How did large banks reconcile accounts in the pre-industrial/electric era?


If I opened an account at, say, Wells Fargo in San Francisco in 1860, then sailed down to Los Angeles and wanted to withdraw money, how did the bank know how much I had in my account?

And the same question going back further, like with the Knights Templar.

In: 5

Paper and large accounting staffs. Automation allowed fewer people to do the work, so it just took more people before automation.

I don’t know the full answer but I know that part of it is much stricter controls on who could and could not withdraw money and how much you could withdraw. A great, and slightly silly, example of this is in Catch Me If You Can.

Cash or physical currency that you kept on your person OR stored hidden in your home was also much more popular than it is today.

I found some [interesting reading here as well](

The knights would give you slip of paper that basically said you were good for “whatever” amount. So you would go to the local knight temple with your money in, say, London. They would take your money and give you a chit. Then when you show up in, say, Constantinople you’d go to the knight temple there and give them the chit and they would give you your money.

Well for that initial part Wells Fargo would have really wanted the ability to communicate between their SF and LA offices by telegraph to verify your account details, which would have been expensive enough that perhaps they’d only bother if you were withdrawing a large sum.

Oh, initially I wasn’t sure if it would be possible in 1860 or not — 7 years after the first telegraph line in California and 1 year before the transcontinental connection was completed. But turns out I found a cite: [if you sailed down to LA after October 16th that year it would have just become possible!](——-en–20–1–txt-txIN——–1)