Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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MILLS, Darius Ogden, banker, born in North Salem, Westchester County, New York, 5 September, 1825. His father died when he was sixteen, and, later investments having proved unfortunate, the lad was left without resources. He soon found a clerkship in New York, and at twenty-two became cashier and one-third owner of a small batik in Buffalo. Two years later he was one of the earliest victims of the gold fever, sailing for California in December, 1848. He soon began business in Sacramento, and the Gold bank of D. O. Mills and Co., then established, is still flourishing and still under his control--the oldest bank of unbroken credit in the state. He was immediately and conspicuously successful. The "luck of D. O. Mills" became a proverb, but it was attended with a reputation for judgment, rapid decision, boldness, and absolute integrity. He became largely interested in mines on the great Comstock lode, secured control of the Virginia and Truckee railroad leading to it, and of the immense forests about Lake Tahoe which supplied it, acquired a large share in the chief quicksilver-mines, and bought extensive ranches and other property, but dealt in everything on his principles as a banker, boldly, but rarely in a speculative way. In 1864 he founded the Bank of California, in San Francisco, heading the subscription for the capital and assuming the presidency. It became one of the best-known banks of the country, with the highest credit in the financial centres both of Europe and Asia. Desiring finally to retire from business, Mr. Mills resigned the presidency in 1873, leaving the bank with a capital of $5,000.000, large surplus, profitable business, first-rate organization, and unlimited credit. Two years later he was called back to find it with liabilities of $13,500,000 above its capital and surplus, with only $100,000 in its vaults, and with many doubtful assets. His old cashier, William C. Ralston, had been president meantime. He had lent Ralston the capital on which the latter began business in San Francisco, and had trusted him. Mr. Mills had resigned his directorship in the bank when retiring from its management, and finally had sold his stock; but Ralston, against his wishes, had continued to have him elected a director, buying enough of Mr. Mills's stock to qualify for a directorship, and keeping it in Mr. Mills's name, without his knowledge. Mr. Mills returned from Europe shortly before the crash, and was first appealed to by William Sharon to save Ralston's personal credit. He at once responded, loaning Mr. Ralston $400,000 that day, and $350,000 more within the week. It subsequently appeared that this money was used to take up fraudulent over-issues of the bank's stock. A few days later the bank failed, creating an excitement that convulsed the Pacific coast. Mr. Ralston committed suicide, and Mr. Mills was recalled to the presidency. He headed the new subscription with $1,000,000, raised nearly $7,000,000 more, and opened the doors of the bank one month and five days after they had been closed. He insisted on holding the presidency now without pay, and resigned peremptorily within three years, as soon as he felt that the bank was firmly reestablished. Afterward he uniformly refused the care of any business but his own. He gradually transferred heavy investments to the east, erected the largest office-building in New York, and finally returned to reside near his birthplace. He had been regent of the University of California, and when he resigned this place he gave an endowment of $75,000 to found the Mills professorship of moral and intellectual philosophy. About the same time he presented to the state the marble group "Columbus before Queen Isabella," by Larkin G. Meade, which now stands in the centre of the state-house rotunda at Sacramento. In New York he presented to the city a building on the Bellevue hospital grounds, costing $100,000, for the training of male nurses. He has been an active trustee of the Lick estate and Lick observatory in California, of the Metropolitan museum, of the Museum of natural history, and also of the American geographical society.
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