“The lesson that I had learned–when stocks are too high they come down–stood me in good stead in 1928-29.”
Charles Edward Merrill (October 19, 1885 – October 6, 1956) was an American philanthropist, stockbroker and co-founder, with Edmund C. Lynch of Merrill Lynch & Company (previously called Charles E. Merrill & Co.).
Charles E. Merrill, the son of physician Dr. Charles Merrill and Octavia (Wilson) Merrill, was born in Green Cove Springs, Florida where he spent his early childhood. In 1898 the family briefly moved to Knoxville, Tennessee but within the year returned to Florida to settle in Jacksonville. After the school Merrill had been attending was damaged in the Great Fire of 1901, his parents decided to send him to the college preparatory academy operated by John B. Stetson University (now known as Stetson University). Merrill studied there from 1901 till 1903 and then in 1903 for the final year of high school was transferred to Worcester Academy. After two years at Amherst College, Merrill spent time at the University of Michigan Law School from 1906 to 1907; worked at Patchogue-Plymouth Mills from 1907–09; at George H. Burr & Co., New York City, from 1909–13; then established Charles E. Merrill & Co.
Merrill and his friend, Edmund C. Lynch, created Merrill Lynch in 1915. Merrill made his money by investing. He orchestrated the 1926 merger which created the Safeway food chain, and Merrill Lynch provided investment banking services to Safeway to finance the acquisition of other chains, growing Safeway to more than 3,500 stores across the United States by 1931.
Merrill anticipated the Stock market crash of 1929, and divested many of his holdings before the Great Depression. Merrill merged his retail brokerage and wire operations with E.A. Pierce and Co., thereby restructuring Merrill Lynch and Co. to focus upon investment banking. Additionally, Merrill was known to have pleaded with President Calvin Coolidge (like Merrill, an Amherst alumnus) to speak out against speculation, but Coolidge did not listen to him.
Following the 1930 restructuring, Merrill was able to spend more time focusing upon the further growth of Safeway, where he remained the largest shareholder and de facto CFO; in time, his son-in-law and grandson would also run the firm. Merrill was also a major investor in the S. S. Kresge Corporation, the forerunner of Kmart.
In 1939, immediately preceding the boom caused by World War II, Merrill was approached by Edward A. Pierce to merge the struggling brokerage E.A. Pierce & Co. back together with Merrill Lynch. Merrill agreed to do so, but insisted that the combined firm retain the Lynch name. Following a simultaneous acquisition of Philadelphia-based Cassatt & Co., the firm was reopened as Merrill Lynch, E.A. Pierce and Cassatt. Merrill was convinced that the average American who wanted to invest should be able to buy shares in the stock market, which was previously a playground for the wealthy. He instructed his employees to hold seminars at which husbands and wives could leave their children with child care providers while the parents learned how they, too, could invest.Requiring husbands and wives to attend investment seminars together is a common marketing strategy to keep up sales pressure, as neither spouse will be able to say, “let me check with my wife (or husband) before I decide.”