Next door to our store was the First State Bank of Maple Park founded in 1904. My cousin, Joseph A. Clyne, was the cashier and really “ran the bank.” The Dobson family (Alfred Dobson was the husband of Margaret Fitzgerald, one of my father’s sisters) lived on a farm near Elburn (and later moved to Elburn) and was considered well-to-do, and were big stockholders of the bank.
One day in the summer of 1921, Joe Clyne had to make a hurried trip to Chicago. His assistant was on vacation, so he asked me to be in charge of the bank for the day. I had never worked in the bank before (I was only seventeen) so it was a great honor. I was never told why Joe had to go to Chicago on such short notice, but I guess it had some connection with his brother, Charles F. Clyne (who was finishing his term as a US Attorney in Chicago. Charles’s mother, Mary Fitzgerald Clyne, lived in Chicago with her son). I finished that day in the bank with no big problems. The next few summers I worked in the bank, first when the assistant to Joe Clyne was on vacation, and later, after Joe’s death, when Vincent Guerin, was the cashier.
I learned to operate an adding machine (a Burrows bookkeeping machine), post the checks and deposits on the statement ledger, and call the closing figures back so that they were in balance.
The bank had checking accounts, passbook savings (4% paid in savings), and a few safe-deposit boxes. Most of the loans were made to farmers for buying livestock farm machinery. The loans would be paid when the crops or livestock would be sold.
My experience in the small country bank proved very helpful when I went to work in the big Continental and Commercial National Bank (as it was then called) in the summer of 1926. The bank was then at 208 South LaSalle Street. The Illinois merchants was across the street at 231 South LaSalle.
My father’s heart started causing him trouble (shortness of breath) around 1923. His heart was greatly enlarged. He went to a doctor in Chicago and had it x-rayed. It was the first x-ray I had ever seen. He also developed an ulcer on his eye. He had to go to a doctor in Chicago once a week for treatments. I had started in law school at Champaign in the fall of 1923, but I was forced to drop out of school at the end of the first semester. I had to return to help in the store, as well as accompany my father to Chicago for eye treatment (one eye was patched). He finally had to go to the Mercy Hospital for treatment. My sister, Nellie, and her husband, Red O’Brien, were living with my father in Maple Park at the time. Nellie and Red were married, I believe, in the fall of 1922 (or was it 1923?). They lived on the south side of Chicago after their marriage, but Red was traveling most of the week for Illinois Steel Company, so they returned to Maple Park until the summer of 1925.
Along with my father’s poor health, a loss of help in the store (a clerk who had been with him for many years quit to open his own store in DeKalb), and the decline of the small town (good roads encouraged the farmers to trade in DeKalb, Sycamore and Aurora), the store lost money.
Nellie and Red moved to Evanston in 1925 with the birth of their son, James, that August. I transferred to the Northwestern University Law School in the fall of that year. I stayed with Nellie and Red during the week, and returned on the train every Friday night to Maple Park. Red was still traveling most of the week. I brought in a few groceries from the store to help out.
Finally, in June 1926, we had to close the store. My father’s heart was causing him more trouble. We had no housekeeper, and business was very poor.
By the time the creditors were paid off—including the bank in Maple Park, another bank in Sycamore, and the wholesale companies in Chicago, including Marshall Field, John V. Farwell, Reid Murdoch, and F. E. Royston–there was little cash left. Red and Nellie bought a house on Park Place in Evanston, and my father and I lived with them.
Charles Clyne (who owned the controlling interest in the Maple Park Bank) made the arrangements for me to go work at the Continental Bank. I started in July 1926. After a few months of general training, I was assigned to the Foreign Banking Department. I became a teller, handling drafts in foreign currencies. I learned to manipulate the Monroe calculator, converting US dollars to pounds, francs or marks, and vice versa. I believe I started at $125-$150 a month. Not very much by today’s standards, but then lunch was twenty-five cents, car fare five cents, and newspapers two cents. I got a raise in a few months, and probably was earning between $200 and $250 by 1929.
After a year or so as a teller, I handle correspondence for foreign credit. I wrote letters for the signature of various officers, generally to foreign banks. We had credit files on many foreign firms, which we kept on a current basis.
The translator for the Foreign Banking was on a leave of absence in 1926, and I became a sort of translator for letters written in French. With the use of a French-English dictionary, I could extract the general sense of the letters, which dealt mostly with commercial transactions.
At that time, the bank was controlled by George M Reynolds and his brother, Arthur. They had originally come from Iowa. Herman Waldeck, a senior vice president, had a dominant position in the bank. He liked to visit European banks, and take an active part in foreign banking. I once wrote a letter for his signature introducing George Getz to banks in Africa in case Mr. Getz needed any cash. Mr. Getz was a wealthy businessman who frequently went on hunting trips in Africa. It was something to please Mr. Waldeck!
The bank had no branches, foreign or otherwise, in the 1920s. It had a London office, whose manager was J. Rubino. He wrote letters to the bank reporting on financial affairs and business conditions. The bank lent millions of dollars to the German banks, including Deutsche Bank and Dresden bank. Everything went well until one day the German authorities “froze” all loans. The German banks were prohibited from paying on their loans to the United States. The New York Banks had loaned more than the Chicago banks. This took place sometime in the 1930s, after I had left the bank in the fall of 1929 to enter the practice of law.
In the summer of 1929, the Bank of France opened an account with the Continental, depositing several million dollars. The bank lent it out on Brokers’ loan, I believe around 12%. Those were the crazy days before the Stock Exchange collapsed in the fall of 1929. Everybody bought stocks. I bought 100 shares of Willys-Overland. It was supposed to merge with the Packard Motor Company, or so the bankers at the Continental said. I bought it at $26 a share, having secured a loan at the Harris Trust. (The bankers at Continental borrowed at Harris, and the Harris people borrowed at the Continental. The law prohibited borrowing at your own bank for stock purchases.) I was told to hold the stock, although it went down. Down. I finally sold it at $6½ per share. A wonderful education for a young man. It made a lasting impression on me. The bankers did not know any more about foretelling the financial future than the gypsy fortune tellers did. Willys-Overland and Packard Motor Company both went out of business in a few years.
Charles Clyne, who was highly regarded at the bank, spoke a good word for me, and the bank sent me to a foreign trade convention in Detroit. I was only 22 at the time. Mr. Mackintosh, vice president in charge of Foreign Division, was the other man representing the bank, but he kept to his friends and I never saw him while I was in Detroit. Herbert Hoover, who was Secretary of Commerce at the time, was one of the speakers at the convention. It was during Prohibition, so I took the Export Manager of the Florsheim Shoe Company over to Windsor in Canada for a few beers. I believe Mr. Mackintosh and his friends enjoyed Canadian hospitality as well.
It was a great honor for me to be representative of the bank at the convention. I was a real novice in foreign trade. I am sure it was because of my cousin, Charles F Clyne, that I was selected. The bank in Maple Park kept a balance at the Continental Bank, and Charles Clyne was a good customer in the bond department.
I finished my law education at night at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. There were some fellows at Kent who had been at Illinois with me, including Floyd Kenlay (who married Mayor Cermak’s daughter) and Harold Doc Keele. Doc had been president of Illinois Union, and a big man on the campus. I finished law school in February 1929, took the bar exam, and was admitted to practice law in June 1929. It had been a struggle!
My father’s heart and kidneys continued to cause him trouble. He died suddenly, sitting in a chair, in May of 1929. He had been a wonderful father, providing Nelly and me with excellent training and education at great expense. He also had supported his mother and father in their old age. In those days, Social Security benefits and unemployment payments had never been heard of. You did it all yourself, or you went to the County Farm, the poor house.
He was buried in St. Mary’s cemetery (near Maple Park) next to his wife Teresa, and close to his father Joseph and mother Ellen. His two sisters, Margaret Dobson (wife of Alfred Dobson) and Mary Clyne (separated wife of John Clyne) are buried in their family lots close by. John Clyne, Mary’s husband, is buried some other place.