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Commerce Bank's history from 1865 to present

Our history

Commerce Bank started in 1865 just as communities were rebuilding after the Civil War. The nation needed to be rebuilt, and Francis Reid Long arrived in Kansas City with $10,000 in capital. He started a bank and was soon funding companies like Long-Bell Lumber, which provided lumber to communities, businesses and the railroads that would connect them to the nation.

NEXT: Dr. Woods

Francis Reid Long and bank building

Next, visionary Dr. W.S. Woods would transform the Kansas City bank into a modern financial institution. Like a true Midwesterner, Dr. Woods liked to help others — even competitors — and was a cautious but generous banker. His philosophy still guides Commerce Bank today: ask questions and learn as much as you can to understand the situation, and only after weighing the situation critically should you act. Then, when moving forward, do it cheerfully, pleasantly and with good will for the customer.

NEXT: W.T. Kemper

The culture of safe lending and compassionate service continued under the leadership of W.T. Kemper. By the time of the 1929 stock market crash, Commerce experienced losses but, thanks to its prudence, did not take as big of a hit as other banks. When President Roosevelt called for banks to temporarily close, and customers lined up to withdraw their money, W.T. Kemper responded by personally handing out apples. This inspired so much trust in Commerce’s character that some customers stepped out of line. They were validated when Commerce was one of the first banks to reopen after the “bank holiday.”

NEXT: After World War II

W.T. Kemper

After World War II, the bank once again played an important role in the Midwest’s growth. It funded business growth, working with H&R Block, Sprint (originally called United Utilities) and Trans World Airlines, a cornerstone for today’s Kansas City International Airport. It even helped the owner of Marion Laboratories buy the Kansas City Royals™ in 1969. (Commerce is still the Royals’ bank.) W.T. Kemper’s son James also helped establish the Midwest Research Institute, which developed the technology behind M&Ms’ magical coating that melts in your mouth — but not in your hand.

NEXT: 1960s to 2000s

From the 1960s to the 2000s, Commerce grew alongside the American economy, expanding throughout Missouri, Kansas and Illinois. The bank later added Colorado and Oklahoma to its footprint, with additional commercial offices throughout the Midwest and commercial payments services available in 48 states. With each local bank it acquired, Commerce stayed true to its roots by investing in its new communities while remaining diligent about safe business decisions. This emboldened the super-community banking model that Commerce still practices today.

NEXT: During the 2008 Recession

United States banker cover page. This man runs America's best bank.

When financial crisis caused a recession in 2008, Commerce once again remained strong thanks to its founding culture of sensibility. Commerce had steered clear of risky mortgages. While other banks filed for bankruptcy, and the government spent billions to prop them up, Commerce was the country’s third-largest bank to decline government assistance.

NEXT: Commerce today

Kemper testimony

Commerce Bank today with John Kemper, CEO. Helping customers, volunteering, and in the community.

Today, Commerce continues to be a friendly, strong bank that supports personal, business and community growth. Commerce appears regularly on Forbes' list of America's Best Banks and offers a diversified line of financial services, including business and personal banking, wealth management and estate planning and investments through our affiliated companies. For over 150 years, we've continued to build relationships based on trust, sustained performance and a commitment to the health and vitality of the community.

Learn more by reading our book:
Building Commerce [PDF]

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