No history of Northern Trust could be complete without a discussion of the Smith family, the bank’s founding family and one that left an indelible imprint on the character and trajectory of the firm. For four generations, the Smith family earned notice as forward-thinking entrepreneurs and business and civic leaders.
The Smiths were already one of Chicago’s most influential banking families by the time Byron Laflin Smith, born May 9, 1853, reached adolescence. His father, Solomon A. Smith, steered Merchants’ Savings, Loan and Trust Company through the turbulent 1860s and 1870s, managing economic panics and the Great Chicago Fire with a skill and calm demeanor that won him wide-ranging admiration.
Byron L. Smith began his banking career in 1876 as a cashier, marrying 20-year-old Carrie Cornelia Stone the same year. By 1885, the couple had four boys and a busy schedule.
In addition to charitable work, Smith served in a variety of fiduciary roles that underscore how respected he was—both for his financial skills and his trustworthiness. More than once he was the court-appointed receiver or executor who straightened out financial mismanagement or protected the interests of a vulnerable beneficiary.
These experiences likely contributed to Smith’s conviction that Chicago needed an institution devoted to the demands of a new age of wealth creation, and planted the seeds for the bank he would found in 1889.
Byron L. Smith’s death in March 1914 left his eldest son, 37-year-old Solomon Albert—“Sol”—at the Bank’s helm. Sol had begun his Northern Trust career as a messenger and worked his way up, becoming one of the youngest bank presidents in the nation. During 49 years on the job, Smith grew the Bank’s deposits ten-fold and led Northern Trust safely through an unprecedented economic depression and two global wars.
Like his father and grandfather, Sol dedicated money and energy to a variety of Chicago institutions, many of them devoted to caring for the city’s children, elderly or sick. He also kept the business in his family. Both of his sons—Edward Byron and Solomon Byron—made their careers at Northern Trust.
Edward Byron Smith, Sr, followed in his father’s footsteps by returning home to Chicago and the bank after attending Yale. He became chairman and CEO when Solomon A. Smith stepped down on October 15, 1963. The elder Smith died just five days later.
During his 15 years leading the bank, Edward B. Smith expanded Northern Trust’s horizons beyond Chicago. He oversaw the expansion of trust services into Florida and Arizona, and the establishment of offices in London, the Cayman Islands and Hong Kong—laying the foundation for the firm’s global footprint today. At the same time, Smith increased Northern Trust’s investment in addressing Chicago’s pressing urban issues.
When Edward B. Smith retired in 1979, he was the last member of the Smith family to serve as Northern Trust’s chairman. The Smith legacy of hard work, commitment to community involvement, and integrity live on today in the culture of Northern Trust.