The Wachovia Corporation

Written By Jonathan Martin

Israel Lash opened the First National Bank of Salem in 1866, and after his death in the 1870s, Lash’s nephew, William A. Lemly, closed the Salem branch and moved operations to Winston. Lemly, also, changed the bank’s name to Wachovia National Bank; the name was popular in the Winston-Salem area because the first Moravians called their settlement Wachovia.


Wachovia was restarted on June 16, 1879, and the new bank began with a capital of $100,000. By the 1890s a new form of banking evolved in America with the onset of trust companies, and in 1893 Wachovia Loan and Trust Company opened in Winston. Francis H. Fries, a textile and railroad impresario, helped jumpstart the business with only one other staff member. Throughout 1910 and 1911 Wachovia National Bank and Wachovia Loan and Trust Company merged enterprises, and soon the newly consolidated Wachovia Bank and Trust Company began business with total resources of $7 million and $1.25 million in capital stock.


During the 1980s and 1990s Wachovia experienced growth not only in North Carolina but also throughout the Southern United States. Banking deregulation and the introduction of interstate banking finally allowed Wachovia to branch out of the state. Wachovia merged with First Atlanta Corporation in 1985, and the $18 billion interstate bank created headquarters in both Atlanta and Winston-Salem. Also, South Carolina National unified with Wachovia in 1991 and L. M. Baker, Jr. became Wachovia’s chief executive officer in 1993.


Wachovia continued to expand in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the banking company was able to establish itself in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The procurement of First United Bank-Corp in Florida as well as the incorporation of Jefferson Bankshares, Inc., and Central Fidelity Banks, Inc., in Virginia led Wachovia’s network to encompass over 800 banking offices and nearly 1,100 ATMs throughout the Southeast.


Several years after Wachovia’s growth in the South, the banking conglomerate continued to grow, but Wells Fargo & Company eventually bought the company after the financial crisis of the late 2000s. In 2001, Wachovia was involved in another merger with First Union Bank, and the new company, continuing under its Wachovia name, moved its headquarters to Charlotte. Also, South-Trust Corporation merged with Wachovia in 2006,  and Wachovia became the fourth-largest banking company in the United States. However, Wachovia struggled during the financial crisis in 2007, and it lost nearly $24 billion in its third-quarter during the 2008 fiscal year. By October 2008, the San Francisco-based bank, Wells Fargo, beat out Citigroup and secured its bid to purchase Wachovia.