Northern Trust Logo

Historical Timeline

August 12, 1889
The Northern Trust Company Opens Its Doors
Byron Laflin Smith, one of Chicago's most respected and influential bankers, sees the need for a new bank founded upon a commitment to service, expertise and integrity. On August 12, 1889, he opens the Northern Trust Company capitalized at $1 million. On its first day of business, the bank opens six accounts with $137,981 in deposits.
May 27, 1893
Branching to the World's Fair
When the World Fair's official depository fails just one week after the Fairs grand opening, Northern Trust steps in to help. The bank's staff sets up a branch office at the fairgrounds to provide vital banking services to millions of visitors and vendors. In doing so, Northern Trust becomes the first Illinois bank with a branch office.
The Foreign Department Opens
International clients visiting Northern Trust’s branches at the 1893 World’s Fair ask to retain their accounts after the fair closes. To accommodate them with international banking assistance, Northern Trust opens a Foreign Department — beginning the global enterprise that is Northern Trust today.
The First Dividend
Though Byron Laflin Smith works without pay for his first six years on the job, Northern Trust is quick to reward its shareholders. The bank declares its first dividend in July 1896, and has continued to pay dividends ever since.
A Home for Headquarters
After searching for a permanent headquarters for his growing bank, Byron Laflin Smith settles on the Bryan Block, at the corner of La Salle and Monroe streets between the Chicago Stock Exchange and the Board of Trade. The $850,000 purchase makes headlines. Construction begins in 1905 and the company moves into 50 S. LaSalle Street on September 1, 1906.
New Business Lines
The bank introduces The Northern Trust Safe Deposit Company and the Bond Department. The latter becomes a major underwriter and distributor of municipal and state bonds and a top-ranked federal securities dealer.
Economic Panic
The financial crisis known as the Panic of 1907 sends the New York Stock Exchange tumbling nearly 50 percent from its 1906 peak and spurs a string of runs on banks and trusts. Byron Laflin Smith’s levelheaded leadership as President of the Chicago Clearing House helps protect Chicago’s banks, Northern Trust among them, against the degree of chaos that hit Wall Street.
Giving Back
The bank’s board of directors sets up a fund of $5,000 for charitable purposes in January 1909, awarding its first donation in February to the Lincoln Centennial Fund. The charitable fund was the forerunner of the Northern Trust Charitable Trust, established in 1966.
Learn More
Breaking Ground in Employee Benefits
Byron Laflin Smith wanted more than merely average employees. He wanted partners who would go above and beyond — and who would stay with Northern Trust through the years. To attract such dedication, Northern Trust becomes one of the first U.S. companies to offer employees free group life insurance and a pension plan.
Lines of Credit
Where previously Northern Trust offered only collateral loans, in 1912 it begins extending lines of credit. This service expands gradually until commercial loans become an integral part of the bank’s business.
March 22, 1914
Young Successor
Byron Laflin Smith’s son, Solomon Albert Smith, takes the helm upon the death of his father. At age 37, Smith is the youngest bank president in Chicago and among the youngest in the nation.
Learn More
April 6, 1917
Supporting the War
Among other measures to support United States efforts in World War I, Northern Trust publishes ads urging citizens to buy Liberty Bonds and Victory Bonds. By war’s end, Northern Trust handles nearly $27 million in war bonds.
Cooling Off
Northern Trust becomes the first air-conditioned office building in Chicago when it installs a "manufactured weather" machine for the comfort of clients and employees.
May 19, 1930
Banking for Women
When the 19th Amendment opens up voting to U.S. women in 1920, the change heralds a new era in which women begin to exercise more direct control over their finances. Banks respond with new services and remodeled areas designed to appeal to feminine tastes. Northern Trust establishes a Women’s Department, later expanding it to a dedicated client service center — for women and staffed by women.
The Great Depression
For Northern Trust, the Great Depression is a time to demonstrate strength through adversity. It shows remarkable growth during the Depression years as its reputation for stability attracts record volumes of business. Northern Trust also expands its headquarters by two floors and installs the latest communications systems.
December 7, 1941
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor stuns the U.S., prompting its entry into World War II the following day. “Ration banking” — a system created by the National Office of Price Administration to monitor consumption of rationed items such as sugar and meat — soon follows. Northern Trust in 1943 develops an improvement to the system, later adopted as the national standard.
Embracing the Electronic Age
In 1960, Northern Trust places its first order for the day’s newest, most powerful IBM computer. Two years later, with the introduction of IBM’s second-generation system, Northern Trust installs a fully integrated electronic accounting and check-processing system. With the development, Northern Trust becomes the first Chicago bank — and one of the first in the country — to process checks electronically.
Learn More

Smiths Assume Roles

Solomon A. Smith is named chairman of Northern Trust in 1957. His two sons also fill new roles: Edward B. Smith becomes president and Solomon B. Smith is named vice chairman.

October 16, 1963
Passing the Torch

When 86-year-old Solomon A. Smith steps down as chairman in 1963, his son Edward Byron is appointed in his place. The elder Smith dies just five days later.
Expanding Overseas to London
The Smith family’s longtime global perspective ensured that though Northern Trust was headquartered in Chicago, its outlook was worldly. As the growth of commercial air travel brings greater opportunities for international business, Northern Trust follows its clients, establishing its first international office in 1969 in London. With the opening, Northern Trust becomes the first Illinois-chartered financial institution to branch beyond the United States.
A Growing Global Reach
In the early 1970s, Northern Trust continues its growth across the globe by opening new offices in Paris; the Cayman Islands; Geneva, Switzerland; and Hong Kong.
The U.S. Move Beyond Illinois
In August 1971, Northern Trust sets up the holding company NorTrust Corporation, paving the way for acquisition of Security Trust Company in Florida. The Florida location becomes Northern Trust’s first U.S. branch outside of Illinois.
A New Era in Leadership
E. Norman Staub is named chairman and chief executive officer when Edward Smith steps down in 1979. Staub is the first top executive in Northern Trust’s 90-year history who is not a Smith family member.
Management Change
Phillip W.K. Sweet, Jr., who joined the bank in 1953, became Northern Trust’s fifth chairman and chief executive officer in 1981.
A View from Outside
For the first time in its history, the bank looks beyond its walls for a leader. Wes Christopherson takes the helm in 1984 as chairman and chief executive officer.
Family Friendly
Northern Trust opens the first corporate on-site day care center in Chicago’s Loop. The 10,000 square-foot center accommodates 72 children
A New Leader for a New Decade
David W. Fox succeeds Wes Christopherson as Northern Trust’s chairman and chief executive officer.
Osborn Takes the Reins
William A. Osborn becomes Northern Trust’s eighth chairman and chief executive officer.
Benefits for Partners
The bank becomes only the second in the U.S. to offer domestic partner benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex employees.
New Structures for Success
The Northern Trust Global Investments business — precursor to Northern Trust Asset Management — is formed in 1998. The business provides both individual and institutional clients with a spectrum of investment solutions.
A Bursting Bubble
The infamous implosion of technology stocks in March 2000 — known as the bust — sets off a steep downward slide in stock prices. Northern Trust moves to an open architecture structure, enabling it to offer clients more diversified portfolios.
A Leader for Today
Frederick H. Waddell becomes Northern Trust’s ninth, and current, chairman and chief executive officer.
Financial Firms in Crisis
In the historic financial crisis of 2008, the global economy totters. Northern Trust is one of only two major U.S. banks that maintains its dividend during the crisis.
The Northern Trust Open
In 2008, Northern Trust took over the lead sponsorship of what would become the Northern Trust Open — a PGA TOUR golf tournament played each February in Los Angeles, California. The 2014 Northern Trust Open raised $2.1 million for non-profits in the Los Angeles area and more than $10 million total for charities since its inception.
A Socially Responsible Bank
The bank creates the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) structure in 2009, uniting its corporate citizenship initiatives throughout the world. Connie L. Lindsey is appointed the first head of CSR.
Beijing Office Opens
Northern Trust’s Beijing office, opened in 2005 as a representative office, is granted full branch status.
Inclusive Service
Northern Trust formalized its national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) and Non-traditional Family Practice to help meet unique financial needs of LGBT individuals and non-traditional families.
Acquisitions for a Changing World
Northern Trust continues to expand its global footprint, acquiring in 2011 Bank of Ireland Securities Services, forming Northern Trust Securities Services (Ireland) Limited and Omnium LLC, creating Northern Trust Hedge Fund Services. Both acquisitions strengthen Northern Trust’s market presence and add new capabilities to its global funds services strategy.
FlexShares Launch
The bank debuts FlexShares, its family of exchange-traded funds (ETFs). By February 2014 FlexShares had established itself as one of the fastest growing ETF families in the industry, with more than $7 billion in assets.
A Capital Presence
Northern Trust opens an office in Washington, D.C., to better serve area clients.
Global Integration
In 2012 Northern Trust launches a Global Family and Private Investment Office Group, combining multiple divisions across the U.S. and EMEA that focus on serving ultra-high-net-worth investors and the bank’s family offices internationally.
Serving Clients Close to Their Home
Continuing its charge to serve clients where they live and do business, Northern Trust opens new offices in Frankfurt, Germany, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Northern Trust Turns 125
The bank celebrates its 125th anniversary. At 125, Northern Trust is one of the few global banks that has achieved organic growth and survived through financial crises, booms and busts by relying on its sound, long-standing principles: service, expertise, and integrity.