Carpenters' Hall
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The Great Bank Heist of 1798

patrick_lyon
"Pat Lyon at the Forge" painted by John Neagle 1828

Even a modern bank robber would consider a haul, tax-free, of more than $162,000 in bank notes and gold a good night's work. In 1798 that was real money. Here's the story.

When in 1798 the First Bank of the U.S. moved from Carpenters' Hall to its new home on South Third St., the Bank of Pennsylvania quickly moved in. They brought with them iron bank vault doors from their previous location and had them fitted to the new vault, an ungainly brick addition attached to the northeast corner of the Hall. Patrick Lyon, a blacksmith who made the doors at his blacksmith shop on Lombard St., later testified the doors were not sufficiently secure. But the imported locks were, he added, patent spring and tumbler locks which no man in America could pick." He was right. The bank robbers used the key to the vault.

Soon after the theft on September 2, Isaac Davis — a Carpenters' Company member previously in good standing — began depositing large amounts of cash in the Bank of Pennsylvania. It didn't take much questioning for Davis to admit that he and the bank porter, who had access to the key, carried out the robbery. Neither was prosecuted. Cunningham, the porter, died in the yellow fever epidemic then sweeping the city. Davis realized it was time to disappear. But he received some measure of justice when, one year later, the Company agreed unanimously to erase his name from the list of members."

Before Davis confessed, however, bank directors accused Patrick Lyon (who forged the original key) of making a duplicate and using it in the robbery. Lyon spent three months in jail before the truth emerged. Free once more, Lyon sued the bank. William Garrigues, a Carpenters' Company member, was foreman of the jury which awarded $12,000 in damages, later reduced to $9,000.

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Carpenters' Hall, 320 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
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