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Towers of Gold by Frances Dinkelspiel

Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California by Frances Dinkelspiel [3] is a biography of Isaias Hellman and, well, how he created California. 🙂

Having lived on the East Coast my entire life, I’m not surprised that I had never heard of Hellman before but his story epitomizes the American dream. Hellman arrives in Los Angeles in 1859 and begins working in his cousin’s dry goods store. Despite the flood of 1861, a smallpox epidemic, and other environmental disasters that bankrupted most Californians, Hellman persevered and opened his own store in 1865.

In this mecca of a store he had a safe, which he allowed his customers the ability to store their gold. In a few weeks, he had himself a bank and $200,000 in gold. The story only gets more exciting from there as Hellman makes the most of his new status as a banker, bankrolling all sorts of projects and teaming up with all the big names. It’s really a very interesting story. Here’s one to give you a taste… the bank he created was the Farmers & Merchants Bank, named after the major industries of the time. It soon was too small and Hellman took over the Nevada Bank and then merged it with Wells Fargo. Yep, the same Wells Fargo that just bought Wachovia.

It’s not your typical personal finance book filled with advice and tips on how to invest, it’s just a story about one man’s successes in an otherwise difficult time and place. Hellman himself was a fiscal conservative too, having reported to have once said “I am not a speculator. I am strictly an investor, and I have all my life paid for things as I go along. I never borrow money. It is against my principles.”

Not a bad sentiment…