Colonel Thomas Claiborne “T.C.” Frost came to Texas in 1854 to teach Latin at Austin College, then in Huntsville. The Alabama native studied law at night but was called to duty during the Civil War. When he returned to Texas in 1865, during Reconstruction, he was forbidden to practice law because he had been a Confederate officer. Not to worry, the astute gentleman had many other callings. In 1867 he put $3,000 into a partnership to resuscitate his brother John Morrison Frost’s failing mercantile and auctioneering enterprise. Within a year, the San Antonio company was turning a profit; within ten, it was one of the state’s fastest-growing mercantile businesses.
Inside this little store T.C. Frost began building his relationships with customers, and in the corner of it he opened a makeshift bank to help them out. Frost built a 2-story bank building on Main Plaza in 1871, and by 1922 his successor, son T.C. Frost, Jr., had replaced that structure with a 12-story building. T.C. “Tom” Frost III took the helm in 1948 and during his tenure instituted such radical ideas as decentralization, an all-purpose credit card, and the bank’s first computer. The first motor bank and parking garage opened in 1965, and seven years later the 21-story Frost Bank Tower opened at 100 W. Houston Street. In 1977 the Frost family joined with Houston’s Cullen family to form Cullen/Frost Bankers, which became one of the ten largest bank holding companies based in Texas. It was the state’s only major bank holding company to survive the eighties. While other Texas holding companies like First RepublicBank were gobbled up by out-of-state conglomerates like NCNB (now Bank of America), Cullen/Frost held its own by focusing on existing customers instead of lending money for speculative real estate deals. The decision was key in keeping the company afloat.
Cullen/Frost now has more than eighty bank locations across the state and has assets of $7.4 billion, as of September 30, 2000. In addition to increasing its number of branches, Cullen/Frost, now a financial holding company, has acquired three insurance agencies with offices in San Antonio, Houston, and Austin, among other places, and opened Frost Securities, an investment banking business in Dallas, which focuses on the energy and the technology sectors. Surely the plan is to continue as a successful independent for another 132 years.