This website chronicles the history of A.G. Becker & Co, Incorporated, an investment banking firm founded in Chicago in 1893 and terminated in 1984 under the then ownership of Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas. This is the story of the birth, life, and death of an investment firm. The story generally follows a chronological order, like a story in a printed book, but instead, the story unfolds, with many links, on this dedicated website. We hope you will enjoy this story in all its depth.
The author, Paul R. Judy, was an employee of A.G. Becker from 1958 until his resignation in 1981. He was Becker's Chief Executive from 1968-78. Becker was a wonderful organization which provided the author a very fulfilling work experience. This was a judgment shared by many former Becker employees with whom the author has communicated in the course of writing this Chronicle.
The author has had a long and deep interest in history, in the areas of family genealogy, the Civil War, golf, businesses, orchestral institutions, and other organizations. In 1980, before his resignation, he had the goal of writing a history of the firm, from its founding by A.G. Becker in 1893, through his death in 1925. This was to be a history of a man and his firm. If that work could be completed, the intention was, perhaps, to move forward to later periods of the firm's history.
In 1980, at the Chicago Historical Society, the author completed some research and a preliminary review of the 1893-1925 period in Chicago's financial history. He scanned some old records stored in the firm's archives. With his resignation and other personal developments in late 1981, the Becker history project was put on hold.
Upon hearing in 1984 of the intended sale by Paribas of Becker's core operations to Merrill Lynch, the author contacted Randy Harris, then Chief Operating Officer of Becker Paribas (as then named), and arranged to receive all the Becker records and archives which Merrill did not wish to retain. With the assistance of Chet Netko, some fifty boxes of documents were trucked from various locations to a warehouse near the author's residence. A few years later, these boxes were relocated to the author's basement, where they rested in peace, unopened for some 20 years.
It was not until the summer of 2006 that the author found the time and motivation to undertake a preliminary inspection of the Becker archives. Some 20-25 of the boxes contained microfiche records of individual, institutional, dealer, and firm accounts required at the time to be maintained under regulatory protocols. This material was destroyed by a professional commercial shredding company.
The remaining material consisted of a variety of relatively disorganized documents of all types and forms – scrapbooks, files, envelopes, brochures, etc. – representing, unevenly, some ninety years of organizational history.
After this review, the author decided to concentrate his early efforts on understanding the background for, founding, and early growth of the firm, starting well before 1893 and running through about 1900. This research and writing covered key aspects of the financial history of the nation, Chicago, and the firm, leading up to the panic of 1893. It was during that year that the predecessor firm, Herman Schaffner & Co., of which A.G. Becker was a junior partner, failed. And shortly thereafter, in the same year, A.G. Becker & Co. was launched. In future years, the unprecedented voluntary repayment by A.G. Becker of much of the deposit debt of the old Schaffner Bank, took place, and the new firm continued for another 85 years.
In reflecting how best to "publish and disseminate" the Becker story, the author decided to use a website, and registered "www.agbecker.us" for this purpose. By this means, all former Becker employees and their families -- and hopefully many other interested parties -- could read the author's reports as material was developed and posted. The “internet” would provide a rather unique and ideal medium for the Becker “Chronicle,” since, among other things, it would permit the posting of a wide range of original documents, news clips, memos, advertisements, reports, photos, etc., so the reader could see (and in many cases, read) the images of actual historical information.
After a good start in 2006, the author ran out of energy in about 2008, after posting the first seven years of the firm's history, and researching and providing important context for the firm's founding going back to 1850. In this work, the author discovered R.K. Swift, Chicago's first international financier, and then, through the growth and downfall of the Greenebaum Banks, the author came across Henry Greenebaum. He had a dynamic, zig-zagging career, including being a mentor of A.G. Becker.
Unfortunately, due to various personal developments, the author’s work on this project again stalled in about 2008, and then came to a halt. Various attempts were made to restart the project, but all failed. By 2014, the author realized that he would not be able to complete the Chronicle on the time table originally envisioned. Through a friend, he was introduced to the leadership of The Newberry Library, a highly regarded, historical research institution in Chicago, which indicated an interest in the Becker archives. In due course, working with Newberry’s Martha Briggs, the author arranged to deliver to the library the central portion of the archives - material filling some 20 bankers’ boxes. A listing of materials delivered to Newberry is included.
In conjunction with delivering the Becker archives to Newberry, the author decided it was his responsibility -- if at all possible -- to set aside the time and complete the Becker story. This decision took into account a familiarity with the archival materials, the likelihood of many visits to Newberry, the probable need for extensive further internet research, the obtaining of memories of living colleagues, and revisiting his own memories of the years 1958-1984, during most of which period he was an employee of the firm. Despite these challenges, the author is pleased now to present the completed work on this dedicated website and to solicit a visit by all interested parties, and for those so motivated to do so, to leave comments and reflections which will add to the story.
In deciding to move forward and complete the project as best possible, it was clear that website technology had advanced substantially in recent years. In light of this, the author retained an expert to develop a brand new web platform into which to place the Becker Chronicle, with everything “fresh and new,” including this Background, the prior Preface, and the subsequent Introduction, the eight Appendices, and of course, the nineteen Chapters of the Chronicle, three Conclusion sections, along with all the Images. The website contains content which would fill many hundreds of pages of a printed book.
So, with the above Background, and with the Preface and first four Appendices read, let's move forward to the Introduction which describes some of the features of the Chronicle that will be valuable to know before its reading.