Item: Philadelphia Saving Fund Society building
Record Number: 9400
Box Number: 28
Folder Number: 2
Depicts: Philadelphia Saving Fund Society
Address: 7th and Walnut Streets
Date of View: October 1931
View Format: Photograph › Gelatin Silver Print
Dimensions: Dimensions of Image, 25 by 20 cm.
Image description: Built between 1866 and 1869 at the corner of Seventh and Walnut streets in Philadelphia, this building served as the seventh (but not final) home of the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society (PSFS), which was this country’s first mutual savings bank.
The idea for such an institution was proposed in 1816 by local businessman Condy Raguet, who like many others in the United States, was reading regularly of the popularity of savings banks in Great Britain since the 1810s. Savings banks, unlike commercial banks operating at that time, offered the working class a safe place to deposit money and earn interest on their savings. Raguet presented his idea to a few of his associates, and by late November 1816, twelve of some of the city’s most prominent businessmen and politicians agreed to create a savings bank in Philadelphia and serve as its associate founders. Raguet chose the name “Philadelphia Saving Fund Society,” because he felt “bank” was unpopular. He also felt the state legislature would more readily grant a charter to a “society.” PSFS opened in December 1816, and in early 1819 received its charter for incorporation. By the 1830s, nearly ten percent of the city’s population had accounts with PSFS. Eighty years later, PSFS had the most depositors of any savings bank in the United States.
In 1932, a year after the above photograph of the bank was taken, the final home of PSFS opened at the corner of Market and Twelfth streets. It became another first for the city. Designed by William Lescase and George Howe, the new PSFS was considered the first international style skyscraper built in the United States. It was no doubt because of this structure, with the initials of the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society glowing in 27-foot high letters atop the building, that “PSFS” became the popularly adopted name of the institution. In 1989, in accordance with an obscure banking law, an “s” was added to “Saving,” which legally changed the name to the “Philadelphia Savings Fund Society.”
Acquisitions and expansion into financial services during the 1980s wrought financial losses, forcing PSFS (then doing business as Meritor Financial Group) to eventually sell off all its savings bank branches to Mellon Bank. Mellon PSFS continued to operate until 2001, when it was acquired by Citizens Financial Group.