How Charles Merrill found wealth in investment banking

On October 19 in the year 1885, one of the first advocates of a broad-based stock market was born in Florida, United States. His name was Charles Edward Merrill, the co-founder of Merrill Lynch & Company that is now a subsidiary of Bank of America.

Charles Merrill
Charles Merrill (Credit: youtube video)

Charles Merrill was the son of a physician. As a child, he worked in the family-owned drugstore and sold newspapers. While studying at Amherst College, he sold men’s clothing and worked part-time at textile companies. He left Amherst after two years. In 2011, he joined commercial paper house George H. Burr & Company and the following year, he transferred to investment bank Eastman Dillon & Co.

In 1913, Charles Merrill organized his own investment bank. The following year, he partnered with Edmund C. Lynch to formed Merrill Lynch and Company. He gained a reputation as a successful underwriter of retail stores and soon amassed a personal fortune as a shareholder of these chain-stores. In particular, he became the largest shareholder of Safeway Stores, Inc. in 1926.

As a believer in the power of the small investor, Charles Merrill made sure ordinary people had a chance to own a piece of the economy by cancelling service charges and accepting commission as low as possible. His name became a sensation when his prediction of a great stock market crash became a reality on October 29, 1929. Because he sold most of his holdings several months before the crash, his company was one of the least affected. After a series of mergers with other brokerage firms in the 1940s, Merrill Lynch became the largest brokerage company in the world with more than 100 offices in the United States.

Charles died of heart complications in 1956 at the age of 70. He had a son and a daughter with his first wife Eliza and another son with second wife Helen Ingram. He was famous for extramarital affairs. In 2008, Bank of America acquired Merrill Lynch in a deal worth $50 billion.


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