to depository
institutions, lawmakers questioned the central bank’s business practices. The congressional pressure led
to a reassessment of the Fed’s role in the payments system in the mid-1990s.

Chapter Ten

The Fed’s Air Force

A plan for the future

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Democrat U.S. Rep. Henry Gonzalez of Texas used
his leadership position on the House Banking Committee to criticize the Federal Reserve,
often in the form of late-night speeches on the floor of the House. At the beginning of
1996, he turned his focus to the central bank’s payments operations, which, he suggested in
typically colorful language, operated under the cover of darkness.
“When day turns to night, the friendly skies fill with the planes of a small air force
chartered by none other than the Federal Reserve of the United States solely for the purpose
of transporting banks checks for clearing,” read a press release Gonzalez issued in January
1996. The release, carrying the title “Waste and Abuse in the Federal Reserve’s Payment
System,” described the results of Gonzalez’s latest investigation into the Fed’s operations.
This time, Gonzalez claimed to have found a number of questionable practices surrounding
the Fed’s use of airplanes to transport checks across the nation.
In his investigation, Gonzalez said, he and his staff had discovered the Fed awarded
several “no-bid, no-lose contracts” to the company that operated the airplanes and had paid
for “phantom planes” that didn’t exist. In addition, Gonzalez alleged the Fed was violating the
requirements of the Monetary Control Act of 1980 (MCA) by not fully recovering the costs
for its check transportation operations. The findings amounted to “giveaways of taxpayers’
money,” Gonzalez said.
Some private sector firms that competed with the Fed in the payments arena cited the
investigation as proof that the Federal Reserve had been unfairly using its position as the
central bank to intentionally underprice its check clearing and other payments services.
Such activity, as Gonzalez alleged, would have violated the MCA, which required the Fed
to fully recover its costs in order to compete fairly with the private sector. In fact, critics
pointed out, for the past five years, the Fed’s revenues from the transportation of checks,
on average, had only covered 93 percent of its costs. “This is something we’ve suspected
for years, that this thing is being subsidized,” a bank courier company executive said in
response to Gonzalez’s’ investigation. “It’s just an absolutely predatory price.”
An official at the Boston Fed, which was responsible for managing the 50 airplanes
that transported checks across the country for the Federal Reserve System each night, said

The Fed’s Air Force •


the problems uncovered by Gonzalez were “honest differences of opinion about management
decisions.” But despite the explanation, the story didn’t go away. The Fed’s airplane use
was eventually featured in an ABC World News segment devoted to uncovering questionable
government spending. In the report, which revealed that the Fed could not account for
$6 million in airplane fuel costs, the “Air Fed” system was called a “fly-by-night operation
[that] will waste at least $9 million a year.”
While Gonzalez would continue his career-long battle against the Fed in other areas,
his allegations about the central bank’s check operations renewed congressional scrutiny of
the Fed’s role in the payments system. It would also lead the Federal Reserve to examine
its own paper-based payment operations in what was quickly becoming an increasingly
interconnected and electronic industry.

GAO investigates

Within weeks of Gonzalez’s’ investigation, Congress’ investigative arm, the General
Accountability Office, released a separate report examining the Fed’s operations more
broadly—specifically how
the 70 percent of the central bank’s budget dedicated
to payments operations was
spent. The report, requested
by Democrat Sens. Harry
Reid and Byron Dorgan,
found the Federal Reserve
“could benefit from a major systemwide review of
operations.” In addition,
the GAO said it found
“weaknesses in some of
the Federal Reserve’s oversight processes.” Perhaps
most critically, the report
Charles Bowsher, comptroller general of the United States, led a suggested that some of the
number of Government Accountability Office investigations into the
efficiency of the Fed’s financial services. system’s 12 Regional Banks


• The Fed’s Air Force


and 25 Branches could be closed or merged.
At a later hearing to discuss the GAO’s report, the head of the agency called on the Federal
Reserve “to take a fundamental review of the overall operations; to look at their primary
mission; to look at their business lines.” The thousands of Federal Reserve employees across
the country who were responsible for sorting, mailing and clearing paper checks were
“basically doing it as they did 20, 30 years ago,” when it was clear that the payment system
was moving toward a new, more efficient electronic age.
Appearing at the hearing following the GAO staff’s testimony, Fed
Chairman Alan Greenspan defended
the Fed’s record in the payments
system, and said the agency’s report
“does not reflect the high level of effectiveness with which the Federal Reserve
has fulfilled its mission.” Greenspan
pointed out that over the past decade,
the Fed had recovered 101 percent of
its payments operations costs, and “if
we provided these services inefficiently,
we price ourselves out of the market.” The Fed played a “crucial” role
in payments and was responsible for
promoting “the integrity, efficiency
and accessibility” of the entire system,
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan defended the Fed’s
Greenspan added. In a bit of a conces- record as a payments services provider but recognized the need
sion, Greenspan acknowledged that for improvement.
there were many useful recommendations in the report, and the Fed would pursue them
as appropriate.
But despite the assurances of one of the most highly respected men in Washington,
questions about the efficiency of the Fed’s operations at the Reserve Banks remained.
A front-page story in The Wall Street Journal later that summer focused on the work
of the 12 regional Reserve Banks, comparing their check clearing and ACH operations to
running the plumbing of the nation’s financial system. “But the plumbing at the Fed banks
The Fed’s Air Force •


seems to be getting rusty,” the article stated, echoing many of the concerns highlighted in
the GAO and Gonzalez investigations. “Rapid changes in technology, consolidation in
banking and rising competition in some of their basic services threaten to make Fed banks
costly relics.”
The article warned that the Fed’s check clearing operations were suffering from what
critics had termed the “post office problem,” meaning that the Fed was relying on a declining
number of banks to generate most of its revenues. In fact, 25 percent of the Fed’s customers—mostly small, rural banks—were responsible for producing 95 percent of the Fed’s
check volume. Many of these banks turned to the Fed to clear checks because private
commercial banks had determined it wasn’t profitable to serve these smaller institutions.
The problem was summarized by the Minneapolis Fed’s check clearing manager, who
told the Journal the Federal Reserve faced a unique challenge that its private sector competitors
did not. Because it was responsible for the overall efficiency of the entire payments system,
the Fed had an obligation to serve smaller banks, regardless of how unprofitable it was. “My
counterparts in the private sector can cut volume deals with other big banks, leaving us with
all the junk they can’t make money on,” he said.
Meanwhile, many of those same private sector competitors were still pushing for an
end to the Fed’s involvement in the payments system. “The central bank no longer has a
legitimate role as a provider of payment services,” said Lee Hoskins, a former president of
the Cleveland Fed who helped launch a private-sector effort to provide those same services
to banks.
Even within the Fed, some officials conceded publicly that change was needed. “I
wouldn’t be surprised if a hard look at the system shows that some of the Fed branches
should be closed,” the Minneapolis Fed’s research director, Arthur Rolnick, told the Journal.
“The market has changed, and the technology has changed.”

The Rivlin Commission

Following the GAO’s investigation and the public concerns about the Fed’s role in the
rapidly changing payments system, the Board of Governors took action. In mid-October
1996, Greenspan announced a new commission to be headed by Vice Chairman Alice
Rivlin would take feedback from bankers, consultants and others about the Fed’s payments
operations. Rivlin was joined by Gov. Edward Kelley, New York Fed President William
McDonough and St. Louis Fed President Thomas Melzer on the commission. “Given the


• The Fed’s Air Force

significant changes occurring in payment
processing, this is an opportune time to
assess the Fed’s role in the payments sys3
tems of the 21st century,” Greenspan said.
Over the next several months, the
commission hosted 10 meetings with
bankers and others in the payments industry in five cities. Several Reserve Banks
also hosted their own events to gather
comments from the financial services industry. To spark discussion at the meetings,
the commission released five scenarios laying Federal Reserve Gov. Alice Rivlin led an
out the options for the Fed’s involvement. evaluation of the Fed’s role in the payments
system. The Rivlin Commission’s final report
They included:
included several recommendations.
• Allowing the Fed to continue its existing role in the payments system to ensure all
		 banks had continued access;
• Allow the Fed to continue offering its existing services while pursuing new innovations,
		 such as electronic check presentment;
• Use the Fed’s role as the central bank to discourage consumers from using checks
		 over time;
• Move the Fed’s current payments operations into a separate entity that would
		 operate outside of the central bank as a for-profit corporation;
• Have the Fed completely exit the check business by liquidating equipment and
Rivlin said the commission was “very eager” to hear back from the banking industry
on these options.
As in past conflicts over the payments system, lines were soon drawn between large
institutions, which competed with the Fed in offering clearing and other services to banks,
and smaller community banks, which had come to depend on the Fed’s payments services
to clear their customers’ checks and move money. The smaller community banks began a
significant public push to ensure the Fed remained involved in the payments system as the
Fed was often the only service provider that was willing to accept their business. As one
The Fed’s Air Force •



industry consultant put it bluntly, “If the Fed is removed, who presents a check in Podunk?”
“Many of you are probably wondering why the Fed is reviewing a role so vital to community banks,” wrote Bill Sones, the president and chairman of the Independent Bankers
Association of America, in a member newsletter. “The answer: Its role as a payments service
provider is under attack by the Congress and big-bank competitors. …Only a few years
ago, it was virtually unthinkable that the Federal Reserve would question its payments
service role. Today, unfortunately, the unthinkable is being thought.”
Throughout the Rivlin Commission’s hearings across the country, community bankers
urged the Fed to continue providing its current payments services, but to also to be more
aggressive in developing electronic payment systems. “The Fed needs to keep control over
the payment system,” a banker from Lincoln, Neb., said at one meeting in Omaha. “They
need to move ahead and continue the technology advance.” A Wisconsin banker echoed
those sentiments: “The heartland of America is not the same as the coasts,” he said. “It does
not have the concentration of financial services.”
Within the Fed, this support from community bankers was perhaps not surprising.
“The sense is that the private sector would want to go after the segments of the business that
promise the best commercial rewards but would not necessarily want to provide services
everywhere, as the Fed does,” an anonymous Fed source told Reuters as the commission’s
meetings were underway. The source went on to predict that if the Fed withdrew from its role
as a service provider to banks, rural institutions could be left out of the payments system.
During the commission’s final meetings in Washington, it dropped two of the five
scenarios originally offered for comment. Now, the commission was only accepting comments
on the options for liquidation, promoting more efficiency and pushing for a more electronic
system. The IBAA reported to its members that there was no evident support for the liquidation option during the commission’s final meetings, a development that “would be good
news for most bankers—other than those who would like to see a substantial cutback in the
Fed’s role in providing payment services to permit them to skim more of the cream from
check clearing and other payment services.”
However, while there appeared to be overwhelming support from community bankers
for the Federal Reserve to take on a larger role in the payments system, larger banks weighed
in as well. Anthony Cluff, head of the Bankers Roundtable, a lobbying organization for
large banks, told the committee that the Fed “ought to allow the private sector to do as
much of the retail payment clearance as possible.” He added: “The Fed’s role ought to be


• The Fed’s Air Force


At the same time, Gonzalez and his
allies in Congress viewed the commission’s
work as a little more than a show with no
real substance. Gonzalez suggested that if
the Fed was truly serious about reforming
its operations, it would have brought in an
outside party to conduct an independent
examination. “It is too much to ask someone to be detached and objective when
their own interests are at stake,” he said.
As the commission wrapped up its
work, Democrat Rep. Carolyn Maloney
of New York, an ally of Gonzalez in his
criticism of the Fed, introduced a bill that
would alter the Monetary Control Act by
posing another requirement for the Fed. Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez of Texas was highly critical of
While the Act required the Fed to match the Fed, including its role in the payments system.
its revenues to its costs for each individual service it offered, Maloney and Gonzalez felt
the Fed was not recovering its costs for transporting checks, putting the private sector at a
disadvantage. Maloney’s bill would require the Fed to begin publishing explicit prices for
check transportation and “unbundle” transportation costs from collection costs. “The Fed
should not subsidize the transportation of paper checks. That’s the purpose of my bill,”
Maloney said.
Shortly after introducing her bill, Maloney also criticized the Fed for continuing to
operate a check-clearing system. At a July hearing, she urged Chairman Alan Greenspan
to end the Fed’s involvement in processing checks. “Let’s bring…banking services into the
21st century with a modern payment system in which private enterprise provides competition
and innovation to promote a full range of choices for the nation’s consumers,” she said.
Greenspan responded that the Fed had recovered all costs for its payments operations, and
had actually recorded a profit of close to $1 billion over the years.
Maloney’s bill constituted a significant threat to the Fed’s ability to continue offering
check clearing services, according to industry analysts. “If that bill were passed, you would
The Fed’s Air Force •


see the Fed get out of the transportation business altogether,” one analyst said. “The cost
structure is such that the Fed can’t compete.” An anonymous Fed source agreed with that
assessment in media reports. “We’ll probably get out of (the check-clearing) business,” if the
bill passed, the source said.
However, despite the threat to the Fed’s operations, the bill did not progress beyond a
hearing in September 1997.

The commission’s findings

At a House subcommittee hearing in September 1997, Rivlin gave lawmakers a sneak
preview of the commission’s findings. Rivlin said it was clear the payments system generally
operated well, and the committee did not think the system was broken in any way. The
public comments received by the commission were overwhelmingly supportive of the Fed’s
role, and as a result, it had reached two general conclusions.
First, in order to maintain the payments system’s stability, the Fed should continue to
clear checks and operate the automated clearing house for at least several more years, Rivlin
said. Second, the meetings had revealed a need for the Fed to work more collaboratively
with the industry to improve efficiency and develop strategies for the movement toward a
more electronic system.
At a press conference in January to unveil the final report, Rivlin and fellow commission
member Gov. Edward Kelley emphasized that while the Fed would remain closely involved
in the payments system, there was also a need for the private sector to drive new developments
in the emerging electronic arena. “We think that major action in all of these areas, but especially on emerging payment systems, has got to be in the private sector,” Rivlin told reporters.
“But the question is whether the Federal Reserve, with its responsibility for the general
financial system of the country, can help advance the discussion.”
For industry observers, one way the Fed could move the discussion forward was by
using its influence to convince Congress to write legislation that would remove barriers to
electronic transactions and ease requirements that only paper documents could be used to
settle payments. “This should take the form of a call for aggressive action within the Fed—
and within the banking industry generally—for comprehensive legislation aimed at removing
legal impediments to electronification and for systemwide infrastructure standards that
preserve, and hopefully enhance, the ease, convenience and acceptance of current paper
processes,” wrote one analyst.


• The Fed’s Air Force

Along with the need for more suitable legislation, Rivlin and others noted that the
consumer’s attachment to the paper check, while waning, was still strong, and this posed
another barrier. Recalling the decades-old predictions about a checkless society, Rivlin told
a group of bankers in September 1998 that many consumers still felt that “if something isn’t
written on paper and saved in a drawer, it isn’t real.” She added that “it will be a long time
before older and less affluent people, or at least less educated people, become comfortable
with electronic payments and paperless transactions.”
However, despite those barriers, Rivlin predicted that a “tipping point” would be
reached within the decade “after which electronic payments quite quickly become the norm
and the volume of checks falls rapidly.”
This time, the prediction would prove to be accurate.

The Fed’s Air Force •


Even as the nation’s payments system was becoming more electronic, as illustrated by this Federal
Reserve Financial Services graphic from the mid-1990s, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which grounded
all air traffic for several days, highlighted the inefficiencies of a system that was still dependent on the
physical transportation of paper.

Chapter Eleven

Disruption and Evolution

The Development of Check 21

Shortly after two airplanes struck the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on
Sept. 11, 2001, Federal Reserve officials dialed in to a conference call to check on conditions
at banks across the country. Communication lines connecting Wall Street banks with each
other and to the rest of the country were largely inoperable, and the Fed officials were
concerned about scattered, but unconfirmed reports of panic-type behavior on the part
of depositors. The Board of Governors issued a press release stating: “The Federal Reserve
System is open and operating. The discount window is available to meet liquidity needs.”
Several banks had acted quickly to put limits on customer withdrawals: Citibank set
cash withdrawals at $5,000 per customer, while Wells Fargo limited withdrawals to between
$1,000 and $5,000 per person. Officials at Bank of America issued instructions to all
branch managers to “use discretion” on withdrawal requests, and the Wisconsin Bankers
Association, among other banking groups, issued an advisory to member banks urging
them to remind customers that the bank was the safest place for their money.
While there were a few reports of depositors withdrawing all of their cash and closing
accounts throughout the day, it became clear that a full-scale banking panic had not materialized following the terrorist attacks. However, the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to
close U.S. airspace on 9/11 posed another challenge for the central bank. The planes that
transported millions of checks between the Federal Reserve’s processing centers—as well as
those used by other clearing systems—would be grounded until further notice.
Unable to use the system it had relied on to move checks, the Fed quickly implemented a back-up plan. About 75 percent of the Fed’s normal volume of checks would be
carried via ground transportation over the next few days, adding 12 to 24 hours to the usual
clearing process. The Fed also pledged that it would immediately credit to banks all checks
it processed, resulting in a significant increase in the amount of “float” across the banking
system as banks turned to the Fed to process checks during the crisis. This float topped
$47 billion in the days following Sept. 11, compared to around $700 million on an average
day in 2001, and provided a key source of liquidity for the banking system. But, even as
the Fed’s paper check processing system slowed to a crawl, the nation’s electronic payment
system generally continued to operate as normal, experiencing only sporadic and isolated

Disruption and Evolution •



connectivity problems.
On the evening of Sept. 13, the FAA re-opened the nation’s air space for flights. The
Federal Reserve contacted a private air carrier, AirNet Systems, for help in moving the
volume of checks that had been grounded since the 11th. AirNet later reported that it
transported 500,000 pounds of checks that evening, an amount that was five times its usual
daily volume. Additional flights during the weekend helped clear the backlog further.
The tragic events on Sept. 11 would prove to have a wider economic impact as the
nation’s economy slumped into a recession soon after. While the nation’s payment system
had performed well for the most part in the face of the disaster—the most significant problem
was a day or two delay in the clearing of checks—the attacks highlighted the Fed’s reliance
on a largely paper-based system that could be slowed in the face of a national disaster.
Officials at the central bank moved quickly to propose a change.

Truncated checks

In a December letter to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Paul Sarbanes and
other congressional leaders, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan updated an idea the Fed had
first proposed earlier in the year that would permit banks to present electronic copies of
checks to other institutions for payment. Under the proposal, “banks would be able to
truncate, or stop, the flow of checks, process them electronically, and create machinereadable substitute checks, if necessary, that would be the legal equivalent of the original
checks,” Greenspan wrote. If the proposal had been in effect during 9/11, Greenspan added,
“banks would have been able to reduce the impact of the disruption in air transportation
on the check collection system.”
The proposal would be a vast improvement over the existing method of check
clearing and presentment. Banks were
already permitted to clear and present
checks electronically with each other, as
long as they had an agreement in place
with the bank on the opposite end of the
transaction. These agreements, however,
were difficult to obtain, and without them,
Sen. Paul Sarbanes chaired the Senate Banking Committee
banks would not receive final payment for
during the development of Check 21 legislation.


• Disruption and Evolution

a check until the paper item was presented to the check writers’ institution.
The Fed’s proposal additionally sought only to make electronic presentment an option
and not a requirement for banks. By not mandating that banks use substitute checks, the
Fed predicted the plan would have a minimal impact on institutions that still wished to use
paper checks and provide the canceled versions to their customers.
Still, the idea ran into immediate opposition from AirNet Systems, which saw a significant threat to its airplane courier business. AirNet, along with consumer groups, criticized
the Fed’s truncation proposal for not establishing a standard for what a “substitute check”
would look like, and the groups questioned whether electronic presentment would have
adequate safeguards against fraud.
Meanwhile, Congress turned its attention
to other issues in the wake of the terrorist
attacks. Lawmakers didn’t begin to seriously
consider the idea of check truncation again
until September 2002 when Republican Rep.
Mike Ferguson of New Jersey introduced the
“Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act.”
The bill, Ferguson said, would improve the
current system of physically transporting paper
checks, which was “a tedious and antiquated
process that is inefficient, expensive and …is
Rep. Mike Ferguson of New Jersey introduced
rife for potential for fraud.”
the Check 21 legislation to improve payments
In contrast to past efforts to modify the efficiency.
payments system through legislation, the
“Check 21” bill received widespread support from financial institutions of all sizes. “Usually,
large banks and small banks have different views,” said David Walker, the head of the
Electronic Check Clearing House Organization, a group pushing for the change. “This bill
has wide support across both kinds, as well as credit unions, which are often viewed as most
Walker’s mention of the support of “consumer-friendly” institutions was directed at
the consumer advocates who worried that electronic imaging of checks posed new, unknown
risks. These risks included the possibility that checks could be duplicated at some point in
the electronic clearing process, that privacy would be more easily threatened by creating
Disruption and Evolution •


electronic records of checks, and that older consumers would be confused about receiving
check images in their statements, instead of the actual, canceled versions. In addition, the
CEO of AirNet testified at a House Financial Services subcommittee hearing that electronic
transmission of check information “is no guarantee of uninterrupted check processing.”
For a completely secure system, he argued, electronic clearing had to run alongside the air
transportation of paper checks.
These concerns were largely dismissed in the face of overwhelming evidence from the
banking industry that taking an image of a check and processing it electronically, which
many institutions were already doing, was leading to higher efficiency and lower costs for
banks, with minimal risks to consumer privacy.
For the banks that were already using imaging technology and sending their customers
reproduced images of checks instead of the actual checks themselves in paper statements,
the experience was positive. Despite the warnings from some lawmakers and consumer groups
that bank customers would reject the idea of receiving check images in their statements instead
of the canceled checks, many banks reported that they had receive few or no complaints.
“We lost two customers over it [imaging] out of 6,000 accounts, and one of them
came back,” the CEO of a Virginia community bank told American Banker in early 2003.
“It’s been a win-win situation for manpower, customer service and saving money.” At
Washington Mutual, a much larger thrift institution, executives were especially vocal about
their support for Check 21. “We can’t wait for that to become law,” the thrift’s head of
deposit operations said in American Banker’s report. “We’ll be able to completely kill our
transportation costs.”
Given the broad support from the banking industry, the House passed a version of
Check 21 in June on a voice vote of 405-0. The Senate followed quickly, passing its own
version just a few weeks later. The votes were hailed by those in the financial industry, with
an executive at NCR—a large manufacturer of ATMs and other payments technology—
calling the passage “the biggest event in check processing since the invention of MICR.”
The measure then headed to a conference committee, where it sat for two more
months with little progress as AirNet continued to press its case to lawmakers. Finally, in
late September 2003, news reports revealed that the Fed had agreed to AirNet’s demand
to provide more public information about the costs of the central bank’s check processing
operations. Under the agreement, the Fed would begin publishing its expenses and revenues
from transporting checks between processing centers for the next 10 years. Following


• Disruption and Evolution

news of the agreement, lawmakers approved
a compromise version of the bill, and it was
signed by President George W. Bush in late
October—more than two years after it was first
proposed by the Fed.
Check 21 provided the nation with a way
“to protect the payment system in times of
national emergency by ensuring that checks
will continue to be processed through the payment system with limited interruption,” said
Rep. Michael Oxley, an Ohio Republican who
chaired the House Financial Services Committee. “We must ensure that our banking system
operates as efficiently as possible, while pre0
serving safety and soundness.”
Rep. Michael Oxley, chair of the House Financial
Services Committee, said Check 21 would limit
While the new law would clearly provide interruptions to the nation’s payment.

Workforce adjustments

efficiency benefits by eliminating much of the
paper that moved across the country each day, there also would be adjustments at both
commercial banks and the Fed. As clearing became a more electronic process, the thousands of
workers who sorted, filed and mailed checks soon found their jobs were no longer needed.
In February 2003, with Check 21 still moving through Congress, the Fed announced it
would reduce the number of locations that processed checks from 45 to 32. Commercial
banks would also see similar job cuts in their check operations. “There are a lot of people
working these jobs that are going to see their place of employment disappear,” one industry
analyst predicted. “That’s going to affect communities all over the country that have a lot
of lower-skilled workers.”
Fed officials also acknowledged there would be “a shaving of jobs” in the near term as
the law took effect and more banks began to use imaging technology and truncate checks.
In a speech at a Fed conference the day after Check 21 was signed into law, Greenspan
acknowledged that the payments industry and the Reserve Banks “face classic issues involving
the adjustment of infrastructure to demand,” adding that “the pace of decline in the volume
Disruption and Evolution •


of paper-check clearings could well accelerate.” At the same time, the convenience and ease
of using a check meant it was “unlikely to be completely eliminated as a major payment
instrument any time soon.” Still, he noted, “We know that over time the efficient use of
resources will require reductions in excess production and process capacity as the market
demand for checks and check processing declines.”
In fact, as Fed researchers would later confirm, the number electronic payment transactions would exceed the number of check transactions in the United States for the first
time in 2003. The trend would continue to accelerate, and by 2010, checks accounted
for less than 25 percent of all non-cash payments, with cards and ACH payments making
up the rest, and nearly all interbank checks—those drawn at one bank and deposited at
another—were cleared electronically.
In the years following the enactment of Check 21, the Fed consolidated its check clearing operations further, announcing in 2007 that it would reduce its paper check clearing
operations to four sites. It soon accelerated the plans and consolidated those operations to

In this 2003 photo, Kansas City Fed employees test new software to prepare the Federal Reserve for
Check 21 requirements.


• Disruption and Evolution

one office in early 2010. In 2012, the Atlanta Fed became the only Reserve Bank location
to process both paper and electronic checks. In addition, the number of personnel hours
the Fed devoted to clearing paper checks plummeted by 48 percent from 2001 to the end
of 2007. Ultimately, 5,000 jobs related to check clearing were cut across the Reserve
Banks. Transportation costs to the Fed also declined, and by 2009, the central bank ended
its use of air courier services to move checks across the country.

Disruption and Evolution •


As the volume of debit card transactions skyrocketed in the late 2000s, the fees card companies charged
merchants to process such payments—known as “interchange”—became a controversial issue. An
amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 required the Federal Reserve to cap the fees, setting
up a bitter fight between merchants and banks.

Chapter Twelve

Banks vs. Merchants
The Durbin amendment

As check volume began to decline in the early 2000s, the debit card quickly took its
place as a preferred payment method. In 2000, debit cards accounted for 8 billion transactions,
or 12 percent of the total volume of non-cash retail payments. By 2009, debit card transactions
had jumped to 37.5 billion, or 35 percent of non-cash retail payments, making it the most
popular non-cash retail payment method in the United States by volume.
While consumers increasingly used debit cards to complete transactions, their reliance
on the payment method led to growing tensions reminiscent of past fights among merchants,
consumers and bankers over who should pay the costs of processing a payment.
With every swipe of a debit or credit card, merchants paid a fee—averaging between 1
to 2 percent of a transaction’s value—to process the payment. This fee, part of which card
networks sent along to the banks that issued the cards, were a significant source of conflict
between financial institutions and merchants, who took their allegations of unfair trade
practices to court. As early as 1996, Visa, MasterCard and banks were sued in several class
action and Department of Justice lawsuits claiming the card issuers and the networks had
committed antitrust violations in assessing the fees. Many of these lawsuits were settled
over the course of several years, but merchants’ complaints over sharp increases in the card
fees also drew public attention.
While financial regulators in other countries began limiting interchange fees, the Federal
Reserve, which regulated banks that issued cards but not the card networks, did not appear
eager to step in. In a written response to questions about interchange fees from lawmakers
in 2005, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said the central bank’s authority “does not currently
encompass regulating interchange fees.” He added that the Fed would continue to “assess
whether changes are needed.”
At a 2005 conference on the issue of interchange fees, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas
City President Thomas Hoenig said he was “not convinced that the Federal Reserve could
simply decide to regulate prices under the current economic environment and legal structure
of the United States.” While other countries had started regulating interchange fees, “there
is not a consensus for such intervention in the United States,” Hoenig added.
Congress, under pressure from merchants, continued to study the issue. A 2009 study

Banks vs. Merchants •


by the General Accountability Office found that the portion of the processing fee paid to
card-issuing banks—known as “interchange”—had indeed risen steadily over time. While
not expressing an opinion on whether Congress should act on the issue, the GAO report
considered a number of options, including limiting or capping these fees, requiring that
card companies disclose these fees to consumers, loosening the card network restrictions
on merchants, and granting merchants an antitrust exemption to allow them to collectively
negotiate contract terms with the card networks.
Sen. Dick Durbin, a high-ranking Democrat from Illinois, emerged as a leading proponent of regulating the interchange fees on credit card transactions. In 2009, Durbin
introduced a bill that would provide an antitrust exemption for merchants to negotiate
contracts with electronic payment providers and establish a three-judge panel known as the
“Electronic Payment System Judges” that would review credit and debit card interchange fees
and contract terms at the conclusion of the negotiations. Durbin’s proposal was unsuccessful,
but the issue would return as Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate
Banking Committee, completed a draft of a massive financial reform bill in 2010.

The amendment

Almost two years after a financial crisis led markets to seize up in 2008, lawmakers’
work on a large financial reform bill was nearing completion. The bill, which would eventually
be known as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, included a
number of new regulations aimed squarely at the banking industry. Amid a political environment where distrust of the financial sector was high, merchants saw a new opportunity to
bring card fees back into the public spotlight.
Following the completion of Dodd’s draft bill in March 2010, lobbyists with the retail
industry heavily criticized the senator’s proposal for not addressing card interchange fees—
also known as “swipe fees.” The lack of an interchange provision was “a glaring omission”
that would “depress the ability of main street merchants to thrive and grow,” the National
Retail Federation argued. The lobbying group said merchants had paid more than $48 billion
in swipe fees to banks in 2008, up from $16 billion in 2001, and ultimately, it was consumers
who paid this cost in the form of higher prices. Unless Congress addressed the issue, “financial
services reform isn’t complete,” the group contended.
Shortly after the retailers complained, Durbin announced he would introduce a number
of amendments to Dodd’s bill, including one that would address credit card interchange


• Banks vs. Merchants

At a press conference in May 2010, Sen. Dick Durbin, center, flanked by merchants, announced he
would offer a measure to limit the swipe fees charged by card companies.

fees. However, while Durbin’s initial statement had focused on credit card fees, he instead
decided to take aim at the interchange fees assessed on debit card transactions.
Regulating interchange fees would ensure “fairer treatment when it comes to debit
cards,” Durbin said during a news conference. Debit cards “draw money directly out of the
bank account just like a check does, and I don’t think [banks] should be rewarded with a fee
comparable to a credit card, where there is a risk involved in collection.” Limiting debit card
fees would help small businesses and “is the key to our economic recovery,” Durbin said.
Durbin’s formal introduction of the amendment came on the Senate floor in early May
2010, as work on the Dodd bill was drawing to a close. Using the example of a merchant who
received just $98 on a $100 debit card transaction, Durbin said businesses “often raise their
prices or cut back on other expenses, like hiring” to pay for interchange fees. His amendment
called for the Federal Reserve to set a limit on the debit card interchange fees that would be
“reasonable and proportional” to the costs involved in processing a debit transaction.
The proposed amendment drew a swift rebuke from the payment card industry. In
a statement issued the same day as Durbin’s Senate floor speech, MasterCard called the
Banks vs. Merchants •


proposal an “arbitrary intervention” by Congress that was “inappropriate,” and Visa blasted
Durbin’s proposal as “an eleventh hour attempt by lobbyists, representing some of the nation’s
largest retailers and trade associations, to hijack the Senate financial reform measure.”
Meanwhile, several financial industry lobbying groups, including the American Bankers
Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America, the Credit Union National
Association, and the National Association of Federal Credit Unions launched a campaign
to prevent the Durbin amendment from being included in the financial reform bill. The
proposal to limit debit card fees threatened to significantly reduce the revenue banks and
other financial institutions received from those transactions. In a joint statement, the
organizations warned of “devastating consequences to community banks and credit unions.”
In addition, the groups said the amendment, if passed, “would likely force small financial
institutions to stop issuing [debit and credit card products] altogether.”
The banking groups flooded senators’ offices with letters and e-mail messages pushing
back against the amendment. Banking lobbyists also suggested that campaign donations
to senators would be affected by how they voted on the proposal. Meanwhile, lobbyists
for retailers turned up the pressure from the other side, suggesting Durbin’s proposal was
aimed at limiting the influence of large Wall Street banks. “With this vote, Senators have
a choice,” the Merchants Payments Coalition said. “They can defend the bad acts of the
biggest Wall Street banks and credit card giants, or they can stand up for consumers and
small businesses.” Durbin also criticized community banks’ opposition to his amendment,
arguing they were “completely in the thrall of the American Bankers Association and the
credit card companies.”
But, public and political opinion was largely against the banks, which many blamed
for causing the financial crisis. The Senate moved quickly—and overwhelmingly—on
Durbin’s amendment, approving it on a vote of 64-33 a few days after it was introduced.
Before the vote, Durbin sought to appease community bankers by inserting language that
would exempt institutions with less than $10 billion in assets from the interchange limit.
However, community banks didn’t appreciate the gesture: They felt a cap on large banks’
interchange fees was effectively a cap on the entire industry as smaller institutions would be
forced to match the fee established for large institutions.
Several days later, the Senate passed the full version of Dodd’s bill, with the Durbin
amendment included, and the issue moved on to a conference committee that would reconcile
the Dodd bill with the House’s financial reform measure.


• Banks vs. Merchants

Early on, congressional leaders indicated there was little chance Durbin’s measure
would be taken out of the final version of the bill. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, R-NY, suggested
that lawmakers might “clarify” the Durbin amendment’s language, but “the strong vote in
the Senate” meant it would likely stay. By the same measure, Dodd said he “can’t imagine
this provision coming out of this bill. …Right now, consumers get whacked because of how
retailers are treated by the credit card industry, by and large.”
However, a group of 131 House members from both parties lodged a vocal protest
against the possible inclusion of the Durbin amendment in the final bill. In a letter to the
House/Senate conference committee, the representatives argued a cap on interchange fees
would “devastate credit unions and community banks while providing no discernable benefit
to consumers.” The representatives were also concerned about “the lack of congressional
review, debate or study about these provisions. The debit rate-setting provision has never
been vetted by any committee in either chamber.”
Despite the group’s protests, the conference committee’s final report retained the
Durbin amendment. The report was approved by both chambers, and the Dodd-Frank Act
was signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 21, 2010. Along with numerous
banking regulations called for by the new law, the Federal Reserve would now be responsible
for establishing a cap on debit card interchange fees.

Associated Press

Small business owners demonstrated near the Capitol in Washington in June 2010, urging lawmakers
to include the Durbin amendment in the final version of the Dodd-Frank Act.

Banks vs. Merchants •


While banks had lost the fight against merchants in Congress, they weren’t giving up
just yet.

“It’s going to be painful”
The Dodd-Frank Act gave the Fed several months to develop a cap on debit card
interchange fees, but in October 2010, Minnesota-based TCF Bank sued Fed Chairman
Ben Bernanke and the Fed’s Board of Governors, arguing that any cap on interchange would be
unconstitutional. The bank’s CEO, William A. Cooper, argued that the law allowed banks to
recover only a portion of the costs associated with processing debit transactions, and a limit
on interchange “makes no more sense than regulating the price of a fast-food hamburger
based solely on the costs of the meat and bun.” In statements to the media, Cooper said
the bank’s lawsuit “is a line in the sand for the industry,” which was under assault as a result
of Dodd-Frank.
Soon after TCF filed its lawsuit, JPMorgan Chase announced it would end its debit
card rewards programs due to the legislation, and warned the new law will force banks to
raise fees for customers using other financial products to make up for lost interchange fee
revenue. Bank of America also announced it would take a $10 billion quarterly charge as a
result of Fed’s soon-to-be-announced interchange limit. A merchant lobbying group disputed
Bank of America’s claim that it would actually lose that much in interchange revenue,
adding that the announcement was “a feeble attempt to divert attention from its mortgage
foreclosure problems.”
In December, the Fed revealed a draft rule that proposed limiting interchange fees to
an average of 12 cents per transaction. The number, a significant cut to the average swipe fee
of 44 cents per transaction, shocked the payment card networks, banks and their investors.
One analyst’s report predicted the lower fee would make debit cards “significantly unprofitable”
for the banks that issued them and reduce interchange revenue at large banks by billions
of dollars.
“It’s going to be painful,” said Richard Hunt, president of the Consumer Bankers
Association. Hunt predicted that if the fee limit was adopted in its final form at 12 cents, it
would “have major negative implications for consumers,” who could face higher costs for
other banking services. The American Bankers Association echoed those concerns, saying
the proposed cap “seems little more than direct government interference in the card payments
system on behalf of large retailers and the expense of everyday consumers.” At the same


• Banks vs. Merchants

time, lobbyists for the merchants hailed the proposed 12 cent fee as “a benefit for consumers,”
who could expect retailers to cut their prices as a result of lower interchange fees.
When the Fed announced the 12-cent fee proposal, Gov. Daniel Tarullo urged Board
members to “be particularly open-minded” to input from the public on what was clearly a
contentious issue. “We should be more than usually open to a variety of comments on how
to implement the final rule.”
During a House Financial Services Committee hearing two months later in February
2011, Tarullo’s colleague on the Board, Gov. Sarah Bloom Raskin, told lawmakers the Fed
was “reserving judgment” on the rules. She said card issuers may decide to charge customers
higher fees or reduce card rewards programs to make up for lost interchange revenue, but
consumers also stood to benefit “to the extent merchants pass on their interchange-fee savings
in the form of lower prices.”
During a Senate Banking Committee hearing held the same day, Fed Chairman Ben
Bernanke addressed the Durbin amendment’s provision that exempted small institutions
from the interchange fee cap. “We are not certain how effective that exemption would be,”
Bernanke said, acknowledging the community banks’ argument that a cap for the largest
institutions would effectively apply to the entire industry. The chairman’s statement drew
immediate criticism from Durbin, who said Bernanke had “echoed the financial industry’s
talking points and failed to acknowledge several critical realities.”

Delaying Durbin

As the Board of Governors sifted through some 11,000 comments submitted by banks,
merchants, consumer groups and others as it considered a final swipe fee cap, two senators
called for a two-year delay in implementing the Durbin amendment’s requirements. A measure
filed in March 2011 by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., would also
require a formal study of the Durbin amendment’s effects on consumers, merchants and
small businesses.
The effort to delay the Durbin amendment received the support of several disparate
interest groups, including the NAACP, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the
National Education Association, each of which voiced concern that a limit on debit card
swipe fees would make other banking services too expensive for low-income and minority
Once Tester and Corker agreed to reduce their proposed two-year delay to one year,
Banks vs. Merchants •


Associated Press

Sen. Bob Corker meets with reporters on June 8, 2011, following the defeat of his measure seeking to
delay implementation of the Durbin amendment.

a majority of the Senate voted in favor of it. However, the 54 votes the bill received fell
six short of the 60 needed to advance past the Senate’s procedural hurdles. Tester said the
Senate “missed an opportunity to stand up for consumers, small businesses and community
banks in rural America.” Corker later sharply criticized the Durbin amendment as a “government price-fixing idea” that was “sold in a moment of populism as a great way to stick it to
the country’s biggest banks.” It was, Corker added, the result of “a Congress more interested
in scoring political points than doing the right thing by the American people.”
A few weeks after the defeat of the Tester-Corker bill, the Board of Governors announced
it was ready to release its final rule on debit card interchange fees. At a late June hearing,
the Board voted 4-1 to set a fee limit of 21 cents per transaction and allow an extra amount
for fraud costs, resulting in an average swipe fee of 24 cents per transaction. It was twice
as large as the Fed’s initial proposed amount, but still considerably less than the previous
average of 44 cents. Gov. Elizabeth Duke, a former banker, voted against the final rule,
citing potential negative effects on consumers, such as the potential end of free checking
accounts and higher fees for other bank services.
While the other members of the Board of Governors supported the rule, they voiced
concerns with the final result. “This is the best available solution to implement the will of


• Banks vs. Merchants

Congress,” Bernanke noted. Raskin said the exemption for small banks wasn’t likely to limit
the impact of the fee cap on those institutions. “We are only doing what Congress directed,”
she said. “It appears to me that we have no choice in this matter, but to adhere to Congress’
directive even when the guideposts for achieving its requirements are far from clear.”
Merchants and bankers were both disappointed with the final result. The head of the
Merchant Payments Coalition said the Board “clearly did not follow through on the intent
of the law” with its final rule and suggested merchants would bring court action to “address
the irresponsible mistakes made in writing this rule.” Richard Hunt, head of the Consumer
Bankers Association, called the final rule a “gift to big box retailers” and pledged bankers
would “be watching this like a hawk. …The book is never closed on the Durbin amendment.”
On the same day the Board of Governors issued its final rule, a federal appeals court
struck a blow to TCF Bank’s lawsuit against Bernanke and the Fed over the swipe fee cap.
The court said the Durbin amendment would only limit what banks could charge for
processing a debit card transaction; there was no restriction on what banks could charge
customers for using debit cards. The court also ruled that TCF’s argument that the amendment
was unconstitutional was not likely to pass muster. TCF withdrew its lawsuit, saying it
still felt the limit on swipe fees was unconstitutional, but the bank’s CEO conceded, “it is
time for us to move on.”
However, as CBA’s Hunt had predicted, the book on Durbin wasn’t closed.

“Utterly indefensible”

Nearly five months after the Board announced its final rule on the Durbin amendment,
the National Retail Federation, the National Association of Convenience Stores, the Food
Marketing Institute and others sued the Federal Reserve over its interchange fee limit of
24 cents per transaction, claiming that merchants would be seriously harmed by the cap,
which, they argued, was set too high. One of the plaintiffs, Miller Oil Co. of Norfolk Va.,
said it had previously paid interchange fees averaging 16 cents per transaction, and those
fees had risen following the Fed’s rule. The merchants argued the Fed had arrived at the
24-cent limit by considering some bank costs, such as fraud losses, that were not allowed by
the amendment’s language.
The lawsuit remained in court for nearly two years before a judge issued a decision. In
late July 2013, federal judge Richard Leon agreed with the merchants, ruling that the Board
of Governors had overstepped its authority in its final rule. In a scathing 58-page decision,
Banks vs. Merchants •


Leon said that including some bank expenses, such as fraud losses, in the final swipe fee
cap was “a blatant act of policymaking that runs counter to Congress’ will.” Leon added
that the Board’s interpretation of the law—that Congress had intended for the Board to
consider such expenses—was “utterly indefensible.” The Board had “shoehorned a whole
array of excluded costs into the interchange fee standard,” he wrote.
The merchants hailed the ruling and said the Fed had “grossly misapplied the swipe
fee law,” while failing to follow Congress’ guidance to make swipe fees “reasonable and
proportional” to the costs of processing debit card transactions. Bankers, however, predicted
the ruling would create “even more chaos for consumers and small banks” and called on
Congress to act to repeal the Durbin amendment. For his part, Durbin, who had been
pushing for interchange regulation for years, felt vindicated. In a statement, the Illinois
Democrat said Leon’s ruling was “a victory for consumers and small businesses around
the country.”
In a hearing in his Washington, D.C., courtroom two weeks later, Leon suggested
that banks should be forced to reimburse merchants the fees they had collected since the
Fed implemented the swipe fee cap. The idea puzzled many observers as merchants weren’t
seeking damages from banks in the lawsuit. In media accounts, the reimbursement suggestion
was attributed to Leon’s frustration at the Federal Reserve’s “foot-dragging in implementing
his decision.”
The Board of Governors soon notified Leon it would appeal his decision, and in
March 2014, a three-judge panel from the D.C. Court of Appeals weighed in.
The appeals court acknowledged Congress had put the Fed “in a real bind” as a result
of the Durbin amendment’s ambiguous language. In fact, the panel’s decision cited numerous
grammar books in an attempt to make sense of the law. The language of the amendment
was “confusing and its structure convoluted,” and the measure as passed by Congress was
“poorly drafted,” the appeals panel said in its ruling. The confusion about congressional
intent was “perhaps unsurprising” due to the amendment’s inclusion in the Dodd-Frank
Act “at the eleventh hour,” the judges wrote. The panel overturned Leon’s decision, meaning
the Fed’s interchange fee limit would stand.
The ruling amounted to a “giveaway to the nation’s most powerful banks and a blow
to consumers and small businesses,” Durbin said following the appeals panel’s decision.
Furthermore, Durbin rejected the argument that his amendment was rushed through
Congress. It had been “debated and approved on the Senate floor with a strong bipartisan


• Banks vs. Merchants

majority months before enactment,” he said. An attorney for the National Convenience Store
Association said the decision was “disappointing” and the group would review its options.
It remains to be seen whether there will be further court or legislative movement on
the interchange issue, but in early June 2014, the National Retail Federation and other
merchants announced they would petition the Supreme Court for a hearing on the issue.

Banks vs. Merchants •



The Path Ahead

As new technology continues to be adopted by banks, consumers, businesses and the
government, the Federal Reserve is re-evaluating the state of the payments system. Over the
past century, Congress has repeatedly turned to the Fed to act as a payments regulator, and,
in the case of the Reserve Banks, as a participant and operator. But, it’s clear that one of
the primary tasks Congress entrusted to the Fed in 1914—to clear the nation’s checks—has
changed dramatically over the last 100 years.
Today, 99.9 percent of check deposits processed by the Federal Reserve are processed
electronically. Nearly all checks written today are converted into an electronic form once
they enter the banking system. Increasingly, these checks are converted by consumers and
merchants equipped with imaging software on mobile devices or by bank customers with
access to an ATM that is capable of scanning checks immediately upon deposit.
The move away from paper has come as consumers increasingly turn to debit cards to
make purchases and use their bank’s bill paying services and direct deposit to manage their
money. In 2012, debit and credit cards accounted for 73 percent of all non-cash payments,
while checks represented just 15 percent. Nearly a decade earlier, checks accounted for a
much larger share—46 percent—of all non-cash payments.
This decline in check volume has led some to question the Federal Reserve Banks’ role
within the payments system. That role “has been greatly diminished,” says Bruce J. Summers,
former head of the Federal Reserve’s national information technology infrastructure and a
past deputy director for payment system policy at the Board of Governors. “National payment
system governance motivated by public interest considerations has eroded,” Summers adds.
Addressing concerns about the payments system “should begin with renewal of public
interest governance.”
In September 2013, the Reserve Banks released a public consultation paper aimed at
sparking discussion on the payment system’s key challenges and opportunities. The paper
reiterated the Reserve Banks’ financial services strategy, announced in 2012, to improve the
system’s speed and efficiency while also assuring its safety and accessibility. Previously, the
Reserve Banks had been primarily interested in how banks interacted with each other in the
payments system, but the focus has now shifted to improving the system for end users, with

Afterword •



a goal of developing a system capable of completing transactions in near-real-time.
Through a series of forums in late 2013, the Reserve Banks accepted comments from
payments industry participants and end users. The results of this process will be made public
in the second half of 2014. In addition, six Reserve Banks held public town hall meetings in
June 2014 to discuss improvements to the payments system.
Meanwhile, the payments system continues to change rapidly as new players enter and
technology advances. While the financial industry, businesses and consumers continue to
explore the possibilities of mobile payment applications and digital wallets, many are also
closely watching the development of other technological advancements, such as bitcoin,
which has seen dramatic fluctuations in its value, questions over its security, and increased
public and regulatory attention.
Along with the challenges posed by the digital age, the issue of interchange, or “swipe
fees” on payment cards, is still one that is being balanced by the Federal Reserve, banks,
merchants and consumers. The Fed’s recent experience with implementing the Durbin
amendment, including the intense lobbying efforts from banks and merchants, along with
the various court cases involved, recalls the challenges the central bank faced in the late
1910s and 1920s when it tried to stamp out the exchange charges some banks assessed on
checks. While the technology has evolved since then, the core questions—who bears the
costs for running the payment system, and how much should those costs be?—are strikingly
similar to those from nearly a century earlier.
As history has shown, the central bank has played an important role as a participant
and leader within the payments system, with its operator role especially prominent in times
of financial system stress, as illustrated in the days following Sept. 11. But, the Fed “is just
one player in the U.S. payments system,” said former Cleveland Fed President Sandra Pianalto,
who served as chair of the Fed’s Financial Services Policy Committee, in a 2012 speech.
“Many successes in the U.S. payments system occurred as a result of teamwork between
multiple industry participants, including the Federal Reserve.”
Although it is just one player, the Federal Reserve remains positioned at the center of
a system involving thousands of banks and other depository institutions, numerous other
private sector participants, and millions of consumers and businesses that depend on the
efficient and secure movement of money. It’s a role that’s been acknowledged by both Congress
and the private sector for decades.
“No single bank or consortium of banks has resources sufficient to tackle the mystifyingly


• Afterword

complex table of laws, regulations, and customs that govern payment system operations,”
private sector consultant Richard Poje wrote in a 1998 American Banker commentary. “As
an institution enjoying universal, if sometimes grudging, respect for its integrity, the Fed
can muster resources to effect dramatic system change and is uniquely positioned to work
with Congress and other legislative bodies in shaping a unified body of law befitting the
computer age.” That statement could apply today, 15 years after Poje wrote it.
To be sure, the challenges in today’s fragmented payments arena, which now includes
a growing number of nonbank participants, have changed since the Federal Reserve began
clearing checks a century ago. But since the Federal Reserve’s founding, Congress has
expected the central bank to play a key role in influencing—and leading—change in the
payments system.

Afterword •


Chapter 1: A Calculus of Chaos
1. Mihm, Stephen. A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men and the Making of the
		 United States. Harvard University Press, 2007, p. 3.
2. Trivoli, George. “The Suffolk Bank: A Study of a Free-enterprise Clearing System.”
		 The Adam Smith Institute. 1979, p. 6.
3. Trivoli, p. 5.
4. Dexter’s scheme is featured prominently in: Kamensky, Jane. The Exchange Artist: A Tale
		 of High-Flying Speculation and America’s First Banking Collapse. Penguin Books. 2009.
5. Appleton, Nathan. An Examination of the Banking System of Massachusetts. Stimpson and
		Clapp. 1831, p. 19.
6. Lake, Wilfred. “The End of the Suffolk System.” The Journal of Economic History.
		Vol. 7, No. 2 (November 1947), p. 192.
7. Whitney, D.R. The Suffolk Bank. 1878, p. 2.
8. Whitney, p. 1.
9. Trivoli, p. 6.
10. Appleton, p. 13.
11. Appleton, p. 4.
12. Hammond, Bray. Banks and Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War.
		 Princeton University Press, 1957, p.550.
13. These techniques are described in Kamensky, among others.
14. Appleton, p. 11.

Chapter 2: “Order out of Confusion”
1. Whitney, p. 7.
2. Whitney, p. 8-10.
3. Whitney, p. 8.
4. Frass, Arthur. “The Second Bank of United States: An Instrument for an Interregional Monetary
		Union.” The Journal of Economic History. Vol. 34, No. 2. June 1974, p. 448.
5. Hammond, p. 301.
6. White, Horace. Money and Banking. Ginn and Co. Publishers: Boston. 1896, p. 11.
7. Lake, p. 185.
8. Whitney, p. 12.
9. Trivoli, p. 11.
10. White, p. 326.
11. Lake, p. 192.


• Endnotes

12. Whitney, p. 9-10.
13. Whitney, p. 15.
14. White, p. 327.
15. Whitney, p. 15.
16. Knox, John Jay. A History of Banking in the United States. Bradford Rhodes & Company:
		 New York, 1900, p. 332.
17. Lake, p. 186; The Bank of New England was the only Boston bank that did not join the
		 Suffolk’s system (See: Davis, William. Professional and Industrial History of Suffolk County,
		Massachusetts. Vol. 2. The Boston History Co. 1894, p. 204).
18. Whitney, p. 25.
19. Appleton, p. 16.
20. Whitney, p. 37.
21. Lake, p. 190.
22. Whitney, p. 37.
23. Hunt’s Merchant’s Magazine and Commercial Review, Vol. 5, July 1841, p. 262.
24. Hammond, Bray. Banking and Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War.
		 Princeton University Press. 1957, p. 552.
25. Whitney, p. 35.
26. Whitney, p. 38.
27. Whitney, p. 32.
28. Hunt’s, p. 262.
29. Whitney, p. 28.
30. See Calomiris, Charles, and Charles M. Kahn. “The Efficiency of Self-Regulated Payments Systems:
		 Learning from the Suffolk System.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 5442,
		January 1996; Rolnick, Arthur, et al. “The Suffolk Bank and the Panic of 1837.” Federal Reserve
		 Bank of Minneapolis Quarterly Review. Vol. 24, No. 2, Spring 2000; and Trivoli.
31. Knox, p. 333.
32. Whitney, p. 60.
33. Whitney, p. 35.
34. Lake, p. 189 and Rolnick, Arthur, et al. “Lessons from a Laissez-Faire Payments System:
		 The Suffolk Banking System (1825-58).” Review. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis,
		May/June 1998, p. 11.
35. Whitney, p. 41.
36. Todd, Tim. The Balance of Power: The Political Fight for an Independent Central Bank,
1790-Present. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. 2012, p. 3-8.
37. Whitney, p. 44.
38. Whitney, p. 57.
39. Lake, p. 195.
40. Lake, p. 199.
41. Lake, p. 197.

Endnotes •


42. Lake, p. 198.
43. Lake, p. 199.
44. Lake, p. 200.
45. Lake, p. 201.
46. Whitney, p. 59.
47. Whitney, p. 60.
48. Whitney, p. 55.
49. Knox, p. 368.
50. Hammond, p. 556.

Chapter 3: “A New Era”
1. Cannon, James G. Clearing-House Methods and Practices. U.S. National Monetary Commission.
		 Senate Document no. 491, 61st Congress, 2nd Session, Government Printing Office, 1910,
		p. 190, 159.
2. Cannon, James. G. “Clearing Houses and the Currency,” in Currency Problems and the
		 Current Financial Situation, 1908, accessed via, p. 102.
3. White, Horace. Money and Banking. Ginn & Co. Publishers, Boston, 1896, p. 240.
4. Cannon, 1908, p. 102.
5. White, p. 240.
6. The Clearinghouse. “New York Clearing House Historical Perspective.” Available at
7. Gibbons, James S. The Banks of New York, Their Dealers, the Clearing House and the Panic
		of 1857. D. Appleton & Co: New York, 1859, p. 292.
8. Gibbons, p. 292.
9. Gibbons, p. 294.
10. The Clearing House.
11. Knox, John Jay. A History of Banking in the United States. Bradford Rhodes & Company:
		 New York, 1900, p. 423.
12. Cannon, 1910, p. 153; Knox, p. 423.
13. Cannon, 1910, p. 154.
14. Gibbons, p. 296.
15. Gibbons, p. iv.
16. Lacker, Jeffrey, et al. “The Fed’s Entry into Check Clearing Reconsidered.” Economic Quarterly.
		 Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, vol. 85, no. 2, Spring 1999, p. 3.
17. Harding, W.P.G. The Formative Period of the Federal Reserve System (During the World Crisis).
		 Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1925, p. 49.
18. White, p. 243.
19. Quinn, p. 13.
20. Quinn, p. 14.
21. Harding, p. 50.


• Endnotes

22. Lacker, p. 7; and Duprey, James, and Clarence Nelson. “A Visible Hand: The Fed’s Involvement
		 in the Check Payments System.” Quarterly Review. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis,
		Spring 1986, p. 20.
23. Duprey, p. 20.
24. Cannon, 1910, 72.
25. Cannon, 1910, p. 70.
26. Harding, p. 51.
27. Duprey, 21-22.
28. Gilbert, R. Alton. “Did the Fed’s Founding Improve the Efficiency of the U.S. Payments System?”
Review. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, May/June 1998, p. 125.
29. Cannon, 1910, p. 1.
30. Gorton, Gary. “Clearinghouses and the Origin of Central Banking in the United States.”
The Journal of Economic History, vol. 45, no. 2. June 1985, p.279.
31. Young, Stanley. “Enlargement of Clearing House Functions.” Included in Banking Problems,
		 American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1910, p. 131, accessed via
32. Cannon, 1910, p. 26.
33. Young, p. 131.
34. Bruner, Robert, and Sean Carr. The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market’s Perfect Storm.
		 John Wiley & Sons, 2007, p. 59.

Chapter 4: “A Famine of Currency”
1. The New York Times, Oct. 21, 1907.
2. The New York Times, Oct. 22, 1907.
3. The New York Times, Oct. 23, 1907.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Bruner, Robert, and Sean Carr. The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market’s Perfect Storm.
		 John Wiley & Sons, 2007, p. 86.
7. Sprague, O.M.W., History of Crises Under the National Banking System. National Monetary
		Commission. 61st Congress, 2nd Session, Senate Document No. 538, Government Printing Office,
1910, p. 259. Accessed via
8. Sprague, O.M.W. “The American Crisis of 1907.” The Economic Journal. Vol. 18, No. 71,
		September 1908, 364.
9. Andrew, Abram Piatt, “Hoarding in the Panic of 1907.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics,
		Vol. 22, No. 2, February 1908.
10. Tallman, Ellis, and Jon Moen. “Lessons from the Panic of 1907.” Economic Review.
		 Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, May/June 1990 p. 9-10.
11. Sprague, 1908, p. 368.
12. Andrew, Abram Piatt. “Substitutes for Cash in the Panic of 1907.”
The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 22, No. 4, August 1908, p. 500.

Endnotes •


13. Andrew, p. 502 A-C, 505, 507.
14. Bruner, p. 117.
15. Andrew, p. 512.
16. Horwitz, Steven. “Competitive Currencies, Legal Restrictions, and the Origins of the Fed:
		 Some Evidence from the Panic of 1907.” Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 56, No. 3,
		January 1990, p. 643.
17. Sprague, 1908, p. 368.
18. Andrew, p. 515.
19. Horowitz, p. 644.
20. Annual Report of the Comptroller of the Currency, 1907, p. 70. Accessed via
21. Andrew, p. 516.
22. Andrew, p. 514-15.
23. Cannon, James. G. “Clearing Houses and the Currency,” in Currency Problems and the Current
		 Financial Situation, 1908, accessed via, 110.
24. Todd, p. 10.
25. The New York Times, Oct. 23, 1907.
26. Sprague, 1910, 320.
27. Annual Report of the Comptroller of the Currency, 1907, p. 70, 71, 75.

Chapter 5: “The Highways of Commerce”

1. Andrew, A.P. “The Currency Legislation of 1908.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics.
		Vol. 22, No. 4. August 1908. p. 666.
2. Owen, Robert. The Federal Reserve Act: Its Origin and Principles. 1919. p. 29-30.
3. See Timberlake, Richard. “The Central Banking Role of Clearinghouse Associations.”
Journal of Money, Credit and Banking. Vol. 16, No. 1. February 1984, p. 12; and Andrew, p. 667.
4. Laughlin, J.L. “The Aldrich-Vreeland Act.” Journal of Political Economy. Vol. 16, No. 8.
		October 1908. p. 499.
5. Laughlin, p. 513.
6. Owen, p. 2.
7. Owen, p. 34.
8. Owen, p. 43-44.
9. The bill had been in the works since at least 1910, when the Jekyll Island meeting was
		 held. See Todd, Tim. The Balance of Power: The Political Fight for an Independent Central Bank,
1790-Present. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. 2009, p. 11.
10. Report of the National Monetary Commission, Jan. 8, 1912, p. 7, available via
11. Warburg, Paul. The Federal Reserve System: Its Origin and Growth. The Macmillan Company.
1930, p. 296; and Stevens, Edward. “The Founders’ Intentions: Sources of the Payment Services
		 Franchise of the Federal Reserve Banks.” Federal Reserve Financial Services Working Paper
		No. 03-96. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, December 1996, p. 8.


• Endnotes

12. Owen, p. 54.
13. Owen, p. 67.
14. “Report of the Committee Appointed Pursuant to House Resolutions 429 and 504 to Investigate
		 the Concentration of Control of Money and Credit,” (The Pujo Committee Report), 62nd
		Congress, 3rd Session, Report No. 1593, submitted Feb. 28, 1913, p. 19. Available at
15. Pujo Committee Report, p. 20-21 and p. 109.
16. Ibid., p. 25.
17. Ibid., p. 23.
18. Ibid. p. 111.
19. Glass, Carter. An Adventure in Constructive Finance. Doubleday, Page & Company:
		 New York. 1927, p. 299-300.
20. Glass, p. 301.
21. Willis, Henry Parker. The Federal Reserve System: Legislation, Organization and Operation.
		 The Ronald Press Company: New York. 1923, p. 1,053.
22. Willis, p. 1,062. In addition, Stevens argues that the financial services measures in the Federal
		 Reserve Act were “not intended to secure public benefit directly by correcting market failures or
		 externalities, but rather to avoid irrelevance” and that the measures served as the Fed’s
		 “institutional glue.”
23. Glass, p. 90.
24. Willis, p. 145.
25. Owen, Robert. “The Federal Reserve Bank Bill.” Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science in
		 the City of New York. Vol. 4, No. 1, Banking and Currency in the United States, October 1913, p. 1.
26. Ibid., p. 4.
27. Ibid., p. 8.
28. Howe, Edward. “The Country Banks and the Owen-Glass Bill.” Proceedings of the Academy of
		 Political Science in the City of New York. Vol. 4, No. 1, Banking and Currency in the United States,
		October 1913, p. 172.
29. U.S. Senate, 63rd Congress, 1st Session. “Hearings Before the Committee on Banking and
		 Currency on H.R. 7837 (S. 2639).” Vol. 1. 1913, p. 194. Available at
30. Ibid., p. 194.
31. Willis, pp. 399-402.
32. Van Duesen, W.M. “The Clearing of Checks at Par.” Proceedings of the Academy of Political
		 Science in the City of New York. Vol. 4, No. 1, Banking and Currency in the United States,
		October 1913, p. 185-186.
33. Glass, Carter. “Speech of Hon. Carter Glass of Virginia in the House of Representatives, Monday,
		Dec. 23, 1913.” Appendix to the Congressional Record, p. 563.

Endnotes •


Chapter 6: “A Problem... of Great Novelty”
1. Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Convention of the American Bankers Association, held at
		 Kansas City, Mo., September 25-30, 1916. p. 668.
2. Federal Reserve Annual Report for 1914, p. 19.
3. Federal Reserve Annual Report for 1915, p. 16.
4. Federal Reserve Annual Report for 1915, p. 16.
5. Federal Reserve Annual Report for 1915, p. 16.
6. Federal Reserve Bulletin, May 1, 1916.
7. Federal Reserve Annual Report for 1916, p. 11.
8. ABA Proceedings, p. 635.
9. ABA Proceedings, p. 639.
10. First National Bank of York, Neb., is now known as Cornerstone Bank, which has 34
		 banking locations and assets of $1.3 billion.
11. ABA Proceedings, pp. 643-645.
12. The ABA’s full membership approved a resolution officially protesting the Federal Reserve Act’s
		 par collection provisions. While the resolution called for “the establishment of a collection system
		 which is fair and equitable to all banks and to the general public,” it left the task of deciding on
		 formal action to a committee comprised of 15 country bankers and 10 city bankers.
		 (ABA proceedings, p. 186).
13. ABA Proceedings, p. 75. Lynch would later become governor of the Federal Reserve Bank
		 of San Francisco.
14. Thralls, Jerome. “Report of the Committee of Twenty-Five on the Clearing and Collection
		Problem.” Journal of the American Bankers Association. May 1917, p. 885.
15. “Are State Banks Coerced?” United States Investor. Volume XXXI, No. 12. Boston and New York,
		March 20, 1920, p. 1.
16. Warne, Colston. “Enforced Par Remittance Under the Federal Reserve System.” The Quarterly
		 Journal of Economics. Oxford University Press. Vol. 35, No. 2. February 1922, p. 280-1.
17. Thralls, Journal of the ABA, May 1917, pp. 885-886.
18. Thralls, Journal of the ABA, June 1917, p. 963.
19. Thralls, Journal of the ABA, June 1917, p. 964. Thralls did not identify the Reserve Bank.
20. Thralls, Journal of the ABA, June 1917, p. 963.
21. Vest, George. “The Par Collection System of the Federal Reserve Banks.” Federal Reserve Bulletin.
		February 1940, p. 91.
22. Wyatt, Walter. “The Par Clearance Controversy.” Virginia Law Review. Vol. 30, No. 3. June 1944, p. 378.
23. Wyatt disputes this claim and argues the congressional record made it clear what was being voted on.
24. Tippetts, Charles. “The Par Remittance Controversy.” The American Economic Review.
		 American Economic Association. Vol. 14, No. 4. December 1924, p. 634.
25. Warne, p. 282.


• Endnotes

Chapter 7: Bank Robbers and Bolsheviks
1. This account is based on several letters and affidavits filed by Federal Reserve agents, bankers and
		 others that are stored in the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s archives.
2. Federal Reserve System Board of Governors. Fifth Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board
		 Covering Operations for the Year 1918. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C. 1919, p. 75.
3. Ibid. ,p. 76.
4. Federal Reserve System Board of Governors. Fifth Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board
		 Covering Operations for the Year 1918. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C. 1919, p. 76.
5. “Address of Wallace D. Simmons, President, Simmons Hardware Company.” Chamber of
		 Commerce of the United States Records (Accession 1960), Series I, Box 8, “Minutes of the
		 Seventh Annual Meeting,” pp. 316-323. Courtesy of the Hagely Museum and Library,
		 Wilmington, Del.
6. “Memorandum” of E.P. Tyner to Asa Ramsey, Federal Reserve Agent. Oct. 14, 1919. Federal Reserve
		 Bank of Kansas City archives, Legacy Collection. Box 103, File 5. “Bank Operations—Cash Item
		 Collection—Par Point Campaign, 1918-1920.”
7. Letter from Republic State Bank Cashier C.J. Taylor to E.P. Tyner. Oct. 11, 1919. Federal Reserve
		 Bank of Kansas City archives, Legacy Collection. Box 103, File 5. “Bank Operations—Cash Item
		 Collection—Par Point Campaign, 1918-1920.”
8. Affidavit of A.A. Davies, Feb. 11, 1920. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City archives, Legacy
		 Collection. Box 103, File 6. “Bank Operations—Cash Item Collection—Par Point
		 Campaign—Nebraska Bank Controversy.”
9. Affidavit of Woods Cones, published in the Federal Reserve Board’s transcript of “Hearing on
		 Complaints of State banks of the State of Nebraska against Alleged Methods of Check Collection
		 of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and its Branch bank of Omaha, Nebraska.”
		 Washington, D.C., February 24-25, 1920.
10. Affidavit of A.A. Davies, Feb. 11, 1920. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
11. Affidavit of A.A. Davies, Feb. 11, 1920. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
12. Affidavit of A.A. Davies, Feb. 11, 1920. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
13. Affidavit of A.A. Davies, Feb. 11, 1920. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
14. “Resolutions Unanimously Adopted at a Special meeting of State bankers of Nebraska held at
		Omaha—January 14, 1920.” Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City archives, Legacy Collection.
		Box 103, File 6.
15. “Between the Bankers.” Omaha Bee. Jan. 16, 1920.
16. Letter from J.E. Hart, Secretary of Nebraska Department of Trade and Commerce to J.Z. Miller,
		Jan. 27, 1920. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City archives, Legacy Collection. Box 103, File 6.
17. Letter from J.Z. Miller to J.E. Hart, Jan. 29, 1920. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City
		 Legacy Collection.
18. “Par Collection of Checks on Non-Member Banks by Federal Reserve Bank.” The Banking Law
		 Journal. Vol. XXXVII, No. 4. April 1920, p. 204.

Endnotes •


19. Preston, Howard. “The Federal Reserve Banks’ System of Par Collections.” Journal of Political
		Economy. Vol. 28, No. 7. The University of Chicago Press. July 1920, p. 579.
20. “Mr. Claiborne’s Address.” Journal of the American Bankers Association. November 1920, p. 385.
21. Federal Reserve System Board of Governors. Seventh Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board
		 Covering Operations for the Year 1920. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C. 1921,
		p. 64-65.
22. A judge’s ruling in this case was published in the Federal Reserve Bulletin, December 1922.
23. “State Banks in Federal Reserve System.” Senate Document No. 184, 66th Congress, 2nd Session, p. 1.
24. Senate Document No. 184, p. 5.
25. Senate Document No. 184, p. 35.
26. “Criticizes Reserve Banks: Congressman Says They Oppress the Small Banking Houses.”
The New York Times. Jan. 24, 1920.
27. House Resolution 452. Jan. 30, 1920.
28. Letter from W.E. Andrews to Omaha Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
		Feb. 2, 1920. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Legacy Collection.
29. “Wall-St Surprised at Naming of Moehlenpah to Bank Board.” The Milwaukee Journal.
		September 10, 1919.
30. The following account is from a transcript of a hearing held by the Board of Governors in Washington,
		 D.C. on Feb. 24-25, 1920; and a letter from J.Z. Miller to Gov. Harding, Feb. 17, 1920.
31. Federal Reserve System Board of Governors. Seventh Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board
		 Covering Operations for the Year 1920. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C. 1921, p. 66.
32. Tippets, Charles. State Banks and the Federal Reserve System. D. Van Nostrand Company Inc:
		 New York. 1929, p. 328.
33. Tippetts, Charles. “The Par Remittance Controversy.” The American Economic Review.
		 American Economic Association. Vol. 14, No. 4. December 1924, p. 637-8.
34. Federal Reserve System Board of Governors. Tenth Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board
		 Covering Operations for the Year 1923. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C. 1924, p. 49.
35. Quinn, Stephen and William Roberds. “The Evolution of the Check as a Means of Payment: a
		 Historical Survey.” Economic Review. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. No. 4. 2008, p. 18.
36. Federal Reserve System Board of Governors. Tenth Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board
		 Covering Operations for the Year 1923. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C. 1924, p. 50.
37. Jessup, Paul. The Theory and Practice of Nonpar Banking. Northwestern University Press:
		 Evanston, Ill. 1967, p. 20.
38. Stevens, Ed. “Non-Par Banking: Competition and Monopoly in Markets for Payments Services.”
		 Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Working Paper 9817. November 1998, p. 20.
39. Federal Reserve System Board of Governors. 67th Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board.
		 Washington, D.C., 1981, p. 281 [cited in Stevens].


• Endnotes

Chapter 8: “A Plump Automatic Bookkeeper”
1. Fisher, Amy Weaver and James McKenney. “The Development of the ERMA Banking System:
		 Lessons from History.” IEEE Annuals of the History of Computing. Vol. 15, No. 1, 1993, p. 46.
2. “Banking Machine ‘Reads’ Text.” The New York Times, Sept. 22, 1959; and SRI International.
		 “Electronic Recording Machine, Accounting,” available at
3. Fisher, p. 55.
4. The New York Times, Sept. 22, 1955.
5. The New York Times, Sept. 22, 1955.
6. Transcript of General Electric 1961 National Sales Meeting, “Frontiers of Progress,” available
		 online from the Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communications and Computation at
7. Quinn, Stephen and William Roberds. “The Evolution of the Check as a Means of Payment:
		 A Historical Survey.” Economic Review. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Vol. 93, No.4. 2008,
		p. 19-20.
8. Wapensky, Basil. “Electronic Check Processing.” Monthly Review. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
		May 1960, p. 4.
9. Wapensky, p. 4.
10. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. “How Banking Tames its Paper Tiger.” Business Review.
		May 1960, p. 6.
11. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, p. 3.
12. Fisher, p. 44.
13. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, p. 3.
14. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, p. 9.
15. SRI International.
16. McKenney, James. “Developing a Common Machine Language for Banking: The ABA Technical
		 Subcommittee Story.” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. Vol. 17, No. 4, 1995, p. 68.
17. Fisher, p. 52.
18. Connolly, Paul and Robert Eisenmenger. “The Role of the Federal Reserve in the Payments System.”
		In The Evolution of Monetary Policy and the Federal Reserve System Over the Past Thirty Years:
		 A Conference in Honor of Frank E. Morris. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. October 2000, p. 136.
19. Minehan, Cathy, et al. “The U.S. Retail Payments System: Moving to the Future.” Federal Reserve
		 Bank of Boston Annual Report, 2000, p. 8.
20. “G.E. Solves Bookkeeping Problem for Big Bank.” The New York Times, Sept. 15, 1959; and
		 Fisher, p. 23.
21. The New York Times, Sept. 15, 1959.
22. “Automated Check Processing: September 1, 1967 Deadline Approaching.” Review. Federal Reserve
		 Bank of St. Louis. June 1967, p. 15.
23. For an in-depth examination of this idea, please see: Batiz-Lazo, Bernardo, Thomas Haigh and
		 David L. Stearns. “How the Future Shaped the Past: The Case of the Cashless Society.” MPRA
		 Paper No. 34846. November 2011, accessed at

Endnotes •


24. Reistad, Dale. “The Coming Cashless Society: Implications and Benefits of a Pending System.”
Business Horizons. Vol. 10, No. 3. Fall 1967, p. 23.
25. Smith, William. “The Checkless Society: Human Beings Causing the Chief Delays.”
The New York Times, May 21, 1967.
26. Kramer, Robert and W. Putnam Livingston. “Cashing in on the Checkless Society.”
Harvard Business Review. September/October 1967, p. 143.
27. Reistad, p. 24.
28. Mitchell, Mary. A Search for Understanding: A Biography of George W. Mitchell, Member of
		 the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 1961-1976. iUniverse Inc: Bloomington,
		Ind. 2008, p. 108.
29. Mitchell, George. “Effects of Automation on the Structure and Function of Banking.”
The American Economic Review. Vol. 56, No. 1/2. March 1, 1966, p. 160.
30. Mitchell, George. p. 165.
31. Mitchell, Mary, p. 188.
32. McEntee, Elliot. “A tribute to the father of electronic payments.” Payment Systems Report. Vol. 2,
		No. 2. Feb. 1, 1997.
33. Kramer, p. 143.
34. Lee, Norris. “Tomorrow’s Checkless, Cashless Society: The Problems, The Solutions, The Benefits.”
Management Review. September 1967, p. 60.
35. The New York Times, May 21, 1967.
36. Mitchell, Mary, p. 192.
37. Fernelius, Leonard and David Fettig. “Dichotomy Becomes Reality: Ten Years of Federal as Regulator
		 and Competitor.” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Annual Report. Jan. 1, 1992.
38. Gamble, Richard. A History of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta: 1914-1989. The Federal
		 Reserve Bank of Atlanta. 1989, p. 128.
39. Bradford, Terri. “The Evolution of the ACH.” Payments System Research Briefing. Federal Reserve
		 Bank of Kansas City. December 2007, p. 1.
40. Connolly, p. 138.
41. “The Electronic Payments Network and the ACH: A History.” The Electronic Payments Network.
		 Available at
42. Mitchell, Mary, p. 193.
43. Connolly, p. 140.
44. Summers, Bruce. “Facilitating Consumer Payment Innovation Through Changes in Clearing and
		Settlement.” In Consumer Payment Innovation in the Connected Age. A symposium hosted by
		 the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, March 29-30, 2012, p. 198.
45. Connolly, p. 140.


• Endnotes

Chapter 9: Control and Competition
1. The Wall Street Journal. “Carter to Maintain Stance in Anti-Inflation Fight.” Sept. 24, 1979.
2. Timberlake, Richard. “Legislative Construction of the Monetary Control Act of 1980.”
The American Economic Review. Vol. 75, No. 2. May 1985, p. 98.
3. Volcker, Paul. “Statement Before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs,
		 United States Senate.” Sept. 26, 1979, p. 1. Available at
4. Volcker, Sept. 26, 1979, p. 17.
5. Volcker, Sept. 26, 1979, p. 23.
6. Kuprianov, Anatoli. “The Monetary Control Act and the Role of the Federal Reserve in the
		 Interbank Clearing Market.” Economic Review. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
		July/August 1985, p. 25.
7. Kuprianov, p. 26.
8. Kuprianov, p. 27.
9. Kuprianov, p. 29.
1. Kuprianov, p. 30.
11. “Oversight on the Payments Mechanism, the Federal Reserve’s Role in Providing Payments
		 Services, and the Pricing of Those Services.” U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and
		 Urban Affairs. October 10 and 11, 1977, p. 1.
1. “Oversight on the Payments Mechanism…”, p. 110.
1. “Oversight on the Payments Mechanism…”, p. 118.
1. “Oversight on the Payments Mechanism…”, p. 123.
1. Kupiranov contains a thorough history of the various legislative proposals.
1. Volcker, “Statement of Paul A. Volcker, Chairman, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve
		 System, before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Feb. 4, 1980.”
Federal Reserve Bulletin. March 1980, p. 143-144.
1. Volcker, Feb. 4, 1980, p. 148.
1. Farnsworth, Clyde. “Far-Reaching Banking Legislation Signed by President.” The New York Times.
		April 1, 1980, p. A1.
1. Carter, Jimmy. “Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act of 1980:
		 Remarks on Signing H.R. 4986 Into Law.” March 31, 1980. Available at The American Presidency
2. Farnsworth, Clyde. “Washington Watch: More Clout for the Fed.” The New York Times.
		March 17, 1980.
21. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. “Policies: Principles for the pricing of
		 Federal Reserve Bank Services.” 1980. Available at
2. Frodin, Joanna. “Fed Pricing and the Check Collection Business: The Private Sector Response.”
Business Review. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. January/February 1984, p.16.
2. Mayer, Martin. “The Fed Goes into Business.” Fortune. April 4, 1983, p. 168.

Endnotes •


2. Mayer, p. 168.
2. The Wall Street Journal. “Banks Angered by Fed’s Check-Clearing Aspirations.” Oct. 26, 1982.
2. Mayer, p. 168.
2. The Wall Street Journal, “Justice Dept. Says Planned Fees for Fed Services Are Too Low.”
		Nov. 10, 1980.
2. The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 10, 1980.
2. Mayer, p. 169.
3. Mayer, p. 169.
31. Olson, Mark. “The Monetary Control Act, 30 Years Later.” ABA Banking Journal.
		March 2010, p. 6.
3. Fernelius, Leonard, and David Fettig. “Dichotomy Becomes Reality: Ten Years of Federal
		 Reserve as Regulator and Competitor.” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. 1991 Annual Report.
		 Available at
3. Fernelius and Fettig.
3. Mayer, p. 169.
3. Gramley, Lyle. “The Federal Reserve’s Role in Check Processing.” Speech before the Bank
		 Administration Institute’s 1985 Check Processing Conference. March 27, 1985, p. 2.
		 Available at
3. Gramley, p. 8-9.
3. Frodin, p. 21.
3. Garsson, Robert. “Fed Proved to be an Aggressive Marketer of Payments Services.”
American Banker. Jan. 14, 1985.
3. “Bankers find Fed competition a mixed blessing.” ABA Banking Journal. August 1985, p. 26.
4. Gramley, p. 3, 20 and 21.

Chapter 10: The Fed’s Air Force
1. Todd, Tim. The Balance of Power: The Political Fight for an Independent Central Bank,
1790-Present. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. 2012, pp. 48-50.
2. “Waste and Abuse in the Federal Reserve’s Payment System.” Press release from the Office of
		 U.S. Rep. Henry Gonzales, Jan. 17, 1996.
3. Fox, Justin. “Fed Check Transport Hit by Democrats as Anticompetitive, Costly.” American Banker,
		Jan. 10, 1996.
4. Fox, American Banker, Jan. 10, 1996.
5. Martin, John. “Your Money: Air Fed Delivery Inefficient, Under Scrutiny.” ABC World News
		 Tonight. Aug. 13, 1997.
6. Wilke, John. “Fed Is Faulted on Its Own Bookkeeping—GAO Calls Central Bank’s Operations
		 ‘Inefficient’; Expenses Rise Sharply.” The Wall Street Journal, March 26, 1996.


• Endnotes

7. U.S. Senate Banking Committee. “Hearing Regarding the General Accounting Office Report on
		 the Federal Reserve.” Transcript by Federal Document Clearing House Inc., July 26. 1996.
8. U.S. Senate Banking Committee hearing, July 26, 1996.
9. Wilke, John. “Showing Its Age: Fed’s Huge Empire, Set Up Years Ago, is Costly and Inefficient.”
The Wall Street Journal. Sept. 12, 1996.
10. Wilke, Sept. 12, 1996.
11. Wilke, Sept. 12, 1996.
12. Wilke, Sept. 12, 1996.
13. “U.S. Fed sets up payment services review committee.” Reuters News, Oct. 17, 1996.
14. Seiberg, Jaret. “Fed Huddling With Bankers on Its Role In Payments.” American Banker,
		May 8, 1997.
15. Marlin, Steven. “Federal Reserve Stirs Renewed Debate With Aim to Stay in Processing.”
Bank Systems + Technology, Nov. 1, 1997.
16. Sones, Bill. “Fed payments services face keen scrutiny.” Independent Banker, May 1, 1997.
17. Seiberg, Jaret. “GAO Proposes Five Methods to Safeguard Electronic Payments.” American Banker,
		June 26, 1997.
18. Seiberg, American Banker, May 8, 1997.
19. Clary, Isabelle. “Fed mulls next role in U.S. payments system.” Reuters News, June 5, 1997.
20. Sones, Bill. “Community bankers: Tell the Congress ‘no!’” Independent Banker, July 1, 1997.
21. Seiberg, American Banker, June 26, 1997.
22. Seiberg, American Banker, May 8, 1997.
23. Clary, Isabelle. “US bill seen challenging Fed’s payment system role.” Reuters News, Aug. 15, 1997.
24. Seiberg, Jaret. “Lawmakers to Fed: Get Out of Check Processing.” American Banker, July 23, 2007;
		 and Clary, Reuters, Aug. 15, 1997.
25. Clary, Reuters, Aug. 15, 1997.
26. Rivlin, Alice. “Role of the Federal Reserve in the Payment System.” Testimony before the U.S.
		 House Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Sept. 16, 1997.
27. Transcript of press conference with Alice Rivlin and Edward Kelly. Federal Document Clearing
		 House Inc., Jan. 5, 1998.
28. Poje, Richard. “Fed is Only Logical Payment System Leader.” American Banker, May 8, 1998.
29. Dow Jones News Service. “Fed’s Rivlin Sees Phase-Out of Paper Checks in 10 Yrs.” Sept. 28, 1998.

Chapter 11: Disruption and Evolution
1. Mollenkamp, Carrick, et al. “Bank Branches Close in Wake of Attacks; Check Processing,
		 Transport Disrupted.” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 12, 2001.
2. Lacker, Jeffrey. “Payment System Disruptions and the Federal Reserve Following September 11, 2001.”
		 Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Working Paper 03-16. Dec. 23, 2003. p. 8.
3. Bragg, Roy. “Anxious S.A. caught in attacks’ grip; Parents rush to children; banks see heavy use.”
San Antonio Express-News, Sept. 11, 2001.

Endnotes •


4. Gores, Paul. “Nation’s banking system OK, officials say; Some nervous customers take out cash
		 after attack.” The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Sept. 12, 2001.
5. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. 88th Annual Report for 2001, p. 175.
6. Lacker, p. 7.
7. U.S. House Committee on Financial Services. “Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and
		 Consumer Credit holds a hearing on H.R. 5414, The Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act.”
		 Transcript of hearing held on September 25, 2002 from Federal Document Clearing House Inc.
8. Heller, Michelle. “Fed Offers Check Truncation Plan.” American Banker, Dec. 28, 2001.
9. Heller, Dec. 28, 2001.
10. Electronic Check Clearing House Organization. “Check 21: History.” Timeline available at
11. U.S. House Committee on Financial Services, Sept. 25, 2002.
12. Lee, W.A. “Truncation Debate Opens Today on the Hill.” American Banker, Sept. 25, 2002.
13. U.S. House Committee on Financial Services, Sept. 25, 2002.
14. Brower, Brooke. “Check Imagining on a Fast Track at Small Banks.” American Banker, March 4, 2003.
15. Brower. American Banker, March 4, 2003.
16. Heller, Michelle. “In Brief: House Approves Check-Clearing Bill.” American Banker, June 6, 2003.
17. Wade, Will. “A Check 21 Provision that May Alter Image Debate.” American Banker, July 1, 2003.
18. Heller, Michelle. “The Fed and AirNet Work Out Final Kink in ‘Check 21’.” American Banker,
		Sept. 23, 2003.
19. Wade, Will. “In Brief: President to Sign Check 21 Today.” American Banker, Oct. 28. 2003.
20. “House Okays Compromise Check Truncation Measure by Voice Vote.” EFT Report, Oct. 15, 2003.
21. Bielski, Lauren. “Disappearing Act: With check volumes decreasing, banks mull over their options.”
ABA Banking Journal, March 1, 2003.
22. Norton, Frank. “Banks Rush to Embrace Digital Check Processing.” The (Charleston, S.C.)
		 Post and Courier, Nov. 3, 2003.
23. Norton, Nov. 3, 2003.
24. “Remarks by Chairman Alan Greenspan at the Federal Reserve Payments System Development
		Committee 2003 Conference.” Washington, D.C. Oct. 29, 2003. Available at
25. Gerdes, Geoffrey, et al. “Trends in the Use of Payment Instruments in the United States.”
		 Federal Reserve Bulletin, vol. 91. Spring 2005. Available at
26. “The 2010 Federal Reserve Payments Study: Noncash Payment Trends in the United States.”
		 The Federal Reserve System. April 5, 2011. Available at


• Endnotes

27. U.S. Government Accountability Office. “Check 21 Act: Most Consumers Have Accepted and
		 Banks are Progressing Toward Full Adoption of Check Truncation.” GAO-09-08. October 2008.
28. Pianalto, Sandra. “Collaboration to Improve the U.S. Payments System.” Speech at the
		 Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Payments Conference. Chicago. October 22, 2012.
29. Bauer, Paul, and Geoffrey Gerdes. “The Check is Dead! Long Live the Check! A Check 21 Update.”
Economic Commentary. Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. June 2009.

Chapter 12: Banks vs. Merchants
1. Haysahi, Fumiko. “The New Debit Card Regulations: Initial Effects on Networks and Banks.”
		 Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Economic Review. Fourth quarter 2012, p. 82, p. 85.
2. McGinn, Stacie, and Mark Chorazak. “Debit Interchange Regulation: Another Battle or the End
		 of the War?” Harvard Business Law Review Online. 2011. Available at
3. Wilke, John and Robin Sidel. “Merchants Expand Credit-Card Fight to Major Banks.”
		 The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2005.
4. Hoenig, Thomas. “Central Bank Session Comments.” In Interchange Fees in Credit and Debit
		 Card Markets: What Role for Public Authorities?” A conference hosted by the Federal Reserve
		 Bank of Kansas City. May 2005, p. 267. Available at
5. Hung, Christian. “An Update on Interchange Legislation in the United States.” Federal Reserve
		 Bank of Kansas City. Payments System Research Briefing. December 2009, p. 3.
6. Hung, 3.
7. “NRF Urges Dodd to Include Interchange in Reform Bill.” Convenience Store News. March 17, 2010.
8. Saunders, Rhys. “Durbin to Introduce Bill Aimed at Banks.” The State Journal-Register
		 (Springfield, Ill.), April 19, 2010.
9. “Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Majority Whip, holds a News Teleconference on Financial
		 Regulatory Reform.” Transcript. Political Transcripts by CQ Transcriptions. May 3, 2010.
10. Durbin news conference transcript, May 3, 2010.
11. Press release from the Office of Sen. Richard J. Durbin, May 7, 2010.
12. Drawbridge, Kevin, and Maria Aspan. “US Senator revives credit card fee reform.” Reuters,
		May 5, 2010.
13. “Durbin amendments would harm consumers, small financial institutions.” News release.
		 Electronic Payments Coalition, May 10, 2010.
14. Appelbaum, Binyamin. “Debit Fee Cut Is a Rare Loss for Big Banks.” The New York Times,
		May 15, 2010.
15. Crittenden, Michael. “US Sen Durbin Blasts Community Bank Group Over ‘Swipe’ Fees.
Dow Jones Newswires, May 13, 2010.
16. Adler, Joe. “Durbin Battles Banks, CUs Over Interchange Amendment.” American Banker,
		May 14, 2010.

Endnotes •


17. McGrane, Victoria. “Sen. Durbin Alleges Visa, MasterCard Threatened Banks.” Dow Jones
		Newswires, May 27, 2010.
18. Crittenden, Michael. “US Sen Dodd: ‘Can’t Imagine’ Eliminating Interchange Language.”
Dow Jones Newswires, June 7, 2010.
19. Letter to conference committee. June 16, 2010, available at
20. Lammers, Dirk. “Debit card issuer TCF National Bank sues Fed Reserve chairman and board of
		 governors over fees.” The Associated Press, Oct. 12, 2010.
21. Davis, Paul. “TCF CEO: Lawsuit to Block Debit-Card Fee Caps Is a ‘Line in the Sand.’”
American Banker, Oct. 12, 2010.
22. Fitzgerald, Kate. “JPM Phasing Out Debit Rewards.” American Banker, Nov. 9, 2010.
23. Rexrode, Christina. “BofA posts $7.6 billion loss as it braces for debit fees’ end.” Charlotte Observer,
		Oct. 20, 2010.
24. Connelly, Eileen. “Federal Reserve proposes capping merchant debit card fees at 12 cents in blow
		 to big banks.” The Associated Press, Dec. 16, 2010.
25. Fitzgerald, Kate. “Fed Rules’ Hit to Debit Issuers Pegged at $12B.” American Banker, Dec. 28, 2010.
26. Randall, Maya. “Fed Board Backs Staff Plan for 12-Cent Debit Card Fee Cap.” Dow Jones Newswires,
		Dec. 16, 2010.
27. Ibid.
28. Goldstein, Steve. “Brawl over debit fees continues at hearing.” Marketwatch. Feb. 17, 2011.
29. Roberts, Ed. “Fed Questions Viability of Two-Tiered Interchange System.” ATM & Debit News.
		Feb. 17, 2011.
30. Goldstein, Steve. “Brawl over debit fees continues at hearing.” Marketwatch. Feb. 17, 2011.
31. “Price Control Regulation on Debit Interchange: Timeline.” Electronic Payments Coalition.
		 Available at
32. McGrane, Victoria, and Robin Sidel. “Banks Find Allies in Debit-Fee Fight.” The Wall Street Journal,
		March 23, 2011.
33. Wong, Scott. “Senate swipes banks’ hopes.” POLITICO, June 8, 2011.
34. Corker, Bob. “Durbin amendment backfires.” POLITICO, Oct. 25, 2011.
35. Subsequent research has found that consumers, on net, have actually seen increased access to free
		 checking fees following the implementation of the Durbin amendment. See: Sullivan, Richard.
		 “The Impact of Debit Card Regulation on Checking Account Fees.” Federal Reserve Bank of
		 Kansas City. Economic Review. Fourth quarter 2013, pp. 59-93.
36. Borak, Donna, and Rob Blackwell. “Everybody Hates Interchange: Bankers, Retailers Object to
		 Fed Final Rule.” American Banker, June 30, 2011.
37. American Banker, June 30, 2011.


• Endnotes

38. American Banker, June 30, 2011.
39. Schroeder, Peter. “Banks score small victory when Fed decides only to halve debit card fees.”
The Hill, June 30, 2011.
40. “Bid to Block Debit Card Swipe Cap Denied by Appeals Court.” Bloomberg News, June 30, 2011.
41. Marx, Claude. “TCF Bank Drops Interchange Lawsuit Against the Fed.” Credit Union Times,
		June 30, 2011.
42. Connelly, Eileen. “Retail groups file suit claiming Federal Reserve didn’t follow law in setting debit
		 card fees.” The Associated Press. Nov. 22, 2011.
43. Gordon, Marcy. “US judge strikes Federal Reserve rule setting 24-cent cap on debit-card transaction
		fees.” The Associated Press. July 31, 2013.
44. Braithwaite, Tom. “Judge attacks Fed over card cap.” Financial Times, Aug. 1, 2013.
45. Stephenson, Emily. “U.S. judge rejects Fed cap on debit card swipe fees.” Reuters, July 31, 2013.
46. The Associated Press, July 31, 2013.
47. Wack, Kevin. “Despite Court Action, Debit Swipe Fee Refunds Not Likely.” PaymentsSource.
		Aug. 16, 2013.
48. Kendall, Brent, et al. “Fed Gets a Win on Card Fees.” Dow Jones Newswires, March 21, 2014;
		 and Wack, Kevin. “Banks’ Victory on Swipe Fees Seems Likely to Hold Up.” American Banker,
		March 24, 2014.
49. American Banker, March 24, 2014; Dow Jones, March 21, 2014.
50. Stephenson, Emily. “Retailers to ask U.S. Supreme Court to hear ‘swipe fee’ case.” Reuters.
		June 2, 2014.


Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. 100th Annual Report: 2013, p. 89.
Federal Reserve System. “The 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study: Recent and Long-Term
Payment Trends in the United States: 2003-2012.” December 19, 2003, p. 6.
Federal Reserve System. “The 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study: Recent and Long-Term
Payment Trends in the United States: 2003-2012.” December 19, 2013, p. 12.
Summers, Bruce. “Facilitating Consumer Payment Innovation Through Changes in Clearing and
Settlement.” In Consumer Payment Innovation in the Connected Age. A symposium hosted by the
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, March 29-30, 2012, p. 194.
The paper is available at
Tracy, Ryan. “Authorities See Worth of Bitcoin.” The Wall Street Journal Online. Nov. 18, 2013.
Pianalto, Sandra. “Collaborating to Improve the U.S. Payments System.” Speech at the Federal
Reserve Bank of Chicago Payments Conference. Oct. 22, 2012.
Poje, Richard. “Fed is Only Logical Payment System Leader.” American Banker, May 8, 1998.

Endnotes •


Sources and
Selected Bibliography
The following sources are referenced in the text and were used for research. Many of the Federal
Reserve publications and speeches referenced are available from FRASER, the Federal Reserve
Archive, available online at FRASER also includes many of the materials
produced by the National Monetary Commission and the Pujo Committee in the early 1900s.
Materials on file at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s own archives were also used for
research, especially for the sections describing the nonpar banking controversy in Nebraska
during the 1920s.
Information and quotes were also used from a number of news media sources, including The
Wall Street Journal, Fortune, American Banker, Reuters, The New York Times, Associated Press,
POLITICO, Dow Jones Newswires, Financial Times, Bloomberg News and many others.
During the course of research for this book, historical materials from the archives of the Kansas
City Clearinghouse Association were made available by Kansas City-based EPCOR—Electronic
Payments Core of Knowledge.
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Economics, Vol. 22, No. 2, February 1908.
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Economics, Vol. 22, No. 4, August 1908.
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Vol. 22, No. 4, August 1908.


• Sources and Selected Bibliography

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Sources and Selected Bibliography •


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Laughlin, J.L. “The Aldrich-Vreeland Act.” Journal of Political Economy. Vol. 16, No. 8.
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Lee, Norris. “Tomorrow’s Checkless, Cashless Society: The Problems, The Solutions,
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the End of the War?” Harvard Business Law Review Online. 2011.
McKenney, James. “Developing a Common Machine Language for Banking: The ABA
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Ind. 2008.


• Sources and Selected Bibliography

Owen, Robert. The Federal Reserve Act: Its Origin and Principles. 1919.
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Quinn, Stephen and William Roberds. “The Evolution of the Check as a Means of Payment:
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Minneapolis Quarterly Review. Vol. 24, No. 2, Spring 2000.
Sprague, O.M.W. “The American Crisis of 1907.” The Economic Journal. Vol. 18, No. 71.
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Printing Office. 1910.
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03-96. Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. December 1996.
__________. “Non-Par Banking: Competition and Monopoly in Markets for Payments
Services.” Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Working Paper 9817. 1998.

Sources and Selected Bibliography •


Sullivan, Richard. “The Impact of Debit Card Regulation on Checking Account Fees.”
Economic Review. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Fourth Quarter 2013.
Summers, Bruce. “Facilitating Consumer Payment Innovation Through Changes in
Clearing and Settlement.” In Consumer Payment Innovation in the Connected Age. A
symposium hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, March 29-30, 2012.
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Quarterly Journal of Economics. Oxford University Press. Vol. 35, No. 2. February 1922.
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of Atlanta. May 1960.
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June 1944.

Sources and Selected Bibliography •


Photo Credits
Photographs and illustrations are from the following sources.
Front cover. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Public Affairs, graphic
created by Casey McKinley (2014).
Library of Congress, image LC-USZ61-908, etching by William Charles
(circa 1808).
United States Geological Survey, Geology, Minerals, Energy, & Geophysics
Science Center, Mineral and Environmental Resources, Western Region Gold
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Historical Park, Lowell Notes, Nathan Appleton,
(accessed June 10, 2014).
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of Massachusetts, 2011589322 (1814).
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Water Celebration, on Boston Common, October 25th 1848," lithograph by
P. Hyman and David Bigelow, 208-PR40E43 (1848).
Library of Congress, image LC-USZ62-89594, etching by Anthony Fleetwood
Library of Congress, image LC-DIG-ppmsca-22782, drawing by Henry Inman
Library of Congress, image LC-USZ62-8844, lithograph by Edward Williams
Clay, published by H.R. Robinson (1837).
Whitney, D.R., The Suffolk Bank, Appendix 4, Riverside Press, Cambridge


• Photo Credits


Library of Congress, image LC-DIG-ppmsca-22772, drawing by Richard W.
Dodson (between 1832 - 1867).
Library of Congress, image LC-USZ62-3739 (no date).
Gibbons, J.S., The Banks of New York, Their Dealers, the Clearing House, and
the Panic of 1857, with illustrations by Herrick, D. Appleton & Company,
New York (1858), p. 307.
Gibbons, p. 294.
Library of Congress, image LC-DIG-ppmsca-24845, etching by Augustus
Köollner (185-).
Gibbons, p. 315.
Library of Congress, image LC-B2-48-1, photo by Bain News Service (1908).
Library of Congress, image LC-D4-17536, photo by Detroit News Service
(circa 1904).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, The Kansas City Clearing
House Collection (gift of EPCOR).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, The Kansas City Clearing
House Collection (gift of EPCOR).
Library of Congress, image LC-USZ62-30740, engraving by W. T. Bather
(circa 1913).
Library of Congress, image LC-H25-11942-C, photo by Harris & Ewing
(circa 1910).
Library of Congress, image LC-F81-593 (circa 1910).
Library of Congress, image LC-H261-1923, photo by Harris & Ewing (1912).
Library of Congress, image LC-H261-3118, photo by Harris & Ewing (1913).
Library of Congress, image LC-H261-3378, photo by Harris & Ewing (1913).
44 (top). Library of Congress, image HABS MO,48-LESUM,1/5—2, Historic American
Buildings Survey Collection (no date).
44 (bottom). Library of Congress, image HABS MO,48-LESUM,1/17—14, Historic
American Buildings Survey Collection (no date).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, Legacy Collection, Photographs
(August 10, 1914).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, Postcard Collection (circa 1914).

Photo Credits •






Internet Archive, Old Settler’s History of York County, Nebraska (1913),
p. 114,'_history_
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Library of Congress, image LC-H261-4866, photo by Harris & Ewing (1914).
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(circa 1913).
Library of Congress, image LC-H261-4807, photo by Harris & Ewing (1914).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, Postcard Collection (circa 1920).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, Legacy Collection (1920).
Library of Congress, Chronicling America, America’s Historic Newspapers,
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Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, Legacy Collection (1920).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, Legacy Collection, Photographs
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(May 12, 1914).
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Library of Congress, image LC-F81-13398 (circa 1921).
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Underwood (circa 1910).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, Legacy Collection (1925).
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Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, Legacy Collection (1946).
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1954 – 1962),
(accessed June 10, 2014).
• Photo Credits





Federal Reserve Board of Governors, photo by Fabian Bachrach (circa 1973).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, Omaha Branch Photographs,
Carroll Swindler Collection (circa 1965).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Legacy Collection, Photographs
(circa 1981).
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Federal Reserve Board of Governors (circa 1979).
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history/common/image/WI_Proxmire_William_1963.htm (accessed June 10,
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(January 31, 1977).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, c 1978.
Federal Reserve Board of Governors, photo by Britt Leckman (circa 2005).
Federal Reserve Board of Governors, photo by Brooks-Glogau Studios
(circa 1980).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, Legacy Collection, Photographs
(circa 1985).
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Government, Chapter 7, 1996.html (accessed June 10,
2014). (circa 1990).
Federal Reserve Board of Governors, photo by Britt Leckman (2004).
Federal Reserve Board of Govenors, photo by Wally McNamee.
Library of Congress, Hispanic Americans in Congress,
hispanic/congress/gonzalez.html (accessed June 10, 2014).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Legacy Collection (circa 1995).
National Institute of Standards and Technology, Advanced Measurement
Laboratory Dedication Photo Gallery,
factsheet/aml-dedication-gallery.cfm (2004).
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress,
(accessed June 10, 2014).
Photo Credits •



Biographical Directory of the United States Congress,
(accessed June 10, 2014).
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Public Affairs Employee Publications,
Bank Notes (September, 2003).
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photos?ID=4faed55f-503c4d59-aa24-3cb2e698188e (accessed June 10, 2014).
Associated Press, photo by unknown photographer (June 17, 2010).
Associated Press, photo by Jacquelyn Martin (June 8, 2011).
Back cover. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Archives, Legacy Collection
(circa 1995).


• Photo Credits

Adams, Nathan, 47
AirNet Systems, 106-108
Aldrich, Nelson, 34-37
Aldrich-Vreeland Act, 35-36, 150
American Bankers Association, 23, 42, 44-45, 47-48, 50-51, 60, 62, 75-76, 78, 91, 116, 118
Andrew, A. Piatt, 31, 146
Andrews, William, 65
Appleton, Nathan, 3-5, 10, 147
Automated clearinghouse (ACH), 79-81, 84-86, 88, 97, 102, 110, 147
Bailey, Willis, 42
Bank of America, 71-72, 74-75, 105, 118
Bank of Mutual Redemption, 14-15
Bank of New England, 7, 129 (endnote 17)
Bankers Roundtable, 100
Bernanke, Ben, 118, 119, 120-121
Bitcoin, 126
Brandeis, Louis, 67-68
Briese, S. Clark, 72
Bryan, William Jennings, 59
Burroughs Corp., 75
Bush, George W., 109
Cannon, James, 23-24, 31, 147
Carter, Jimmy, 83, 87, 89
Check Clearing for The 21st Century Act (Check 21), 105-111, 147


• Index

Check float, 40, 42, 105
Checkless society, 76-78, 103, 149, 150
Citibank, 105
Claiborne, Charles, 62
Cluff, Anthony, 100
Coldwell, Philip, 87
Cole 8 (automobile), 55, 63
Comptroller of the Currency, 16, 30, 33, 38
Cones State Bank, 55, 59, 67
Cones, Woods, 55, 59-60, 64-66,
Consumer Bankers Association, 118, 121
Cooper, William, 118
Corker, Bob, 119-120
Credit Union National Association, 116
Davies, A.A., 59
Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act, 82-93
Dexter, Andrew, 2-3
Dodd, Chris, 114, 116-117
Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, 112, 114, 117-118, 122
Dorgan, Byron, 96
Duke, Elizabeth, 120
Durbin amendment, 112-123, 126
Durbin, Dick, 114-117, 119, 122
Electronic Check Clearing House Organization (ECCHO), 107
Electronic Fund Transfers Act, 80
Electronic Recording Machine-Accounting (ERMA), 71-72, 75, 148
Exchange fees, 22-24, 39-43, 45-46, 48-52, 56-57, 61-62, 68-69, 126

Index •


Farmers and Merchants Bank (Catlettsburg, Ky.), 63
Farmers Bank (Prairie Home, Neb.), 61
Federal Aviation Administration, 90, 105-106,
Federal Reserve Act, VII, 43, 45, 47-51, 62, 68, 151
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 62, 66-67, 72, 77, 81, 111, 148, 151, 152
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, 75, 95, 147
Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, 62-63, 98, 126, 147, 151
Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, III, VII, 42, 55, 58-61, 64-67, 78, 80, 90, 113, 146,
147, 149, 152
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, 98, 147, 148, 151
Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 50, 98
Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, 73, 74, 148
Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, 48, 90
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 98, 148, 151
Federal Reserve Board of Governors, 23, 45-50, 52, 56-58, 60, 64-66, 69, 77, 89, 92, 98,
105, 118-122, 125, 148, 150
Ferguson, Mike, 107
First National Bank (York, Neb.), 48, 134 (endnote 10)
Food Marketing Institute, 121
Gallatin, Albert, 21
George, Esther, VII
General Accountability Office, 91, 96-98, 114
General Electric, 75
Gibbons, J.S., 21, 148
Girard, Stephen, VIII
Glass, Carter, VII, 39-43, 50, 148
Gonzalez, Henry, 95-96, 98, 101
Gramley, Lyle, 92-93
Greenspan, Alan, 97, 98-99, 101, 106, 109, 113
Gund, C.F., 60


• Index

Hammond, Bray, 4, 11, 149
Harding, William P.G., 21, 49-51, 64-66, 149
Hardwick, Thomas, 50, 52-53
Hardwick amendment, 50-52
Hart, J.E., 61
Hoenig, Thomas, 113
Hoskins, Lee, 98
Hunt, Richard, 118, 121
IBM, 74-75, 78, 90
Independent Bankers Association of America (IBAA), 100
Independent Community Bankers of America, 116
Interchange fees, VII, 113-123, 149, 150
Jackson, Andrew, 9, 14
JPMorgan Chase, 118
Kansas City Clearinghouse, 24, 29, 32
Kansas City Convention Hall, 45, 47
Kelly, Edward, 98, 102
Kitchin, Claude, 49
Knox, John Jay, 16, 149
Knickerbocker Trust Co., 27-28, 31
Laughlin, J.L., 35-36, 150
Liberty Bond, 50-51
Leon, Richard, 121-22
Long, R.A., 45
Lynch, James K., 48
Index •


Maddox, Robert, 42
Magee, H.A., 62-63
Magnetic ink character recognition (MICR), 74-76
Maloney, Carolyn, 101, 117
MasterCard, 113, 115
McCall, Mary, 63
McCloud, C.A., 48, 60, 66
McDonough, William, 98
Melzer, Thomas, 98
Merchants Payments Coalition, 116
Miller, Jo Zach, 60, 62, 64-66
Miller, William, 89
Miller Oil Company, 121
Mitchell, George, 77-79, 85, 87, 150
Moehlenpah, Henry A., 65-67
Morgan, J.P., 24, 31, 37
Morrin, Thomas, 71
NAACP, 119
National and State Bankers’ Protective Association, 62
National Association of Convenience Stores, 121
National Association of Federal Credit Unions, 181
National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864, 21-22
National Cash Register Company (NCR), 75, 109
National Commission on Electronic Funds Transfers, 80
National Education Association, 119
National Monetary Commission, 34-37, 146, 147, 151
National Reserve Association, 37
National Retail Federation, 114, 121, 123
Nebraska Bankers Association, 60
New York Clearing House Association, 18-19, 21, 27, 37-38


• Index

Norton, George D., 90
Obama, Barack, 117
Olson, Mark, 91
Owen, Robert, 36-37, 41, 50-51, 151
Oxley, Michael, 109
Panic of 1837, 12-13, 151
Panic of 1907, 27-35, 37-38, 146, 147, 149, 152
Pianalto, Sandra, 126
Pierce, Neb., 54-55, 59-60, 64, 67
Poje, Richard, 127
Proxmire, William, 86-87
Private sector adjustment factor (PSAF), 88, 90-91
Pujo, Arsene, 37-38
Pujo Committee, 37-41
Raskin, Sarah, 118, 121
Reagan, Ronald, 75
Reavis, Charles Frank, 65, 67
Regional Check Processing Centers (RCPCs), 79
Reid, Harry, 96
Reistad, Dale, 76, 78, 151
Republic State Bank (Republic, Kan.), 58
Ridgely, William, 33
Rivlin, Alice, 98-100, 102-103
Rivlin Commission, 98-103
Rocky Mountain Automated Clearinghouse Association, 86
Rolnick, Arthur, 98, 151

Index •


Sarbanes, Paul, 106
Schiff, Jacob, 25, 37
Second Bank of the United States, 7, 14, 17, 148
Sept. 11, 2001 (9/11), 105-106, 126
Simmons, Wallace, 57-58
Sones, Bill, 100
Sprague, O.M.W., 151, 31
Special Committee on Paperless Entries (SCOPE), 79
Specie, 1-4, 7-15, 20, 25
Stanford Research Institute (SRI), 71, 74
Strong, Benjamin, 50
Suffolk Bank, 7-18, 24, 147, 150, 151, 152, 153
Summers, Bruce, 125, 152
Supreme Court, 67-68, 121
Tarullo, Daniel, 119
TCF Bank, 118, 121
Tester, Jon, 119-120
Tyner, E.P., 58
U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 57
U.S. Department of Justice, 86, 90-91, 113
U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 119
U.S. Treasury Department, 21, 35, 79-80, 86, 89, 91
U.S. Steel, 30
Van Deusen, W.M., 42
Visa, 113, 116
Volcker, Paul, 82-85, 87-89


• Index

Vreeland, Edward, 35
Walker, David, 107
Washington Mutual, 108
Wells Fargo, 105
Whitney, D.R., 3, 7, 9-10, 13-16, 153
Willis, Henry Parker, 39, 41, 153,
Wilson, Woodrow, 39, 41-42, 51-52, 65
Wisconsin Bankers Association, 105
World War I, 50
Young, Stanley, 24-25

Index •


Over the past century...Congress has repeatedly turned to
the Federal Reserve to ensure...payments improvements are
universally available and that the system remains safe
and secure. No other institution—public or private—has
that responsibility.

Since its formation, the Federal Reserve has played an important role as both an overseer
and participant in the U.S. payments system. But the origin of central bank involvement
goes back even further. Throughout U.S. history, consumers, merchants, financial institutions, policymakers and others have grappled with the question of who is ultimately
responsible for what congressional leaders in 1913 called the “highways of commerce.”
From the chaos of the early 19th century to today’s digital transactions, there has been a
spirited—and often contentious—debate over the central bank’s roles and responsibilities.