The Bankers Monthly
Leonard Matthews Celebrates His Hundreth Anniversary
By G. Prather Knapp
Pioneer investment banker of St. Louis and the Southwest is probably the oldest living member of his profession. Autobiography, published for relatives and friends, describes adventurous and busy life.
“I believe the most successful bankers are those whose psychologic instincts show them whom to trust, or otherwise. They get the business.”
On December 17, 1928, Leonard Matthews, founder of the investment house of Whitaker & Co., St. Louis, celebrated his hundredth birthday.
Mr. Matthews was born in Baltimore and can well remember hearing of the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 as recent events in the memory of his relatives.
He is, in all probability, the world’s oldest living investment banker, and his autobiography, A Long Life in Review, written since his ninetieth year and published as part of his centenary celebration, is full of interest for the banker of today.
In it he relates how he came west with other members of the family in 1812. They settled in northern Missouri, occupying a large house, “hewn of walnut logs, which comprised two stories and an attic.” The trip from Baltimore required more than two weeks, the journey being made via stage and steamboat.
The gold rush to California in 1849 carried Mr. Matthews with it. He joined a party from Missouri and with them he made his way to Sutters Creek. As a prospector, he sifted $2,500 in gold from the sand in six weeks time. With this gold, he went on to San Francisco where he became engaged in the mercantile business, but in this his only lasting gain was the experience. In 1851 he sailed to the Isthmus, crossed it overland, sailed again and landed in New York.
After his return to St. Louis he joined his brothers in a retail drug partnership, which they later changed to wholesale only. The firm prospered and was finally sold to Meyer Brothers Drug Co. An interesting incident in connection with those times is told by Mr. Matthews: “At one time in 1864, one dollar in gold cost $2.84 in currency.
Loaned Money To Competitors
“Before the fall of Richmond, many bought gold heavily, and others sold it ‘short.’ On the fall of the Confederacy, thousands were broken up, as gold declined enormously, bringing about the celebrated Black Friday panic. We had $10,000 in gold before the collapse of the gold ring, and we buried it in the basement of our drug company.”