The Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics was established in 1928 through the gift of $1.5 million dollars from Amadeo Peter Giannini, founder of the Bank of America. One third of the gift was designated to construct Giannini Hall and the remaining two thirds was used to establish the Giannini Foundation, which supports the Giannini Libraries and research on agricultural economics at the University of California.
Born in San Jose, California in 1870, A.P. Giannini founded the Bank of Italy to serve the credit needs of small farmers. He was one of many San Francisco residents who was thrown from his bed early on the morning of April 18, 1906, by the Great Quake, which reduced much of the city to rubble. Immediately, he borrowed a produce wagon and headed to the Bank of Italy. From its ruins, he placed $2 million in gold, coins and securities under a layer of vegetables and headed home.
Other bankers closed shop and tried to recover from the disaster. Not the man known as A.P. He placed a wooden plank across two barrels, and from that makeshift desk located on the docks near San Francisco's North Beach, he began to extend credit "on a face and a signature" to the small businesses and people whose lives were shattered. His courage and confidence helped the city recover quickly.
(A.P. Giannini's 1930 Lincoln car on display at the event)
The Bank of Italy, later renamed the Bank of America, was the first bank to establish branch banking, providing services to rural areas of California. Today, A.P. Giannini is recognized as the father of modern consumer banking.
In 1927, after he resigned the presidency of the Bank, the Bank's directors wanted to honor A.P. Giannini and offered him a generous bonus: Five percent of the Bank's net profit. The Bank's 1927 profit was enormous–three times that of 1926–over $35 million. Consequently, Giannini was offered $1,764,755.
Giannini stated that he was not going to accept such a large amount. He suggested that the bank divert most of his commission to help California's farmers, his original customers and the backbone of his banking empire. That was the origin of the $1.5 million given to the University of California in 1928.
Giannini Hall was dedicated on October 21, 1930, in the middle of the recession. University of California President Gordon Sproul, Giannini Foundation Director Claude B. Hutchinson and Dr. Albert Mann, Dean of the College of Agriculture at Cornell all spoke at the event. As C.B. Hutchison, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Director of the Giannini Foundation stated at the dedication ceremony, the generous gift of A. P. Giannini brought together several nascent fields of study to make agriculture economics an integral part of the College of Agriculture.
As was the wish of our generous benefactor, "the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics [was] dedicated to a study of the economic problems of California agriculture." He went on to say that also included in the foundation was the study of forestry and irrigation "since the economic development of California's agriculture–indeed that of the commonwealth as a whole–depends more upon the proper conservation and use of her water resources than any other single factor."
(Chancellor Birgeneau with A.P. Giannini's granddaughters, Anne McWilliams and Virginia Hammerness)
Today, Giannini Foundation members consist of Faculty and Cooperative Extension Economists in the field of agricultural economics on the University of California campuses of Berkeley, Davis, and Riverside. The foundation has funded leading-edge research in agriculture, water, and other resources for 78 years. The Foundation supports the Giannini Library here at Berkeley and an additional library at the University of California at Davis.
The Giannini Foundation publishes four series of scholarly research; Monograph series, Information Series, Special Report and Research Report. It also publishes the ARE Update, a bimonthly report of current Giannini Foundation research designed for a broad audience. These widely circulated publications and the publications of research by Giannini Foundation members in academic journals reach interested readers around the world.
The UC Berkeley Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics currently has 21 faculty members, four extension economists, many active emeriti researchers, and 70 graduate students. A regular stream of visitors from distant lands spend time here.
Today, the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics is known as the best program in the world. The Giannini Library is the world's foremost agricultural economics library. And the College of Natural Resources is the world's leader. These accomplishments are due in large measure to A.P. Giannini's generosity and foresight.