After the Civil War, many entrepreneurs were hesitant to invest in such a torn area. However, Alpheus Branch and Thomas Jefferson Hadley saw potential in starting a banking business, and in 1872 they formed Branch and Hadley in Wilson, North Carolina. The small, private firm started lending funds to farmers and small business owners to stimulate the area’s economy. After several years of investing in Wilson’s agricultural economy, the bank experienced moderate growth, and Hadley withdrew his partnership in 1887. According to some local historians, Branch’s check of $81,000, in exchange for Hadley’s ownership, was the largest check in Wilson County up to that point in the area’s history.
The newly named Branch and Company Bankers went through several changes during the early 1900s, and it became the first bank in North Carolina to begin trust endeavors. Alpheus Branch and several other prominent businessmen in the Wilson area procured a charter from the North Carolina General Assembly in 1889. The charter allowed the bank several rights including the right to create a trust department. In 1900, Branch Banking and Company, the recently chartered bank, bought Branch and Company Bankers. After several years awaiting amended bank regulation, the bank began its trust department in 1907, and its name was changed to Branch Banking and Trust Company (BB&T) in 1913.
During the first half of the 1900s, BB&T survived two wars and the Great Depression, and became one of the larger banks in North Carolina. Through the first World War BB&T grew because of an increased government bond investment and Liberty Bond sales; Liberty Bonds were sold to give aid to the federal government during World War I. In the 1920s, the bank added new insurance and mortgage loan services to their branches, and four new banks were opened across the state. When the stock market crashed in 1929, banks in North Carolina started to break down, and more than 130 banks closed in just two years between 1930 and 1932. Even though every bank in Wilson had shut its doors during the Depression, a confident BB&T President Herbert D. Bateman added six new banks and assets increased to $13.7 million.
After World War II, BB&T experienced more growth and by 1995, BB&T had become a modern banking corporation. Post-war prosperity meant more loans and investment, and the bank reached nearly $350 million in assets. With 60 offices in 35 cities in the 1960s, BB&T continued its growth pattern in the 1970s and 1980s because of increased interstate banking and by purchasing competing banks. In the early-to-mid 1990s, the bank had expanded throughout North and South Carolina with over 260 branches, establishing itself as the fourth largest bank in North Carolina. In 1995, BB&T and Southern National Corporation, the fifth largest bank in the state, merged, and BB&T carried the name because of its wider recognition. Commonly referred to as the “merger of equals,” the consolidation with Southern National produced 437 separate banks in the Virginia and the Carolinas.
Once BB&T had absorbed Southern National its growth continued to even greater heights, and by the end of the 2000s, the bank had branched out in 12 states and in Washington, D.C. Its assets totaled $157 billion. BB&T experienced substantial growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and it soon opened branches as far north as Maryland and as far south as Florida. By 2002, the bank had taken control of First Citizens Bank of Georgia, BankFirst Corporation in Tennessee, and MidAmerica Bancorp in Kentucky. Also, in FDIC-assisted deals, BB&T was able to attain Coastal Financial Corporation of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Colonial Bank of Alabama in the late-2000s.
“Branch Banking and Trust Company.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006), p. 144.
“Our History.” BB&T Media Room – Company Information Webpage. http://bbt.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=18&cat=8, (accessed July 20, 2011).
By Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Entrepreneurship, Business and Industry