Marshall & Ilsley Bank

Click the image to learn more. Construction workers hoist the final steel beam of the downtown M&I Bank Building into place in 1967.

Founded in 1847, Marshall & Ilsley Bank, or M&I, was Milwaukee’s oldest and largest bank before being acquired by Toronto-based BMO Harris Bank in 2011.[1] At the time of acquisition, M&I had $49.6 billion in assets, making it the largest Wisconsin-based bank.[2] From headquarters at 770 North Water Street, the bank employed 9,100 people, nearly half of them in Southeastern Wisconsin.[3] Although the M&I name no longer exists, nearly 200 BMO Harris branches operate in Wisconsin.[4] In 2015, BMO Harris was the second largest deposit holder in Wisconsin, with over twelve percent of the state’s market share.[5]

In 1847, Samuel Marshall, a Pennsylvania native and devout Quaker, opened an exchange brokerage on Milwaukee’s East Water Street.[6] Wisconsin law prohibited the chartering of banks prior to 1852, but Marshall’s office offered many traditional banking services.[7] After a brief partnership with William J. Bell, Marshall joined with Charles F. Ilsley.[8] An experienced banker, Ilsley had worked for Alexander Mitchell’s Wisconsin Marine & Fire Insurance Company since 1847.[9] Together, Marshall and Ilsley guided their bank through various economic crises of the nineteenth century, including the Civil War. Trusted by the incumbent governor, M&I was chosen to distribute state financial benefits to returning Civil War soldiers.[10] Although the bank’s leaders were both Yankee-Yorkers, M&I offered services for Milwaukee’s growing immigrant communities, including foreign correspondence banking and German-language deposit books.[11] By the time it sought a state charter in 1888, Marshall & Ilsley was the largest private bank in Wisconsin.[12]

During the twentieth century, M&I expanded geographically. The bank’s first branch opened in 1906 in Walker’s Point, allowing the bank to increase its services to Milwaukee’s immigrant communities.[13] In order to overcome later government prohibitions of branch banking, M&I created a bank holding company in 1958.[14] Through a series of mergers from the 1950s to the 1980s, M&I’s holdings made it the largest Wisconsin-based bank.[15] When interstate banking became possible, the bank expanded to Arizona in 1986.[16]

M&I was an early adopter of computerized banking. The bank began processing its checks by computer in 1961, and by 1963 it offered these services to its correspondent banks.[17] M&I brought together four local banks in the creation of the TYME cash machine network in the 1970s.[18] The bank took a leading role in the automation of banking by developing its own computer software, which it began selling to competing banks in the 1980s.[19] In 2007, M&I spun off this data services division, renamed Metavante, for $4.25 billion.[20]

Not long after spinning off Metavante, M&I was hit by the 2008 financial crisis. The bank, which had substantial mortgage holdings in hard-hit Arizona, recorded over $2 billion in losses in 2008.[21] M&I began looking for buyers in 2010, and in 2011, Wisconsin’s largest in-state bank was absorbed into the Bank of Montreal’s American business.[22] Together with Chicago’s Harris Bank, M&I Bank was renamed BMO Harris.[23] Familiar M&I Bank signs throughout Wisconsin were replaced by BMO Harris signage in October 2012, finalizing the loss of an iconic Milwaukee name.[24]

Footnotes [+]

  1. ^ Ellen D. Langill, Powered by Our Past: 150 Years of Marshall & Ilsley Bank, 1847-1997 ([Milwaukee]: M&I Corporation, 1997), 115; Cary Spivak, “M&I’s Dead End,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 9, 2011.
  2. ^ Paul Gores, “It’s Official: M&I Is Absorbed by Canada’s BMO,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 5, 2011.
  3. ^ Langill, Powered by Our Past, 125-126; Gores, “It’s Official.”
  4. ^ Paul Gores, “BMO’s Interest in Acquiring M&I Bank Started Years before Merger,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 1, 2015.
  5. ^ BMO Financial Group, “Q1 2016 Fact Sheet,” accessed May 16, 2016.
  6. ^ Richard H. Marshall, “Samuel Marshall, Pioneer Banker,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 32, no. 1 (1948): 26, 31.
  7. ^ Langill, Powered by Our Past, 11-12.
  8. ^ Marshall, “Samuel Marshall, Pioneer Banker,” 32-33.
  9. ^ Marshall, “Samuel Marshall, Pioneer Banker,” 32-33; Langill, Powered by Our Past, 21.
  10. ^ Marshall, “Samuel Marshall, Pioneer Banker,” 40.
  11. ^ Langill, Powered by Our Past, 19, 61, 68.
  12. ^ Langill, Powered by Our Past, 52.
  13. ^ Langill, Powered by Our Past, 61.
  14. ^ Langill, Powered by Our Past, 128.
  15. ^ Langill, Powered by Our Past, 128-131.
  16. ^ Langill, Powered by Our Past, 132.
  17. ^ Langill, Powered by Our Past, 134-135.
  18. ^ Langill, Powered by Our Past, 135.
  19. ^ Christopher K. Heaney, “Who Are These Guys Anyway?,” ABA Banking Journal 78, no. 5 (May 1986): 84-85.
  20. ^ Paul Gores, “M&I to Spin Off Metavante,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 4, 2007,, accessed May 2016.
  21. ^ Spivak, “M&I’s Dead End.”
  22. ^ Rich Kirchen, “Second M&I Suitor Bid Less than BMO,” Milwaukee Business Journal, February 2, 2011; Gores, “It’s Official.”
  23. ^New Name for M&I: BMO Harris Bank,” Milwaukee Business Journal, April 5, 2011.
  24. ^ Paul Gores, “BMO Harris Replacing M&I Bank Signs around State,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 4, 2012.

For Further Reading

Langill, Ellen D. Powered by Our Past: 150 Years of Marshall & Ilsley Bank, 1847-1997. [Milwaukee]: M&I Corporation, 1997.

Marshall, Richard H. “Samuel Marshall, Pioneer Banker.” Wisconsin Magazine of History 32, no. 1 (1948): 26-40.


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