The evolution of AmSouth Bank from a small local bank founded in the heyday of a bustling boomtown into a super-regional financial institution with a network of more than 650 branches serving customers in six states parallels almost exactly the story of the City of Birmingham. Founded in 1873 just two years after the birth of the Magic City itself, AmSouth grew through a series of strategic mergers and acquisitions that mirrored the growth and development of Birmingham over the years.
The bank's more than a century of service has been marked by understanding the needs of its customers, meeting those needs, and building relationships that last a lifetime.
The history of AmSouth Bank is really a story about more than 130 years of building relationships. AmSouth’s rich history dates back to the early pioneers who founded the City of Birmingham in 1871 and the National Bank of Birmingham in 1872. The AmSouth story begins in the heart and mind of a Swedish immigrant, a former seaman and adventurous businessman named Captain Charles Linn.
The National Bank of Birmingham, later The First National Bank of Birmingham, was founded by Charles Linn, a seafarer and merchant born in Finland of Swedish parents. As a boy he ran away to sea, suffering first as a stowaway and later at the hands of brutal officers who did not understand his language. During his eventful career at sea, Linn rose from cabin boy to captain, crossing the Atlantic 53 times.
Although a man of the 19th century, he has much to teach us in the 21st century about determination and the power of a positive attitude. Linn was a major player in Birmingham’s early and very difficult years, and he was often criticized for his optimistic outlook for the city's future. The greatest secret of his prosperity, he wrote, was the "punctuality of fulfilling promises."
On October 17, 1872, this visionary founded the bank which would later become AmSouth. The bank opened for business on the first business day in January, 1873. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the bank grew rapidly through mergers with other banks. In 1884, it merged with City Bank of Birmingham and the bank became The First National Bank of Birmingham.
The Great Depression hit Birmingham hard. First National played a vital role in helping the city survive that trying time. Most notably, through relationships with other financial institutions, First National saved a number of smaller banks from closing, and in 1935, six of these banks became First National's first branches.
During the 1940s, 50s and 60s as the nation prospered, so did Birmingham’s economy, and the bank’s branch system was expanded throughout Jefferson County. Up to this point, the company operated as a single Birmingham bank. In 1968, the bank began looking into a new type of structure – a multi-bank holding company to help with growth and service in new markets in Alabama and beyond. When the Bank Holding Company Act was signed into law in 1971, the bank was ready to act.
In December of 1971, First National shareholders approved formation of a holding company to be called Alabama Bancorporation. The holding company officially started a year later when First National reorganized itself to become the company's first affiliate. John Woods, president of First National at that time, was named the company's chairman, president and chief executive officer. Under his leadership, the corporation acquired over 20 affiliate banks in it first 10 years.
By the beginning of the 1980s, Alabama Bancorporation had earned an enviable reputation in banking and investment circles for soundness, performance and growth. This reputation extended beyond Alabama to include the South and the nation, as well, so the company searched for a name that would more clearly reflect a wider geographic reach. The name AmSouth was adopted in April of 1981.
Soon after the name change, AmSouth became the first bank holding company in Alabama to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In November of that year, it was announced that all affiliate banks would merge into a single, statewide bank called AmSouth Bank. The first bank to convert was First National Bank of Birmingham. By the end of 1983, AmSouth was one bank with over 100 offices in Alabama.
In 1987, AmSouth took its first steps outside of Alabama, expanding into Florida. It acquired nine more banks in Florida over the next seven years. AmSouth entered the Tennessee market in 1991 and Georgia two years later. By the end of 1994, the company was a composite of over 50 different banks that had joined together with the common goal of becoming the premier banking institution in the South.
AmSouth made no acquisitions from 1995 to 1999, dedicating itself totally to performance. Aggressive goals were set and achieved ahead of schedule. This resulted in continued growth and profitability that placed AmSouth squarely among the top performing banks in the nation.
The year 1999 proved to be event-filled. In March of that year, AmSouth was added to the prestigious S&P 500 index. In June, plans were announce that AmSouth would acquire Nashville-based First American Corporation. First American was slightly larger than AmSouth in asset size and operated banks in seven Southeastern states. This was the largest acquisition in AmSouth's history – larger than all others made in 27 years combined.
Since 2002, AmSouth opened more than 100 new branches. AmSouth's philosophy has attracted thousands of loyal customers and provided the foundation of business that is the hallmark of this $50 billion bank. AmSouth's more than a century of service has been marked by understanding the needs of its customers, meeting those needs and building relationships that last a lifetime.