By Douglas Scarboro, Senior Vice President, Memphis Branch
In the 19th century, centers of commerce developed throughout the zone now served by the Memphis Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. They started up in places like Jonesboro, Ark., Tupelo, Miss., Jackson, Tenn., and Memphis, Tenn., which was founded in 1819 and named after the ancient capital of Egypt.
Tragically, the city of Memphis later that century suffered significant population loss due to yellow fever and bankruptcy. The city lost thousands of people and was broke and desperate. In 1879, the state Legislature revoked Memphis' city charter. The Tennessee Historical Society recounts how, in 1893, an African-American entrepreneur by the name of Robert Reed Church Sr. helped Memphis regain its charter by purchasing the first 1,000 municipal bonds to get the city out of bankruptcy.
The early 20th century saw the city being recognized as the world’s largest spot cotton market and world’s largest hardwood lumber market. Memphis has slowly developed into the zone’s largest metropolitan area and in 2019 will celebrate its bicentennial.
In 2018, we celebrated our personal milestone with the Memphis Branch’s centennial.
The work of the St. Louis Fed’s Memphis Branch first started on a seasonal basis with the facilitation of cotton receipts as collateral to notes tendered at the discount window in 1918. We opened our first permanent building in May 1929, mere months before the Wall Street crash of 1929. The Branch then moved to its current location at 200 North Main Street in 1972.
The roles of the Branch have changed over the years. Today, our operations include banking supervision and regulation, cash services, community development, facilities, economic education, human resources, information technology, law enforcement and public outreach, to name a few. The Memphis Branch represents 75 counties in Western Tennessee, Eastern Arkansas and Northern Mississippi. Below are a few highlights.
We facilitate the exchange of economic information to assist in the setting of monetary policy through our seven-member board, through one-on-one and group meetings in the zone, and through hosting events focused on strengthening the Memphis Zone economy.
We conduct financial institution calls (FIT) with the banking and financial services community to foster an ongoing dialogue and understanding of financial conditions across the Memphis Zone.
Our economic education team provides direct outreach and training to a majority of the Eighth District’s Office of Minority and Women Inclusion schools. Their resources make it easier for educators to teach economics and share the importance of financial literacy.
The St. Louis Fed helps to maintain the integrity and supply of U.S. currency. Among other services, our cash offices (St. Louis and Memphis) receive deposits from financial institutions and ensure that incoming cash is authentic and fit for circulation. Our award-winning cash department ranks in the top tier of production and efficiency measures among all the Federal Reserve System’s cash offices.
In marking our centennial celebration, I echo the thoughts of former St. Louis Fed President Delos C. Johns when I say that I see the future of the Memphis Zone being one where we continue to build slowly and have great timing in meeting the needs of our current economic environment and work towards a more prosperous future.
Note: An article about the Memphis Branch’s centennial appeared in the Inside Memphis Business column, The Tip Sheet, on May 4, 2018.