Origin of the Christmas Club: Regional Buzz
By Michael Remas
You don’t hear or see much about Christmas Clubs these days but the tradition that began 110 years ago of saving money for Christmas is still functioning in many parts of the nation.
The idea, established in Carlisle, Pa., in 1909, exists on a smaller scale, of course, due to the proliferation of credit cards plus certificates of deposit, money markets, and other financial instruments that offer better interest.
Now termed Holiday Clubs by some of the smaller banks, savings and loans and credit unions that still offer them, some with low interest or none at all, the nation’s first Christmas Club began when John Linder, a shoe manufacturer, asked Merkel Landis, Carlisle Trust Co. treasurer, to establish a systematic savings program for his workers. Some reports have said the savings accounts were begun for children at the Carlisle Indian School.
Complying, the bank, established a 50-week program of deposits requiring depositors to contribute one cent the first week, two cents the second and so on until the last deposit at the end of the year was 50 cents.
One of the first Christmas savings account booklets, dated 1909, was displayed for many years at the bank. Photographs of the account clearly show it is entitled Christmas Savings Club and that owner L.B. Harnish, a traveling salesman from Carlisle, received $12.75 after his final payment.
Then, big things began to happen. The Yule savings idea grew in popularity at the bank and in 1912 a British-born traveling salesman, Herbert F. Rawll, acquired rights to Landis’ patented idea, developed it, then sold it to other banks throughout the nation, calling it the Christmas Club.
In 1928, according to the bank, Rawll established Christmas Club as a corporation, with headquarters first in New York City and later in Easton, Pa
Club members have stated that opening an account gave them money for gifts when they needed it most and that the checks received represented money they would not have saved otherwise.
Based on the same principle as that established at Carlisle, new members received books with 50 coupons for 50 weekly deposits of 10, 25 or 50 cents, $1, $2, $3, $5 or $10 or up to $20 in some banks. Membership expired in October or November, when banks mailed checks ranging from $5 to $1,000 and the program for the following year began.
Across the land during its heyday, Christmas Club checks totaled millions of dollars, with most of it spent for presents as members began their Yule shopping around Thanksgiving or soon thereafter. Some of the overall total went back into savings at the banks, for taxes, yearend bills, insurance, education and winter vacations.
Most modern banks and financial institutions don’t offer Christmas Clubs these days, however, calling them unprofitable, as account balances usually are low and are cashed in near year’s end.
But the clubs live on at various banks, often as a customer service and sometimes even with very small interest.
First Savings Bank in Perkasie, Pa., for instance, continued the tradition a decade ago of offering a gift for opening an account with interest compounded daily, in this case a handcrafted tree ornament.
However, it is the nation's credit unions that do the bulk of this type of savings, which continues strong at 72 percent of the institutions, the Credit Union National Association reports.
In 1957 Carlisle Trust Co. merged with Dauphin Deposit Corp. of Harrisburg, Pa. and has evolved today into an M&T Bank, according to the Cumberland County Historical Society.