Headquartered in Memphis, First Tennessee National Corporation was founded as the First National Bank of Memphis on March 10, 1864. During the Federal occupation of Memphis in the Civil War, Franklin S. Davis and his associates recognized the city's need for banking and credit facilities and the potential of a national banking system once the war ended. The bank received its charter on March 25, 1864, and began to aid Memphis in regaining some of its former commercial activity. Even during the devastating yellow fever epidemics of 1873 and 1878, First National remained open to distribute relief funds.
In 1897 First National purchased German Bank, increasing the bank's deposits from $700,000 to $1,500,000. Under the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, Congress designated First National as one of five banks to assist in the incorporation of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. In 1926 First National merged with Central-State National Bank, and former Central-State president S. E. Ragland became president of First National. During the 1940s and 1950s, Memphis and First National experienced tremendous growth. Under president Norfleet Turner, the bank expanded its facilities and opened seven branch offices by 1952.
Shortly after Allen Morgan succeeded Turner as president in 1960, plans were made for a twenty-five-story bank building to be constructed at the corner of Madison Avenue and Third Street. This imposing modern tower, completed in 1964, rests on square piers set back on a plaza. Its design reflects the modernist ideas of Mies Van Der Rohe as interpreted by the local Memphis firm of Walk C. Jones Jr. A low wing south of the tower contains the bank's spacious lobby, where the First Tennessee Heritage Collection is exhibited. Paintings include Carroll Cloar's Historic Encounter Between E. H. Crump and W. C. Handy on Beale Street (1964) and murals by Memphis artists Ted Faiers and Betty Gilow depicting Tennessee history and geography.
First National, the Mid-South's largest bank by 1967, was expanded into a multi-bank holding company in 1971. Under the direction of Ronald Terry, elected chairman and chief executive officer in 1973, First Tennessee National Corporation acquired banks throughout the 1970s with First Tennessee Bank as their common name. In 1977 the First National Bank of Memphis officially changed its name to First Tennessee Bank.
In 1987 First Tennessee restructured its organization to give more authority to its sixteen regions, allowing individual banks to better serve their customers and their communities. Today, the corporation is one of the fifty largest bank holding companies in the United States. Tennessee's fast-growing economy has enabled First Tennessee to provide banking services in more than four hundred facilities to serve most of Tennessee's metropolitan and suburban regions as well as parts of Arkansas and Mississippi.
John E. Harkins, Metropolis of the American Nile: An Illustrated History of Memphis and Shelby County (1991)