The First National Bank of Atlanta (also called First Atlanta) was a successor institution to Atlanta National Bank, which was federally chartered in September 1865, after the Civil War (1861-65). For a number of years in the mid-twentieth century, the First National Bank of Atlanta was the largest commercial bank in the southeastern United States, as measured by bank deposits.
In 1916 Atlanta National Bank acquired American National Bank, also based in Atlanta. In 1924 that organization merged with Lowry Bank and Trust to form Atlanta and Lowry National Bank. In 1929 that company merged with Fourth National Bank to form the First National Bank of Atlanta, the largest bank in the United States south of Philadelphia. In the 1950s the Georgia state banking laws changed to limit banking consolidations across city and county lines, and bank mergers slowed until the 1970s, when acquisition of banks across county lines was again permitted.
Ownershipof the bank was transferred to a new bank holding company, First National Holding Corporation, in December 1968, and the holding company was renamed First Atlanta Corporation in 1979. In 1972 the bank purchased more than 100 finance offices owned by Atlanta businessman J. Mack Robinson, who became a director at First Atlanta. Subsequently, First Atlanta purchased and merged with banks in several other communities in Georgia. Among the venerable Georgia banking institutions acquired by First Atlanta were First National Bank of Dalton, First Bank of Savannah, Citizens State Bank of Warner Robins, Gainesville National Bank, First National Bank of Cartersville, Bank of Commerce in Americus, and First National Bank of Gwinnett County.
First Atlanta Corporation merged in December 1985 with Wachovia Corporation, the holding company for Wachovia Bank, N.A., originally chartered in 1879 and based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Atlanta National Bank charter remained operative until interstate banking legislation, passed by Congress in the 1990s, allowed bank holding companies to merge multiple bank charters into a single banking organization, and the Atlanta National charter was surrendered in favor of the charter of Wachovia Bank.
In September 2001 Wachovia was merged into First Union Corporation, also based in North Carolina. A number of Georgia-based banking companies had combined previously to form this new multinational financial service organization, and many of these banks had been among the leading financial institutions in the state.
While the First National Bank of Atlanta, and later Wachovia Bank of Georgia, were consolidating banking institutions across Georgia, an even older banking organization, based in Augusta, was also acquiring banks in Georgia. The Georgia Railroad and Banking Company, formed in 1833, began banking activities in 1835 under a state charter. This charter was extended in 1870, and in 1890 the bank charter was transf
erred to the Georgia Railroad Bank. In 1954 the First Railroad and Banking Company of Georgia was organized as a holding company for the bank.
During the 1970s and 1980s First Railroad merged with or acquired a number of other distinguished banking institutions in Georgia, including Savannah Bank and Trust Company, First National Bank of Columbus, and First National Bank of Valdosta. In 1986 First Railroad and Georgia Railroad Bank were acquired in an interstate merger by First Union Corporation, parent company of First Union National Bank, originally chartered as Union National Bank in Charlotte, North Carolina. Subsequently, First Union National Bank of Georgia acquired Roswell Bank, Georgia Federal Bank, FSB (formerly Atlanta Federal Savings and Loan Association), and Decatur Federal Savings and Loan Association.
During the 2008 financial crisis, Wachovia merged with Wells Fargo & Company, based in San Francisco, California. Wells Fargo ranked as the nation’s fourth-largest bank in 2019, with more than $1.8 trillion in assets.