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In the immigrant colonies of industrial towns and cities, institutions have been developed to meet the peculiar needs of the immigrant population. Each has an important bearing upon the life of the community. The most noteworthy of these are the immigrant bank, steamship agencies, churches and schools. The most important is an institution commonly called an immigrant bank.
Unregulated Immigrant Banks
Recent investigation has developed the fact that a large number of so-called banks, organized for the purpose of doing business with the unassimilated immigrants of recent years from southern and eastern Europe,* have been established in most of our industrial localities of any size or importance. About 3,000 of these institutions exist at the present time in the United States. The larger proportion are located in the manufacturing areas of the Middle States and New England, but in smaller numbers they are doing a flourishing business in all sections in which Italians, Slavs, Magyars, or other southern and eastern Europeans are employed in considerable numbers. Immigrant banks are found in the isolated iron ore mining camps of Minnesota and Michigan, in all bituminous mining localities of any importance in the East, Middle
Report of the U. S. Immigration Commission on Immigrant Banks, Senate Document No. 381, 61st Congress, 2d Session.
West, Southwest, or South, and in all industrial localities which have grown up around such industries as textile, iron and steel, and glass manufacturing. The importance of the business conducted by them may be seen from the fact that more than $100,000,000 of the total amount of money sent abroad annually by aliens working in this country passes through the hands of immigrant bankers. More than one-half of the socalled banks also receive deposits, and, altho the average deposit is less than $100, due to the fact that they represent the meager accumulations of unskilled immigrant laborers for the purpose of purchasing steamship tickets or sending money abroad, the aggregate amount held reaches high into the millions. The significant fact in connection with the entire system, however, is that only four States-Ohio, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts-have made any effort to regulate these private banks conducted by or through the patronage of aliens. As a result our recent immigrant population has been retarded in its progress toward assimilation and has been subjected to shameless exploitation.
THE TERM IMMIGRANT BANK A MISNOMER
As a matter of fact the term immigrant bank is a misnomer. The immigrant communities which have affixt themselves during recent years to our industrial towns and cities have many needs which can be satisfied only by a person or company familiar with the languages spoken, and with the customs, habits, and manner of thought of the people. There is money to be sent to the old country; friends and relatives are to be communicated with and brought to the United States; business affairs must be transacted in this coun
try and in the native land; and advice is to be sought on a multitude of affairs. To meet these needs the institution popularly known as the immigrant bank has come into existence. In many respects, the immigrant bank is practically a bureau of information and a clearing-house for necessary services to the immigrant population, and thrives upon the ignorance and lack of assimilation of the immigrant people. Its banking functions, however, while limited, involve a large amount of money and affect the welfare of a great number of people.
RACES AS BANKERS
As regards the tendency of members of certain races to become bankers, of 110 establishments recently studied by the United States Immigration Commission, 47 were operated by Italians, 15 by Hebrews, 13 by Poles, 9 by Magyars, 8 by Croatians, 6 by Bulgarians, 5 by Greeks, 4 by Slovaks, 2 by Hungarian Germans, 2 by Lithuanians, I by Bohemians, I by Portuguese, and 3 by corporations and partnerships in which various races were represented. Only one did a real banking business; 29 were operated as steamship and foreign exchange agencies; 72 as banks in connection with some other business; and 8 were saloons and boarding-houses, whose proprietors were sending money abroad without maintaining a steamship agency. The branches of business and employments carried on by the banks in addition to their usual banking functions are real estate, rental, insurance, and collecting agencies, notarial offices, labor agencies, postal substations, book, jewelry, and foreign novelty stores, saloons, groceries, butchers, and barbers, boarding bosses, or room renters, printers, pool
room keepers, furniture dealers and undertakers. These combinations are typical of practically all communities, and so may be considered as fairly representing the immigrant banking business generally.
The Origin of Immigrant Banks
The connection between banking and other branches of business may be easily explained. In the mind of the immigrant, the steamship agent is the sole connecting link with the fatherland. As the representative of well-known lines, he ascribes to the agent a standing and responsibility such as he has no cause to assign to any American institution. Nothing is more natural than that the immigrant should take his savings to the agent and ask that the agent send them home for him. Having made the start, it is natural that he should continue to leave with the agent for safe-keeping his weekly or monthly surplus, so that he may accumulate a sufficient amount for another remittance or for the purpose of buying a steamship ticket to bring. his family to this country or for his own return to Europe. It is not long before the agent has a nucleus for a banking business, and his assumption of banking functions quickly follows.
Those proprietors who confine their operations to banking and steamship agencies, as distinguished from those who conduct such in connection with some other business, are usually the most intelligent men of the immigrant population of any colony or locality. They are always possest of considerable influence, and may be political leaders in the older and more established immigrant communities. Almost without exception, they are able to speak English and have some degree of education. Frequently they have reached their po
sition of prominence through successful mercantile enterprise. Not a few got their start as day laborers. In most cases the basis of their success lies in a native ability which is by no means necessarily the product of business experience or financial training.
The contrary is true of the great number of those bankers who, in a purely personal way, are acting as custodians of their countrymen's funds. The responsibilities imposed upon those who act as bankers for the immigrants are so light as to make the assumption of that important office dependent upon no other qualifications than the would-be banker's ability to inspire the confidence of his compatriot, which racial ties render comparatively easy. There are numerous instances where strangers have gone into communities and established themselves as steamship agents and foreign-exchange dealers. Their only qualification was that they were Italians among Italians, or Magyars among Magyars. Hundreds of saloon-keepers and grocers act as bankers without the least fitness or equipment. It is true that they become bankers only as individuals through their position as merchants. Altho banking functions are more or less forced upon men of this character, and altho they may be exercised in a thoroughly honorable way, the fact remains that many hundreds of thousands of dollars belonging to immigrant laborers are handled by ignorant, incompetent, or untrustworthy men.
The causes for the failure of the immigrant laborer to turn to the regular American institutions to satisfy his banking needs rather than to the less responsible men of his own race are threefold: (1) The ignorance and suspicion of the immigrant; (2) the fact that American institutions have not developed the pe