First Interstate's multistate operations are rich in profits and history.

The story begins seven decades ago when Congress passed legislation that limited efforts by BankAmerica Corp. founder A.P. Giannini to build a nationwide bank. The new law restricted to one state the operations of any bank.

Never frustrated easily, Mr. Giannini in 1928 established Transamerica Corp. to serve, in part, as the beginnings of the national banking system he envisioned.

In 1930, Transamerica had acquired an Oregon bank in what would eventually become First Interstate. Within a decade, the company owned banks in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Washington. By May 1953, Transamerica had elected banker Frank N. Belgrano Jr. as its chairman. His mission was to accelerate the expansion.

But even as the company's growth continued, adversaries worked feverishly in Congress to pass laws that would eventually stop Mr. Giannini's interstate drive. Knowing the extent of potential restrictions, Mr. Belgrano dashed to create a franchise that would be grandfathered from any new law.

He issued 1.3 million shares of Transamerica stock and used proceeds from the $52 million offering to buy 18 banks in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming in 1956.

Many of the acquisitions closed shortly before midnight on May 8. The next morning, President Eisenhower signed the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 into law, forcing Transamerica to split the company between banking and nonbank businesses.

The legislation stopped the eastward expansion but created the foundations of a richly profitable multistate bank that expanded in later years. That expansion included a 1988 deal that put First Interstate in Texas.

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