Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.

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Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.
Type Partnership
Industry Investment banking
Commercial banking
Private equity
Wealth management
Founded New York, New York, USA (January 1, 1931 (1931-01-01))
(merger of Brown Bros. & Co. (1818), Harriman Brothers & Company (1927) and W. A. Harriman & Co. (1922))
Headquarters 140 Broadway
New York City, New York
Revenue $1.3 billion
Employees 5,000 (2012)[1]

Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. (BBH) is the oldest and largest private bank in the United States.[citation needed] The current company was formed in 1931 by the merger[2] of Brown Brothers & Co. (founded in 1818) and Harriman Brothers & Co.


Brown Brothers Harriman has clients in these business areas: investment banking and advisory, wealth management, commercial banking, and investor services for corporate institutions and HNWI clients. In addition to its commercial banking facilities, the firm provides global custody, foreign exchange, private equity, and merger and acquisition services, investment management for individuals and institutions, personal trust and estate administration, and securities brokerage. Organized as a partnership, BBH has approximately 5,500 staff in 17 offices throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Currently, the firm has 38 partners,[3] and acts as custodian and administrator for $3.3 trillion and $1.2 trillion in assets, respectively.[1][4]

Brown Brothers Harriman is also notable because of the number of influential American politicians, government appointees, and Cabinet members who have worked at the company, such as W. Averell Harriman, Prescott Bush, George H. W. Bush, Robert A. Lovett, Richard W. Fisher, Robert Roosa, and Alan Greenspan.

Early history[edit]

Brown Brothers Harriman and Company began in 1800 as a business owned by recent immigrant Alexander Brown,[2] an importer of linen. It entered the banking business as a by-product of its success as a dry-goods merchant.[5]

Early days as a bank[edit]

The original Brown Brothers bank was founded in Philadelphia in 1818 by the four sons of Alexander Brown[2] and was called John A. Brown and Company. A New York branch was opened in 1825 by a brother of John, James, and the overall business became known as Brown Brothers and Co. The New York office directed most of trading activities with the British branch in Liverpool.[5]

W. Averell Harriman, founding partner of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.

The Brown family were also the founders of Alex. Brown & Sons which had overlapping membership and was in the business of underwriting and trading in securities.

Following the panic of 1837, Brown Brothers withdrew from most of its lending business. Two of the brothers, John and George, sold their shares in the company to the other two brothers, William and James. During the recovery from this economic turmoil, they chose to focus solely on currency exchange and international trade. During the panic of 1857, Brown Brothers was one of the few banks that did not close its doors, and actually supported several banks both in America and England.[5]


On January 1, 1931, Brown Brothers and Company merged with two other business entities:

  1. Harriman Brothers & Company, an investment company started with railway money, and
  2. W. A. Harriman & Co.

From this time onward, it existed as Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. Founding partners included:

When TIME magazine announced the three-way merger in its December 22, 1930 issue, it noted that of the company's 16 founding partners a total of 11 were graduates of Yale University.[6] Eight of the partners listed above, except for Moreau Delano and Thatcher Brown, were members of Skull and Bones.[7]

After the passage of the Glass-Steagall Act, the partners decided to focus on commercial banking, becoming a private bank, and spin its securities marketing and underwriting off into Harriman, Ripley and Company which eventually evolved into Drexel Burnham Lambert via mergers.

Harriman, a partner in the firm, was the ambassador and statesman responsible for the relationship between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt during WWII. Some historical records of Brown Brothers Harriman and its precursor companies are housed in the manuscript collections at the New-York Historical Society.

Prescott Bush, an initial partner after the merger between Brown Brothers and Harriman Brothers


  1. ^ a b "BBH Annual Report". BBH & Co. 2010. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c New York Times, September 3, 1916, "New Bank Building on Hanover Street"
  3. ^ "The BBH Partnership". BBH & Co. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  4. ^ "BBH profile in Global Custody". Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c John Atlee Kouwenhoven (1968). Partners in banking an historical portrait of a great private bank, Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., 1818-1968 (1st ed.). Garden City, NY: Doubleday. p. 248. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  6. ^ "BBH Merger". Time Magazine. 22 Dec 1930. 
  7. ^ "Skull and Bones Membership List (1833-1985)". 

See also[edit]

External links[edit]