In 1935, new employees for The Boeing Company were required to purchase their own tools before they could start work. Since this was the height of the Great Depression, this was an insurmountable burden for many prospective employees.
A Boeing employee, William Dodge, read an article in the September 1935 issue of Readers Digest titled “Be Your Own Banker” about the difference that credit unions were making across the world. The article explained how credit unions had made their way from Germany to Canada nearly a century prior, and “launched a movement that today has the loan shark on the defensive through America.” In the United States, credit unions battled their way into existence against powerful loan agencies until 1934, when Congress, under the leadership of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, passed a law permitting their establishment anywhere in the country or its territories.
Inspired, Dodge got a group of Boeing employees together over coffee to talk about starting their own credit union. (Yes, BECU was started over a cup of coffee – one of the first milestones in Seattle’s rich coffee history?)
Eighteen employees decided to each put in $0.50, for a total of $9. Their first loan was for $2.50 to a fellow employee for tools, and Fellowship Credit Union was born on December 7, 1935.
Elmer Eggleston was elected to be the first Board Chairman, and as such, was also our first treasurer. He gathered deposits in a metal lunch box that he carried to the credit union from the Boeing plant (safety first!). Although we don’t use lunch boxes today, we still take great care of our members’ money and handle it carefully.
You may have seen Elmer on social media as #ElmerBECU – he’s been traveling around attending BECU events. Follow his adventures on Facebook or Twitter.
Every year in early December, we take time to celebrate our successes and mark how far we’ve come since 1935.
We started with $9 and a single loan for $2.50. By the end of our first year, 490 members had joined. Today, we hold over $14 billion in assets, have 1500+ employees, and nearly a million members. We’re now the fourth largest credit union in the nation and the largest in Washington.
“Our goal was not and is not growth,” Benson Porter, BECU CEO, remarks. “But the natural outcome of great service and commitment to our members is growth. As a credit union, our goal is to serve communities – to empower people through financial education, affordable financial services, and products that prioritize financial health. As a cooperative, the more people that work together, the stronger we are.”
BECU is only as powerful as our members. As our membership base grows, so too does our ability to support one another and build strong, financially savvy communities!