2 – Richard K. Swift – 1813 to 1883

2 – Richard Kellogg Swift – 1813 to 1883

A review of the business section of an 1849 issue of the Chicago Tribune, the first year of it's publication, reveals only limited advertising of "financial services." The same situation existed in the 1850, 1851, and early 1852 issues. By the December 1852 issue, a large display advertisement of the firm "R.K. Swift's," with offices at 45 Clark Street, appeared, promoting the firm's extensive "foreign and domestic exchange office" network in Europe and Canada. The list includes a range of banks and foreign exchange dealers which Swift represents in Chicago, and which in turn represent Swift in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Buffalo, Aurora (New York), Baltimore, Washington (DC), Detroit, Hartford, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Providence, San Francisco, Sacramento, Quebec, Montreal, and Toronto, along with some thirteen European cities. The Boston representative listed is Blake Brothers, a well known trade paper broker in that city and throughout New England.
(The size of the advertisement is too large to select out and show the Swift portion of the ad)

The extent of Swift's connections emanating from Chicago is impressive, considering that the City was just emerging from its reputation as a frontier town. A Swift advertisement in 1857 lists the firm's main services  which included "circular drafts" for traveler's use; gold and silver coins; letters of credit on a major English bank; and "highest current rates paid on domestic and foreign bills of exchange" -- as well as land warrants for sale.

In due course, the trade style of the business was changed to "R.K. Swift & Co., Bankers" which firm particularly offered "exchange of credits." In early 1856, apparently a companion business (not a successor) was created under the name "R.K. Swift, Johnston & Co." offering to "buy and sale on commission, Railroad Bonds and Shares, Gas and Bank Shares, and First Class Notes and Acceptances, (making) advances thereon in anticipation of sale." "Trust and legacy" services were also listed. In modern parlance, the firm was becoming a full service domestic securities brokerage and financial services firm along with its foreign exchange and letter of credit services. It appears that these two "businesses" were operated out of separate offices, the banking business being conducted in main floor offices, and the other business -- one involving higher rate securities with higher risks -- being pursued on an upper floor.

In 1857, the firm again changed its name (and/or began to have just one name) -- "R.K. Swift, Brother, and Johnston" -- and its During the fall of 1857, the money markets tightened, chronicled by R.K. Swift's own analysis, as printed in the Tribune in August. In the firm's late September commentary , a national panic is reported to be underway, with a number of bank failures, including a local Chicago house. At the end of the commentary, the firm reports that it is experiencing a run by depositors who were confusing R.K. Swift with a bankrupt produce dealer named "W.P. Swift & Co." By the end of the day, Swift decided to close its doors. The next day, the Tribune comments on these developments.

All the drama of the next few days is further captured in Tribune reports and editorials. It appears that the downfall of R.K. Swift, at least in part, was due to the age old temptation of bankers to lend and invest long, while borrowing short -- in this case, real estate investing was, in some part, R.K. Swift's Achilles heel. Assets exceeded liabilities, but what was Swift's liquidity? Maybe too heavy in real estate?.  Note that certificates of deposits could be used to purchase lots owned by R.K. Swift.

After the sudden demise of the R.K. Swift banking business, little was reported in the newspapers about this quite interesting and gregarious character, probably Chicago's earliest "financier."

R.K. Smith prided himself in being the chief (Brigadier General) of the 2nd Brigade, Sixth Division, of the Illinois Militia. He often received public notice of that role, and, early in the Civil War, was temporarily the commanding general in Cairo, Illinois.  However, there is no evidence that subsequently he served in an active war zone.

Even with his recent business downfall, General Swift joined other founders (including Henry Greenebaum) in the 1860 formation of the Chicago Industrial Association, a society of Chicago businessmen fostering manufacturing development in the city and region, with a particular emphasis on recruiting immigrants to the city. The "CIA" was something of a predecessor of today's Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry.

R.K. Swift attempted a comeback in the lending and mortgage dealing business, and in offering advice and education in these areas, working with various colleagues, and serving as a "fiscal agent". But from what can be learned, he sadly did not achieve any particular success or prominence in any of these late in life endeavors.

With his death in 1883, a long obituary described R.K. Swift's early business career, his Chicago banking achievements, his later business efforts, and his sad death in Missouri, at age 70.

Four years later, in 1887, the Chicago Tribune printed an interesting retrospective about General Swift, his special role in the early development of Chicago as a financial center, his generous spirit, and his eclectic personality.