Prior to 1853 banks were illegal in Wisconsin. The first “bank” was the Wisconsin Marine and Fire Insurance Company which not only sold fire insurance, but also accepted money for deposit and loaned money as a bank does. It was their business principles which established their reputation of offering good certificates of deposits that were as good as gold and the Company was always ready to redeem on demand any request to withdraw the deposits that were made.
By 1859, 108 banks were operating in Wisconsin. Of these banks only about 20 still exist today, a decline caused by a number of problems which plagued the industry. Early communities needed money for building homes, purchasing land, starting businesses, buying supplies and many other expenses resulting from a growing economy. Too often early banks issued bank notes in amounts far beyond their ability to redeem them.
Some banks, in order to discourage the redeeming of their bank notes for gold, located their redemption centers in the middle of swamps and forests that were almost impossible to reach, and gave directions in terms so vague that few knew where to find the centers. Failure to regulate loan policies of banks and the lack of protection for depositors on their investments also led many early settlers to have a strong lack of trust in banks and to hide their money in mattresses or bury it in milk cans.
The bank was organized by Articles of Incorporation signed by Louis Franzmeier, Josh Zych, Frank O’Neil, Sr., Thomas Bonk and Max Bruckschen. Total capital was $25,000. Bylaws were adopted on July 30, 1921 and the bank opened its doors for business in October of that same year. Designated as its reserve banks were the Second Ward Savings Bank in Milwaukee and the First National Bank in Manitowoc.
The small bank building served the Newton community until 1941 when a new and larger bank was built. The old bank building was then used by the Mid-Lakes Farm Service which donated the building to the Manitowoc County Historical Society in 1982. Moving and restoration of the building was funded by the Manitowoc County Bankers Association. A replica of the original bank sign hangs above the doorway.
Although the little bank may not appear very secure by today’s standards, it was robbed only once in its 21 years of operation. The robbery took place on April 6, 1937 with bank robbers taking $4,000 from a “torch proof” safe.
The robbers removed a storm window to gain entry to the building then began placing black paper over the windows to prevent light from the cutting torches from showing outside the building. They then cut a small hole through the thick wall of the safe, using milk cans of water to cool the safe and to keep the currency from burning as the opening was enlarged.
Tire tracks were found in a nearby field the next day indicating that a car had been stuck in a ditch in the field. Muddy footprints were found in the bank building and led to where the car had been stuck, but the robbers were never apprehended.
Interestingly, the new bank building was also robbed. On July 29, 1953 a lone bank robber entered the building on a Thursday afternoon, just after 2 p.m. Armed with a gun, his face covered with a kerchief, he approached the assistant cashier, Miss Abbie Luebke, and announced “This is a stick up! Give me all the currency!”
The robber escaped but was followed and captured in his car approximately one and a half miles east of Chilton on the U.S. Highway 151 shortly before 3 p.m. He was sentenced to the State Prison at Waupun for a minimum of 15 years.