First Tennessee Bank

First Tennessee Bank was founded in 1864 as the First National Bank of Memphis. Today, First Tennessee is part of First Horizon National Corporation, which sits at number 575 on the Fortune 1000 and is the nation’s twenty-fourth largest commercial bank with 2006 revenues of almost $3.5 billion. The corporation is headquartered in Memphis and is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (symbol: FHN).

According to the company’s official history, the First National Bank of Memphis was the Mid-South’s largest bank by 1967, when it reorganized itself into First National Holding Company. The company changed its name to First Tennessee National Corporation in 1971 and reorganized itself again into a multi-bank holding company that acquired other Tennessee banks throughout the 1970s. On January 1, 1977, First National Bank of Memphis became First Tennessee Bank.

The First National Bank of Memphis was chartered after the passage of the National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864. According to economic historian Richard Grossman’s summary of the new banking system that resulted from that legislation, the federal acts were passed in part to create uniformity in a banking system in which banks had previously been chartered solely by the states. One goal of the new system—which provided a competitive check on the discretion of state legislatures, even though the system of state-chartered banks still existed—was to ensure some regularity and consistency in banknote issue. Another goal was to help finance the war effort: national banks were to back their notes with U.S. bonds, which remained on deposit with the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency.

Memphis fell quickly to Union forces on June 6, 1862, and remained under Union control for several years. The First National Bank of Memphis emerged from the chaotic environment of the war-torn city in response to the National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864. Frank S. Davis headed up a group of area business leaders who drafted the bank’s articles of association on March 10, 1864. The bank received its charter on March 25, 1864.

The bank grew rapidly, moving to its own two-story building within two months of opening. Yellow fever epidemics checked the bank’s growth in 1867, 1873, and 1878. The end of the epidemics, combined with the end of Reconstruction in Memphis, allowed the bank to focus on core business and expand. In 1897 First National purchased the German Bank, which increased the bank’s deposits from $700,000 to approximately $1.15 million. First National would later complete its first merger by uniting with Central-State National Bank, another Memphis bank, in July 1926. While the new bank kept the First National name, Central-State president S. E. Ragland assumed the presidency of the new, larger bank.

In 1914 First National was among the banks designated to execute the organizing note for the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis. Representatives of First National met in Saint Louis with representatives of other banks in the region on May 18, 1914, to sign the certificate that created the new bank for the Eighth Federal Reserve District.

The Great Depression and World War II stunted the bank’s growth, but it continued to expand by opening its first suburban branch in 1942. By 1952 it was operating seven branch offices in the Memphis area. The bank celebrated its one hundredth anniversary on March 23, 1964, by moving into a new twenty-three-story building in downtown Memphis; the building remains one of the most prominent features of the Memphis skyline. The creation of the First Tennessee National Corporation in 1971 allowed the company to expand by acquiring other Tennessee banks through the 1970s.

First Tennessee began to diversify its operations in the 1980s by creating First Express, a nationwide check-clearing service, and in 1982 the company offered discount brokerage services, becoming the first southeastern bank to do so. First Tennessee expanded further in the 1990s and added over $6 billion to its loan-origination portfolio by acquiring Maryland National Mortgage Corporation and SNMC Management Corporation. First Tennessee expanded its mortgage business by acquiring Kansas City-based Carl I. Brown and Company in 1995, and it moved into the insurance business by acquiring Synaxis Group, Inc., in 2001. It adopted the tagline “All Things Financial” in 1999 to reflect its growing diversification.

In 2003 First Tennessee expanded its banking operations nationally by opening the first branch of First Horizon Bank in northern Virginia, which later expanded into Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth. Its growing national operations and aspirations were reflected when it changed its name again to First Horizon National Corporation in 2004.

First Tennessee has received numerous prestigious awards. Fortune magazine has listed the company among the “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” since 1998, while Forbes magazine ranked it among the “Best Banking Companies in the U.S.” from 1997 to 2004. Working Mother magazine recognized the company as one of the “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers” from 1995 to 2006, while Information Week placed it among the “500 most innovative users of technology” from 2003 to 2006. First Tennessee won five Greenwich Excellence Awards for “excellence in business banking” in 2005.

The company prides itself on community service. According to board policy, 1-2 percent of pretax earnings are donated to community organizations. First Horizon provides 50 percent matching for employee donations to nonprofits ranging from fifty dollars to two thousand dollars, and it provides grants of five hundred to one thousand dollars for nonprofits led by company employees. The company is also actively involved with Habitat for Humanity and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’s Race for the Cure. The bank also works in cooperation with the Memphis Public Library to sponsor the First Tennessee Small Business Center, an information repository for small business startups in Memphis.

Suggested Reading

Richard Grossman, “US Banking History, Civil War to World War II,” EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples, March 17, 2003, accessed August 14, 2007

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title First Tennessee Bank
  • Jerrod F. Anderson
  • Author Art Carden
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date June 21, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018