JPMorgan Chase & Co. is one of the world’s oldest and largest financial institutions. As a global financial services firm with operations in more than 60 countries, JPMorgan Chase serves millions of consumers, small businesses, and many of the world’s most prominent corporate, institutional and government clients.
Tracing its roots to 1799, the firm is built on the foundation of more than 1,200 predecessor institutions that have come together over the years to form today’s company. JPMorgan Chase’s corporate family tree includes many well-known heritage firms such as J.P. Morgan & Co., The Chase Manhattan Bank, Bank One, Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co., Chemical Bank, The First National Bank of Chicago, National Bank of Detroit, The Bear Stearns Companies Inc., Cazenove Group and Washington Mutual. Each of these firms was closely tied to innovations in finance and the growth of the U.S. and global economies.
From its earliest roots as a water company, JPMorgan Chase has been intimately connected to the United States Postal Service. Both the firm and the Postal Service have grown together over the last 200 years, contributing to each other’s success along the way. Despite the changing landscape of communication technology, from handwritten letters and printed newspapers to email, websites, and social media outlets, the U.S.P.S. remains as critical to the firm today as it has been over the last two centuries.
Follow the timeline below to trace the growth of JPMorgan Chase & Co. from its founding in 1799 to the present day and learn more about its enduring relationship with the United States Postal Service.
JPMorgan Chase’s Earliest Predecessor Founded by a U.S. Postmaster General!
At the end of the eighteenth century, New York City's 56,000 residents lacked a central water supply. To combat this problem, a group of prominent New York City residents, including statesmen and political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, established The Manhattan Company, JPMorgan Chase's earliest predecessor institution and New York City’s first successful water company. The company was chartered by the New York State Legislature to supply "pure and wholesome" water to the city's growing population. Samuel Osgood, one of the founding directors of this new company alongside Burr and Hamilton, had served as the United States’ first Postmaster General under the Constitution from 1789-1791, the firm’s earliest connection to the postal system!
Aaron Burr ingeniously maneuvered into the water company’s charter an extra provision which would allow the directors of the water company to use any excess capital not necessary in the operation of the waterworks for other “moneyed” transactions. At the time, restrictions made it nearly impossible to open a bank, but Burr’s provision offered the water company’s directors an opportunity to do so. Only six months after the water company was chartered, its directors opened an “Office of Discount and Deposit.” This office later became known as The Bank of The Manhattan Company, the earliest predecessor bank in the JPMorgan Chase corporate family tree.
The water company remained in operation until 1842 when New York City established its own municipal water system. The bank, however, continued to operate for over 150 years, until it merged with Chase National Bank in 1955 to form The Chase Manhattan Bank.
America’s Most Infamous Duel
In 1804, Aaron Burr, then the sitting Vice President of the United States, challenged political rival Alexander Hamilton to a duel. The duel was held on July 11 in Weehawken, New Jersey. Dueling was illegal in both New York and New Jersey, but less strictly enforced in New Jersey. Hamilton was mortally wounded by Burr’s shot and returned to New York City where he died the following morning.
As the Post Office delivered newspapers and letters carrying news of Hamilton’s death, the nation went into mourning. Burr was indicted for murder, and though the charges were later dropped, his political career was destroyed. The pistols were purchased by The Bank of The Manhattan Company in 1930, and are now in the permanent collection of JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Despite this infamous duel between two of The Manhattan Company’s founders, The Bank of The Manhattan Company continued to grow throughout the 19th century and became one of the leading banks in New York City.
The Bank of The Manhattan Company and the Erie Canal
In 1859, The Bank of The Manhattan Company made a $385,000 emergency loan to New York State to cover the interest on Erie Canal bonds for which the state legislature had neglected to allocate funds to repay its bondholders.
The Bank of The Manhattan Company had been a key lender for the construction of the Erie Canal ever since work began in 1817. Shortly after the canal’s completion in 1825, United States post offices popped up along its banks. The Post Office used the canal to facilitate delivery of mail across the state of New York, often by employing packet boats, or long, narrow boats pulled by a team of horses. Cities along the canal grew rapidly as east-west mail transport, commercial trade, and leisure travel became more readily accessible.
J.P. Morgan & Co., the Railroads, and 19th Century Mail Transport
While canals helped cut the distance between cities and towns, the burgeoning American railroad system also expedited the delivery of long-distance mail. By the 1870s, trains had been transporting mail across the United States for over four decades. In 1871, J. Pierpont Morgan, the namesake of JPMorgan Chase, and Anthony Drexel, a Philadelphia businessman, established a private merchant bank in New York called Drexel, Morgan & Co., later renamed J.P. Morgan & Co. The firm quickly became known for its ability to identify profitable American investments, particularly in the expanding railroad system.
In 1880, Morgan financed the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad linking Montana with the Pacific Coast. This financing was, at the time, the largest transaction in railroad bonds ever made in the United States. Five years later, in 1885, Morgan negotiated a settlement aboard his yacht, the Corsair, between executives from the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads. By the turn of the 20th century, Morgan had cemented his reputation as America’s most influential railroad financier of the time. The Post Office Department relied on these railroad lines, along with other lines supported by Morgan and his firm, to deliver mail throughout the country.
Founding of Chase National Bank
In 1877, New York banker John Thompson founded Chase National Bank, named after Salmon P. Chase, former Secretary of the Treasury under Abraham Lincoln. Chase National expanded its operations within New York City and around the world throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries to become one of the largest American banks by 1955. That same year, Chase National merged with The Bank of The Manhattan Company to form The Chase Manhattan Bank, which later merged with J.P. Morgan & Co. to form JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The Brooklyn Bridge and Mail Delivery
The Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883 as the longest suspension bridge in the world. The Brooklyn Trust Company, a JPMorgan Chase predecessor, was responsible for most of the nearly $15 million needed to finance its construction, which took over a decade to complete.
The Brooklyn Bridge was the first bridge to connect the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, facilitating pedestrian and vehicular travel between the two. In 1897, the postal service implemented a pneumatic tube system in New York City; a year later, a tube line was built across the Brooklyn Bridge, connecting the Brooklyn General Post Office with post offices in Manhattan.
Pneumatic Tubes Transport Mail throughout New York City
By the 1890s, several American cities had constructed underground pneumatic tube networks to facilitate the delivery of mail through congested city streets. In 1897, New York City instituted its own pneumatic tube network, transporting mail between city post offices in canisters driven by pressurized air. These canisters, two feet long by eight inches wide, held roughly 500 letters and traveled at an average speed of 30mph. According to the May 1917 issue of Guaranty News, a monthly publication of the Guaranty Trust Company of New York, a JPMorgan Chase predecessor, mail could travel from the southernmost limit of the pneumatic tube service at the Custom House in Lower Manhattan to the northernmost limit at 125th Street in just 32 minutes.
JPMorgan Chase’s New York City predecessors benefited from the efficiency of the tube system which greatly expedited mail delivery between New York City post offices by avoiding above-ground traffic and transportation issues. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of these predecessor banks were based on or near Wall Street in what is today New York City’s Financial District. Mail addressed to these banks would often travel via pneumatic tube from either of the main post offices in Midtown Manhattan to the Wall Street station, where the bundles of mail would be retrieved by mail carriers employed by the bank.
Save for a short suspension during WWI, the tube system remained in operation in New York City until 1953.
J.P. Morgan & Co. Creates U.S. Steel
By the early 20th century, J.P. Morgan & Co., one of JPMorgan Chase’s major predecessors, was the preeminent private bank in the United States and involved in some of the nation’s largest deals. One of these deals came in 1901, when J.P. Morgan & Co. bought out American industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s steel company and combined nearly three dozen other companies to create United States Steel, the world's first billion-dollar corporation. In its first full year in operation, U.S. Steel controlled over half of all America’s steel making capacity.
Around the same time, the United States Postmaster General appointed a committee to recommend designs for new household mailbox models that would offer better protection against weather and theft. Steel was one of the materials selected for the new, officially-sanctioned design. If U.S. Steel was producing more than half of all American steel at the time, one can only wonder how many mailboxes owed their durability to the steel company Morgan formed!
The Launch of Parcel Post
Parcel Post, a service offered by the U.S. Post Office Department to send heavier packages through the mail, was introduced on January 1, 1913. Shortly after the service was inaugurated, the First Trust and Savings Bank, a JPMorgan Chase predecessor based in Chicago, IL, created a tool which enabled its users to quickly and accurately determine the amount of postage required to ship a package. The bank produced 150,000 “Parcel Post Computers” and began distributing the device to customers through the mail.
World War I and Wall Street
In 1915, J.P. Morgan & Co. arranged the largest foreign loan in Wall Street history – a $500 million loan to aid the French and British governments during the war. The firm also acted as the purchasing agent in the United States for the European Allies, placing over $3 billion worth of contracts with American producers for weapons, ammunition, and other goods needed during the war.
Guaranty Trust Company of New York, a JPMorgan Chase predecessor, subscribed to J.P. Morgan & Co.’s 1915 Anglo-French loan and participated in several other wartime loans to the European Allies. In order to better handle its own wartime business in France, Guaranty Trust opened a Paris office in 1917. The Paris office served as a depositary of the United States government, and acted as a paying and receiving agent for U.S. paymasters and other disbursing officers of the Army and Navy. The office included writing rooms and a post office which allowed soldiers to conveniently cash checks and send and receive letters. The Paris office used a mobile bank to provide these same checking and postal services to soldiers at the front.
Guaranty Trust Company and the Launch of Airmail
The first regularly scheduled airplane mail service in the world was inaugurated between Washington, DC and New York on May 15, 1918. On this historic flight, Lieutenant Torrey H. Webb, departing from Belmont Park, NY carried with him 144 pounds of mail. Included in the delivery was a letter from Charles Sabin, President of the Guaranty Trust Company of New York, a JPMorgan Chase predecessor, to William C. Potter, a Guaranty director and Chief of the Equipment Division of the Aircraft Board in Washington. The plane made a scheduled landing in Philadelphia where the mail was transferred to a second plane which completed the trip to DC.
Meanwhile, the reverse flight left from Washington, DC carrying several letters addressed to Guaranty Trust Company employees in New York City. Unfortunately, the DC to Philadelphia plane made a crash landing in Maryland and the mail, including the letters to Guaranty employees, was trucked back to DC and placed on a plane the next day.
The Roaring Twenties and Expanding Mail Departments
The Roaring Twenties was a time of domestic and global expansion for many JPMorgan Chase predecessors. As the banks grew, so too did their volume of incoming and outgoing mail. A January 1920 article from the Guaranty Trust Company of New York’s newsletter describes “one of the busiest departments of the Company and one of the most essential – the Mailing Department.” The article goes on to mention that “there is nothing of romance in its name; but after one has peeped behind the scenes and seen something of the workings of this combination Post Office substation, accounting bureau, detective agency, and information office, one looks at the prosaic sign on its door with both respect and admiration.” Forty staff members handled 4,580,573 pieces of mail the previous year, working around the clock to ensure prompt delivery and receipt of letters and packages.
Better Mailing Week… Or Is It?
In June 1925, during Better Mailing Week, a week set aside to improve mailing practices, the Mailing Department of the Guaranty Trust Company of New York, a JPMorgan Chase predecessor, received a package containing $650 in cash from an out-of-town bank. Not only did the package arrive with no instructions for its disposal, but it was plastered with sealing wax and official seals of the sending bank – a clear sign that it contained cash. As the Guaranty’s June 1925 newsletter wrote, “What a horrible example with which to usher in an era of Better Mailing!”
$167.86 in Postage and 14,219 Miles by Air!
In 1940, JPMorgan Chase predecessor, The Bank of the Manhattan Company, received a large envelope with two additional sheets of paper sewn to it, covered with a total of 343 air mail stamps after a trip of 14,219 miles.
The envelope, addressed to the bank’s PO Box in New York City, contained shipping documents for rubber and other East Indian products. It had been forwarded from Batavia, Java, to New York City via Singapore, Penang, Rangoon, Hong Kong, Manila, Guam, Wake Island, Midway Island, Honolulu and San Francisco and took 19 days to cover the 14,219 miles. The postage amounted to 314.75 guilders, the equivalent of $167.86 at the time or $2,815.39 today.
A memo from a bank officer, dated September 24, 1940, states that “before the war, air mail from the Dutch East Indies was routed via Europe across the Atlantic, but is now flown to Hong Kong and across the Pacific on clipper ships to San Francisco and then to New York City.”
Chase Manhattan Charge Plan and Mailed Advertisements
Chase Manhattan Bank introduced the Chase Manhattan Charge Plan in 1958, becoming the first New York City bank to offer customers a retail charge account. This account provided customers with credit at a citywide network of stores, rejecting the need for charge accounts with individual retailers. By 1969, the Chase Manhattan Charge Plan, renamed the Uni-Card, had become the leading provider of bank credit cards in the New York area. In 1972, the card joined the national BankAmericard System, the precursor to Visa.
Not only did Chase rely on mailed advertisements and offers to generate buzz around its charge card, but the bank relied on the postal service to deliver statements to its customers. Charge card payments could then be made in person at the bank, or through the mail.
Mr. Zip and the ZIP code
In 1963, the United States Postal Service initiated the ZIP code, or the Zoning Improvement Plan, to better address the demand for more efficient mail services. To promote this new feature, the Post Office Department introduced Mr. Zip, a cartoon figure dressed as a mail carrier. Though new to the postal service, Mr. Zip was no newcomer to the world of advertising. Mr. Zip was originally created for Chase Manhattan Bank, a JPMorgan Chase predecessor, by Howard Wilcox, an artist with the advertising agency of Cunningham and Walsh. His character, a postman delivering a letter, was used in a campaign advertising bank-by-mail services and accompanied by the slogan, “In rain or hail, bank by mail.”
When Chase retired the campaign, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company purchased the rights to the character from Cunningham and Walsh. AT&T gifted the design to the United States Post Office Department who tweaked the character’s look slightly and named him Mr. Zip. Mr. Zip was inaugurated in July 1963 and within four years, 80% of the American public recognized him. He was eventually retired in the mid-1980s after the introduction of the nine-digit ZIP code.
Chemical Bank and the ATM
Chemical Bank, a JPMorgan Chase predecessor, installed the first prototype cash dispensing machine in the nation, the precursor to the ATM, in a Long Island, New York bank branch. This move inaugurated 24-hour banking in the New York metropolitan area. Chemical Bank became the first bank in the U.S. to offer customers cash on demand.
Like Chase Manhattan did with its charge card, Chemical promoted the new technology through advertisements and brochures, relying on the Postal Service to deliver the magazines and newspapers which published its ads.
Chemical and Chase were certainly not the only JPMorgan Chase predecessors who depended on the Postal Service for this purpose. Thousands of existing advertisements from predecessor institutions illustrate the Postal Service’s enormous role in publicizing the firm’s products and services through its reliable delivery of the mail.
J.P. Morgan & Co. and the Postal Service’s Presorting Program
During the 1980s, J.P. Morgan & Co., a JPMorgan Chase predecessor, joined the Postal Service’s Partnership for Progress program, designed to facilitate dialogue between the Post Office and business mailers in an effort to improve postal services. In 1982, J.P. Morgan & Co. became the first bank in New York City to participate in the U.S. Postal Service’s presorting program which offered a discount to volume mailers who presorted their items.
First National Bank of Chicago ATMs in Post Offices
In 1991, First National Bank of Chicago, a JPMorgan Chase predecessor, became the U.S. Postal Service’s first ATM tenant. First National placed ATMs in several post offices throughout Chicago and offered customers 24 hour cash withdrawal access at the main Chicago post office.
21st Century Mergers Form JPMorgan Chase & Co.
J.P. Morgan & Co. Incorporated merged with The Chase Manhattan Corporation in 2000 to form JPMorgan Chase & Co. In 2004, JPMorgan Chase & Co. merged with Bank One Corp., retaining the name JPMorgan Chase.
JPMorgan Chase Leads the Way in Cash Management
By 2009, JPMorgan Chase was the leading cash management provider to the U.S. Postal Service, providing cash and check depository services to nearly one third of the U.S.P.S.’s 80 districts!
JPMorgan Chase continues to expand throughout the world, guided by many of the same principles which also govern the U.S. Postal Service. These principles – a strong sense of accountability and a commitment to responsible, honest work – have allowed both to remain connected to their customers and the communities they serve. As the words chiseled into the granite façade of the former New York General Post Office declare, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” And, if history is to judge, JPMorgan Chase and the Postal Service will continue to do so for many years to come.