There is no handy stopping point in the history of a living institution. But 1989 is an appropriate year in which to pause and take stock of the 75-year-old Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and the territory it serves. Both are prosperous and stable, testimony to a potential that has been realized, a substantial achievement only glimpsed in 1914. Does this mean the Bank's evolution has ended? Almost certainly not. This account makes it clear that operating a Reserve Bank means coping with one surprise after another.
As Forrestal told his staff in 1989, reviewing the Bank's first 75 years, "Our people have thrived on difficulty. Difficult challenges seem to renew our dedication to providing a rock-solid foundation for the vibrant economic activity that supports the American way of life."
The surprises can hardly be over, and by the time the Bank is 100 years old it may have taken turns no one can predict today. It probably will never return to defining its main purpose as promoting the regional economy. That economy itself now is robust and intricately tied to the national and global economies. The Bank, likewise, has passed beyond a District identity and agenda.
But it is what it has been. It still carries the promise that led an anxious teenager to take a hot, gritty train to get to Atlanta. It still carries the energetic drive for efficiency that made Frank Neely nag and glower. It still carries the economic curiosity that drove Malcolm Bryan to read, think, and expound. It still carries the meticulous attention to detail that made W.S. McLarin put on a white glove. It still carries the steel determination wrapped in gentle southern manners that made "Bones" Kimbrel grin amiably while he wrenched the Bank into fighting shape.
The Sixth District territory was poor in 1914. It was a land depleted, lacking the vision and capital to change. Much of the region gleams 75 years later. The reasons for the change are complex and discourage facile claims about what the Bank has done for the District. But the two histories are intertwined. The Bank, Max Wellborn, Frank Neely, Malcolm Bryan, Brown Rawlings, Monroe Kimbrel, and a long list of bankers, proof machine operators, engineers, agricultural economists, examiners, and currency counters certainly helped to make that difference.