The Federal Reserve System was created on December 23, 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law. Before the new central bank could begin operations, the Reserve Bank Operating Committee, consisting of Treasury Secretary William McAdoo, Secretary of Agriculture David Houston, and Comptroller of the Currency John Skelton Williams, had the task of building a working institution from the basic framework of the new law. By November 16, 1914, the 12 cities chosen as sites for regional Reserve Banks were open for business.
Today, the Federal Reserve sets the nation's monetary policy, supervises and regulates banking institutions, maintains the stability of the financial system, and provides financial services to depository institutions, the U.S. government and foreign official institutions.
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco was incorporated May 20, 1914. Less than six months later, on November 16, the Bank opened its doors for business in rented quarters in the back of the old Merchants National Bank with fewer than 25 employees. Just as the Twelfth District has undergone tremendous change, so has the Bank. By November 1928, 14 years after the founding date, the FRBSF newsletter at the time, "Head Office News," proclaimed, "The Bank has taken a permanent place in the financial structure of this western territory and of the nation." A full 33 years later, in 1947, the same publication referenced District tribulations and observed, "The solution of these problems will present a challenge and an opportunity to us and to those who succeed us who will mark future anniversaries of the Bank." See a glimpse into the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco through time.
The Federal Reserve Act provides that the president of a Federal Reserve Bank shall be the chief executive officer of the Bank, appointed by the board of directors of the Bank, with the approval of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, for a term of five years. Twelve individuals have led the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, ranging in terms of service from one year to 18 years. The first three leaders held the title "Governor." The Banking Act of 1935 abolished the dual role of governor and agent and created a single leadership role - president. Many who served likely shared the sentiment of our current president, John C. Williams as expressed in the 2010 annual report: "As I take on this new role, I feel a keen sense of responsibility both to the Federal Reserve System and to the communities of the Twelfth Federal Reserve District, who rely on us to safeguard the financial system and set a prudent course on monetary policy."
To learn more about Federal Reserve Bank Presidents throughout the System, visit the Federal Reserve Board of Governors site.
Historical Paper Series is an occasional series highlighting the rich and diverse history of the Twelfth District.
The San Francisco Fed offers one of the world's foremost collections of historic United States currency, and a look at cash processing, too. Or check out the currency processing facilities and interactive Fed Gallery lobby exhibit at our Los Angeles branch. Sign up for a tour of the Twelfth District.
The Federal Reserve is compiling an inventory of historical Federal Reserve documents and items. Do you have information about collections, or do you have documents or items that should be added to the inventory? Please let us know by submitting details here.
Former Federal Reserve Chairmen Paul A. Volcker and Alan Greenspan are serving as honorary co-chairs of a Centennial Advisory Council along with 24 other individuals representing a range of private and public sector organizations.