Revolutionary War hero, treasury secretary, founder of the Bank of New York, architect of America’s financial system—Alexander Hamilton’s accomplishments are too numerous to list. In his lifetime of just 47 years, Hamilton helped secure America’s freedom and shaped the contours of the young republic in its earliest days.
The Bank of New York (now BNY Mellon), founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1784, just launched Charting Progress Over Time on its website, which highlights Hamilton’s legacy and the Hamilton Clock.
According to tradition, Hamilton gave this majestic clock to the Bank of New York in 1797. The imposing, ten-foot-tall clock—made from gleaming mahogany and outfitted with a clock mechanism by the London-trained clock-maker Robert Joyce—is inlaid with sixteen golden stars that represent the sixteen states in the union in 1797. In 1858, the Bank of New York presented Hamilton’s clock to the New-York Historical Society, New York’s first museum. The two institutions have each displayed the clock at various moments over the past 150 years. The clock’s current home is at BNY Mellon’s corporate headquarters in New York.
Alexander Hamilton significantly contributed to American finance and to the nation’s financial capital, New York City. He emigrated from the British West Indies to New York in 1772 and enrolled at King’s College, now Columbia University. When war broke out in 1775, Hamilton supported the patriot cause. Hamilton served in the New York State militia and as General George Washington’s aide-de-camp, an initial partnership that would lead to future collaboration. After the war ended, Hamilton began to practice law in New York City and settled into family life with his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler.
Engraving of the William Walton House, 1784. Samuel Hollyer’s Old New York Views (1901–1912). New-York Historical Society Library.
In 1784, Hamilton founded the Bank of New York, an event historian Ron Chernow calls “a formative moment in the city’s rise as a world financial center.” First located in the William Walton House on St. George’s Square, the Bank of New York was an innovative institution. Hamilton authored its pioneering constitution, which would serve as a model for banks established in later years across the country. Perhaps the Bank of New York’s most critical role at the turn of the 19th century was to stabilize currency by displaying exchange rates for the myriad types of money still in use during the republic’s early years.
Hamilton further drew upon his experience in finance when President George Washington appointed him as the nation’s first secretary of the treasury. Serving from 1789–1795, Hamilton championed industrialization by submitting to Congress his seminal Report on Manufactures in 1791. This document explored ways for the federal government to promote commercial development that would lead to a more productive, modern economy. Hamilton also helped author the Coinage Act, which created a national currency, and witnessed the establishment of the New York Stock Exchange in his home city. The first stock traded on the exchange was that of Hamilton’s Bank of New York, whose ticker symbol BK continues as it was then.
Alexander Hamilton’s life was famously and tragically cut short following a duel with political rival Aaron Burr. He passed away in 1804, leaving behind not only his family but also a nation that sincerely mourned his death. Fortunately, Hamilton built a tremendous record of achievement that has withstood the test of time. The strength of America’s financial system and the success of institutions like BNY Mellon and the U.S. Treasury attest to Hamilton’s hard work, prudence, and foresight.
Written by Amanda Bellows, Ph.D.
Project Historian, History Exhibits
Ron Chernow. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Random House, 2004.
Did you know?
BNY Mellon and the New-York Historical Society are historic, New York City-based institutions with global reach that share a commitment to honoring the past and looking to the future. The institutions’ intertwined histories can be traced back to the lifetime of Alexander Hamilton, who, as the founder of the Bank of New York and the first secretary of the treasury of the United States, influenced the development of American economics and finance. Explore stories and check out artifacts from the New-York Historical Society and BNY Mellon that map our shared history on-site at the Museum (by request) or online at BNY Mellon’s website.