Monday, October 8, 2018

Guy Bowerman: Bank Organizer and Investor, and Banking Official [otd 10/8]

East Idaho banker Guy Emerson Bowerman was born October 8, 1866, in Coldwater, Michigan, about forty miles south of Lansing. Armed with just a public school education, Bowerman found bank employment in Dell Rapids, South Dakota (about 20 miles north of Sioux Falls). For fifteen years, he advanced into higher and higher positions at the bank.
St. Anthony in 1907. Vintage postcard.

Then, in 1899, Bowerman moved to St. Anthony, Idaho, the county seat of Fremont County. There, he and some partners organized the Idaho State Bank, and Guy became Cashier* of the firm. In two years, the company designation changed to the First National Bank of Saint Anthony. Bowerman moved up to be President in 1907. Five years later, he sold his interest in the bank.

That did not, however, take Bowerman out of banking. He owned stock in the Rigby State Bank, and held high offices in a number of others: director of the First National Bank of Rexburg, vice president of the Fremont County Bank (Sugar City), and President of the First National Bank of Ashton. He helped organize two of these banks – in Ashton and Sugar City – as well as the First National Bank of Driggs.

Often, he would see a firm through its formative stages and then either divest his holdings or limit his involvement in management. Still, even in 1920, Bowerman held interests in eight different banks around the state of Idaho, as well as two in Salt Lake City. He also had other business interests in Salt Lake.

According to Hawley’s History, Bowerman could have had an extensive political career, but chose to be selective in his public service activities. He did serve one term as mayor of St. Anthony, and one term in the Idaho House of Representative. While in the House, Bowerman chaired the Committee on Appropriations and was a member of the Committee on Banks and Banking.

In 1919, Governor Davis appointed him to be State Commissioner of Finance. Hawley’s History of Idaho asserted that he had to be talked into accepting the appointment, but that “the choice has been most strongly endorsed by public opinion, for Idaho's citizens recognize in Guy Emerson Bowerman a man whose initiative, enterprise and progressiveness have been, and will continue to be of the greatest value to the state.”
Guy Bowerman. J. H. Hawley photo.

Bowerman resigned the Commissioner position within a few months, however, to become General Secretary of the American Bankers Association (The New York Times, November 26, 1919). He had been active in that Association for some time, serving on its Executive Council. (Bowerman also  helped organize the Idaho State Bankers Association and served one term as its president.)

At the Association’s 1927 Annual Convention, he declared that the U. S. was – to use his coined term – “overbanked.” Quite prescient, in retrospect, Bowerman spotted one of several factors that led to the Great Crash of 1929 – too many profit-hungry banks fueling wild stock market speculation.

Bowerman later held an executive position with a Los Angeles investment firm. He died there in March 1940.

* Bank Cashiers held a much higher position than is commonly perceived today. They were significant company officers and could personally write and sign “cashier’s checks” backed by the bank’s reserves. Such a note might circulate like “real” money for some time before being presented for redemption. 
References: [Blue], [French], Hawley]
“Business & Finance: At Houston,” Time Magazine, (Nov. 07, 1927).
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, Oxford University Press (1965).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks. He's a distant cousin, and it made for an interesting read.