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Willis' Choice of Headquarters Cities and Selection Criteria

Criteria for Federal Reserve Head Offices

September 1, 2001


David Hammes Professor of Economics, University of Hawaii-Hilo
Willis' Choice of Headquarters Cities and Selection Criteria
  • New York

  • Boston

  • Philadelphia
    Willis chose Philadelphia over the other cities (Washington, D.C., also being mentioned) because of the flow of banking business to the north and east, because Philadelphia was "far superior" to the others in business importance and because it already had important banking connections that should not be disturbed.

  • Cleveland
    Willis in his 1914 report explains his selection: "From the standpoint of ... location and present predominance in business, Pittsburgh undoubtedly has the advantage of the other places. Under ordinary conditions it would seem to be ... the proper site for the reserve bank of the district. In this instance it is, however, believed that the ordinary considerations should not govern, and that Pittsburgh should not be selected. ... Pittsburgh has not in the past shown itself to be a very satisfactory banking headquarters. The fact that a bank has presumably been located in Philadelphia, Pa., is also a consideration against the designation of Pittsburgh, although not a very important one. Of the two remaining cities, it is believed that Cleveland is decidedly preferable, while inasmuch as Cleveland is the distributing point for the principal commerce of the Great Lakes it may well be considered in competition with Pittsburgh even if there were no other considerations to be taken into account."

  • Cincinnati
    According to Willis in 1914: "... the geographical and transportation situation does not point to the selection of a given city with the same degree of clearness and certainty as in some others. The points that have presented claims are Detroit, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Louisville. It is believed that both in point of commercial importance and relative ease of access, Cincinnati is to be preferred to the other three cities as the location of the headquarters bank."

  • Chicago

  • Minneapolis
    A tough call between Minneapolis and St. Paul, Willis concluding: "A careful reading and analysis of the testimony ... appears to indicate that of the two cities Minneapolis is perhaps the better situated and more convenient. From the general broad standpoint there is no general choice between the two ..."

  • Portland, Ore.
    Portland's location midway between the northern and southern boundaries of the district was convincing.

  • San Francisco

  • Kansas City, Mo.
    Another tough call for Willis: "Conditions in the district, both from the standpoint of transportation and business ... render a selection of this kind [Fort Worth, Texas, or Denver, Colo., as headquarters city] entirely feasible, but the adoption of such a plan would imply a reversal of the normal course of business which ... is toward the north and east, and would compel various cities which have been in the habit of acting as reserve holders for others to invert this relationship. It is not believed, therefore, that so drastic a change should be made, but that the headquarters chosen should be in the northern and eastern portion of the district, inasmuch as a centrally located and important city accessible from all parts of the region is lacking. In the northern and eastern part of the district, it is believed that Kansas City is superior to Lincoln, Neb., or Omaha, from the standpoint of both the transportation and volume of business."

    Yet, why Kansas City, Mo., in preference to Kansas City, Kan.? The preponderance and prominence of Democratic politicians from Missouri seem to provide all the explanation needed (see endnote 1). However, there are institutional explanations as well. Flooding of an older terminal building and increasing passenger business led to the building of a large passenger terminal in Kansas City, Mo., which was nearing completion in 1913. This terminal was to be used by "all of the lines entering Kansas City, Kansas, and Rosedale," wrote Perl Morgan in 1911. In short, all passenger trains going to the Kansas City area (whether Kansas or Missouri) were going to use this new Union Depot.

    Reflecting this (institutional/technical) reality, Kansas Gov. Hodges testified on Jan. 23, 1914, in Kansas City, Mo., before the committee: "We hope this bank will be established on the Kansas side of the line. I would not be a Kansan if I did not hope for that, but if it is not, then we want to join these good friends over in Missouri, because three-fourths of them are Kansans, and establish it on this [Missouri] side of the line."

  • St. Louis
    "St. Louis, by reason of the position it has already attained as a banking headquarters, is the natural site for the reserve bank, to say nothing of the other considerations relating to general trends of business that have already been mentioned," wrote Willis in 1914.

  • Atlanta
    Willis wrote: "A considerable number of cities are available as possible points at which to place the headquarters. ... Included among them are Charlotte, Columbia, Birmingham, and Atlanta. ... While there is no great or commanding reason for the selection of any one of them in preference to any other, the geographical situation of Atlanta and the facts as to present banking practice entitle it to a decided preference over the other cities, which, unless counterbalanced by other considerations not now known should lead to its selection in preference to any of the others." Clearly, Willis was mirroring an economic rubric similar to that of Odell and Weiman (1998), not only for the South, but for other regions as well.

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Locating Federal Reserve Districts and Headquarters Cities

Dividing the Country into Federal Reserve Districts