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Scots and Scots Descendant in America
Part V - Biographies
James Berwick Forgan


SCOTLAND has long been famous both for its banking system and for the financiers which it has produced. The Bank of England, doubtless the strongest financial institution in the world, was founded in 1694 upon a plan formulated by a Scotchman. Almost every important banking house in London has a son of Caledonia among its leading spirits. A similar statement can be made of many banking institutions in the United States and Canada. Scotchmen by birth or descent are among the leading financiers of our large cities.

Foremost among bankers of the new world stands a Scotchman, James Berwick Forgan, Chairman of the Board and former President of the First National Bank of Chicago, one of the leading institutions of America. His career is one of constant and sustained advance. Mr. Forgan was born in St. Andrews, April 11, 1852, son of Robert and Elizabeth Berwick Forgan, studied at Forres Academy, Forres, and Madras College, St. Andrews, and entered the employ of the Royal Bank of Scotland, St. Andrews, at the age of seventeen. Having finished his apprenticeship of three years in that institution, he obtained a position with the Bank of British North America in London, who later on sent him to their branch in Montreal, Canada. After filling various clerical positions in the Montreal, New York and Halifax branches, he accepted a position in the Bank of Nova Scotia in Halifax, in which institution he rapidly arose to higher appointments. He became successively agent at the Bank of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, and Woodstock, New Brunswick, and was then promoted to the position of Inspector of Branches. By this time his reputation as an able and forceful banker had been fully established.

In 1885, he came to the United States and established in Minneapolis a branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia. Three years later, at the invitation of the directors of the Northwestern National Bank of Minneapolis, he accepted the cashiership of that institution, which under his management was soon recognized as one of the strongest institutions of the Northwest.

Mr. Forgan had become a banker of national reputation and when in 1892 the First National Bank of Chicago looked about for a man of the highest executive ability as Vice-President of the institution, its choice fell upon Mr. Forgan. He was elected to that office and at once took hold of its affairs with a master hand. He was virtually chief executive of the bank in the early part of 1897, when Mr. Gage, until then President of the bank, entered the cabinet of Mr. McKinley as Secretary of the Treasury. In January, 1900, Mr. Forgan was elected President of the Bank. The importance of the institution may be seen when it is pointed out that according to its published statement its capital is $10,000,000, its reserve $10,000,000, and its deposits exceed $115,000,000. In addition to these figures may be quoted those shown by the First Trust and Savings Bank, an institution closely united with the First National Bank and started less than ten years ago upon Mr. Forgan ‘s initiative with a capital of $1,000,000 taken from the surplus of the First National. It has now a capital of $5,000,000, a surplus of $3,500,000, and deposits of $54,000,000. Mr. Forgan resigned from the presidency of both institutions January 11, 1916, and became Chairman of the Board of Directors of the First National, which is the controlling body of the two banks.

Mr. Forgan is also Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Security Bank and of the Second Security Bank, and President of the Federal Advisory Council under the federal reserve bank law. He is a director of the American Radiator Company, Standard Safe Deposit Company, National Safe Deposit Company, Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland, Chicago Title & Trust Company and the Guarantee Company of North America.

Mr. Forgan is not only a banker of the foremost rank, but also a citizen of the highest standing in his community. While his great ability, his powerful intellect are recognized throughout the banking fraternity of the world, only those who are closely acquainted with him know the fine qualities of his character and the generosity of his heart. By the staff, both official and clerical, of the various institutions under his control he is looked up to with affectionate devotion. By the creation of a generous pension fund he has set himself a monument in the hearts of his men more enduring than the magnificent bank building which upon his initiative has been reared in the heart of Chicago’s business district. He is a trustee of the Presbyterian Hospital and a patron of numerous other charitable and philanthropic institutions. He is a member of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, and in 1916 was elected President of the Illinois St. Andrew Society. He is active in many clubs and organizations. Mr. Forgan married, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Mary Ellen Murray, daughter of Donald Murray, merchant. They have four children, Robert D., Mrs. J. Wilhemina Ott, Donald M. and James B., Jr. Mr. Forgan resides at 1415 North Dearborn Street, Chicago.


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