Home > Personal Finance > 4 Old-School Bank Ads That Remind Us Of How Far We’ve Come

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The basic business purposes of banks hasn’t changed much throughout history, although the way they pitch their products and services over the years has evolved to mirror the culture of the times. These ads were — and still are today — a glimpse into what we aspire to achieve or acquire. Take a look back in time at some bank ads of generations past to see how much was different back then — and how much has stayed the same.

We’ll forgive this 1908 ad for its exclusionary pitch to the “business man,” seeing as how its services include money sent by telegraph, draft or cable transfer (“small sums” only for money orders). It’s easy to forget that, in a pre-digital age, the movement of money from place to place was a much more complicated process. The “circular letters of credit” referenced here are a now-extinct product, a kind of precursor to traveler’s checks that let someone get funds when traveling without having to carry large amounts of cash.


This promotional calendar from the Colonial Savings Bank & Trust Co. features cartoon character Buster Brown, his canine sidekick and a really big firecracker. It’s hard to decide what’s more shocking: an unsupervised kid playing with matches or the offer of 3 percent interest on savings. The century-old message about saving your way to self-sufficiency is a vestige of a pre-credit era (although it’s a message recession-weary Americans today might want to embrace).

Doesn’t it make you feel secure to know that your bank has $30 million on hand? Today, that would barely buy you a Manhattan penthouse, but back in 1920 when this ad was printed, that was a lot of scratch. Consider how far we’ve come: At the end of last year, Bank of America (the biggest U.S.-based bank) was sitting on $2.3 trillion in assets, according to Federal Reserve data.



When the economy was taking a beating in 2009, Sears resurrected the long-dormant idea of a Christmas Club, which is basically a savings account with a modest interest rate. At the holidays, you buys gifts with your stockpiled cash instead of whipping out a credit card and starting off the new year in debt. In this 1950 ad — which did double duty as a Christmas tree ornament — Chase touts its Christmas Club. Ironically, today Chase has morphed into the largest U.S. issuer of credit cards by volume.

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