100 Fixing the Calendar 1582

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84  Checking Accounts 1407 
COINS AS CURRENCY have been traced back to the 7th century B.C. Paper money was printed in China as early as the 11th century. But no economic institution has shaped the world like the bank. (The word stems from the Italian banco, or bench, from which money changers did business at medieval fairs.) Before the first public banks appeared--Casa di San Giorgio, founded in Genoa in 1407, was the most prominent--merchants conducted business using bills of exchange that functioned as IOUs; banks, operated by wealthy families, often went bankrupt when distant kings reneged on loans. Casa di San Giorgio lasted only 37 years, but its innovations led all the way to the credit card. The bank served as the model for public banks that "cleared," or transferred, balances between accounts. And it established an unprecedented trust because the government had an incentive to repay its debts so as to have a continuing source of funds. These developments gave rise to the modern clearing bank--Amsterdam's Wisselbank was the first, in 1609--which made it possible to use bills of exchange like money. Today we can move millions across continents with the touch of a keyboard. 

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