The German American Bank Changes Its Name

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Not In Polite Company: Politics and Religion in Wausau, WI/The German American Bank Changes Its Name
Marathon County Historical Society
Written By Marathon County Historical Society

Marathon County Historical Society- home of the Yawkey House Museum & The Woodson History Center.

Wausau's German American Savings Bank

The bank on the corner of Scott and Third Streets has gone by a number of names since it was established in 1890. The name changes usually reflected changes in the ownership and assets, or because it went from a “national” to a “state” and back. But in 1918, the bank dropped “German” from its name in light of the entry of the United States to the First World War.

The bank was organized in 1890 with considerable investment from local businessmen, and moved into the former Masonic Lodge and Offices on Third and Scott Street.

Dropping the "German"

On January 8, 1918, the members of the National German American Bank unanimously voted to drop “German” from the name.

The decision was born out of reluctant recognition of how public sentiment was moving. The United States had entered the First World War several months earlier on the side of the Allies, leading to an uncomfortable reality in which patriotism was widely equated with anti-German attitudes.

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Although not many German-Americans in Wisconsin supported the German Empire’s actions during the war, it was difficult to be supportive of German-ness in the atmosphere of wartime scrutiny.

Although the large German-American population in the Wausau area mostly kept the uber-patriotic from outright violence against anyone seen as not American, after several months of war, the push back against German-ness led to Benjamin Heinemann and the board of the National German American Bank to adopt a name-change.

“No demands by either the government or the public have been made to change the name of German firms or signs or titles, but considering all things from all sides and wishing to show our sincere loyalty to the most glorious and the most liberty loving country on the face of the earth, the United States of America, I am expressing the wish, and your Board of Directors unanimously recommend, that the name of this bank shall be changed to the ‘American National Bank of Wausau.’”

The “German-American Bank” of Merrill did not take this step of removing the word “German” from their name. And in July, a group of soldiers awaiting deployment, decided to make known their displeasure of the bank. They applied a coating of yellow paint to the bank’s sign and “obliterated” the word “German” from it.

By the end of the year, with the ending of the war and resumption of global peace, the anti-German sentiment started to fade. But by this point, the bank on Scott and Third had adopted a new identity.

First American

In 1933, amid the financial difficulties of the Great Depression, a reorganization of the American National Bank and the First American Bank, let to a merger to create the First American State Bank.

The physical building also changed. In 1926 a new building was built on the corner, which would be used for a half century. Then in 1976, the city block was transformed with the construction of First American Center.

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