For 200 years, BBH has prided ourselves on a culture of continuous improvement - staying ahead of the changes that are happening all around us.  But to continue adapting, we know that we must honor and learn from our past.  Staying connected to our history is a way of life for employees and Partners alike.  As we celebrate our Bicentennial, we are pleased to share a few “pieces” of our history.

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Brown Brothers & Co. Traveler's Letter of Credit

In 1824, Brown Brothers issued a £250 line of credit in favor of John M. Colston of Virginia, who was traveling via Liverpool to see his brother in Paris. When Colston arrived in Liverpool, he appeared at the Browns’ office, letter in hand, where he was able to draw on this line to arrange onward travel to Paris.

Realizing the convenience this innovation offered travelers, Brown Brothers introduced a “circular” letter of credit which permitted the traveler to withdraw local currencies at numerous corresponding banks abroad, not just at Brown Shipley. Circular letters came with wallets that offered protection to the banknotes and instruction on proper use of the document, how to receive telegrams, as well as basic monetary conversions.

Brown Brothers Letters of Credit were carried by Woodrow Wilson on his trip to Paris for the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 and Charles Lindbergh on his famous transatlantic flight


On the Record - The Brown Brothers Ledger

Like all firms with origins in the early 1800’s, BBH recorded all financial transactions manually. The ledger at left dates back to 1836 and was used to record account information and to prepare financial statements, including all assets, liabilities, revenues, and expenses for the firm. As technology developed, these handwritten ledgers would be replaced first by typewriters, then by automated electronic spreadsheets and finally now by cutting-edge financial connectivity and data transformation technology.

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Brown Brothers Advertisements from the 1930s

Historically not fond of the limelight, BBH was not known for its public advertisements. But when in 1933 Glass-Steagall required the firm to begin publishing annual statements of condition, BBH also launched what was believed to be the first attempt by a private bank to explain itself through an advertising campaign.

BBH has come a long way since the advertisements of the 1930s. But we remain steadfast in our focus on personal relationships, on offering distinctive services, on developing new client relationships, and deepening existing ones.

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Brown Brothers Boston’s First Vault

When Thomas Buckminster Curtis opened Brown Brothers’ Boston office in 1844, business transactions depended on personal correspondence and face-to-face contact. This portable safe held the necessary paperwork to track and run the office’s data, which consisted of letters and journal entries.

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The Golden Spike

The 1860s were marked by a boom in railway construction, with more than 170,000 miles of track added by the end of the century. Much of this growth was driven by the construction of transcontinental railroads – the first of which was completed in 1869 with a “golden spike” celebrating the juncture of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific (UP) tracks at Promontory Summit, Utah. The Browns issued nearly $100 million in bonds to finance the venture, and separately E.H. Harriman directed and grew the railroad from 1897-1909.

EH Harriman owned and operated the UP from 1897 until his death in 1909.  His sons Averell and Roland, and BBH partners Robert Lovett, Elbridge Gerry and Elbridge Gerry Jr., and Michael McConnell all served as Directors of the UP.

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Harriman for Governor!

In 1919, W. Averell Harriman founded W. A. Harriman & Co., later renamed Harriman Brothers & Co., as the financial arm of a growing shipping business. At the outset of the Great Depression, Averell was one of the players in negotiating the merger between Harriman Brothers & Co. and Brown Brothers & Co. to form today’s Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.

Outside of BBH, much like other Partners, Averell built a career in public service. He played an active role in US President FD Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms, served as Roosevelt’s “special envoy” to Winston Churchill, worked as Secretary of Commerce under U.S. President Harry Truman, and served as Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Great Britain. Averell continued his diplomatic service under John F. Kennedy’s administration and in 1955 was elected the 48th Governor of New York.

The “Harriman” pins are memorabilia from Averell’s electoral campaign as Governor.