Davis Polk Historical Timeline


1849: Francis N. Bangs, a 21-year-old lawyer, hangs out a shingle on lower Broadway in Manhattan and opens his one-man firm, which today is known as Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.


1850s: Bangs builds his practice and reputation through numerous courtroom battles with the legal luminaries of the day, such as Charles O'Conor, Joseph H. Choate, John E. Parsons and Frederic R. Coudert.


1867: The Federal Bankruptcy Act of 1867, which was the first such law to cover corporations, as well as individuals, leads to an explosion of bankruptcies and a tremendous workload for the Bangs firm.


1870: Bangs gains widespread recognition as a leading lawyer of the day in the trials of notorious political captain William M. 'Boss' Tweed.

1870: Concerned about judicial ethics in the wake of the Tweed scandals, Bangs and 200 of the City's other leading lawyers form the first significant association of professional lawyers, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.


1885: During work on a complex transaction involving the Pennsylvania Railroad, the firm begins a relationship with banker J. Pierpont Morgan.

1888: Stetson initiates the construction of the first large hydroelectric power plant in America, at Niagara Falls, New York, and at the same time establishes the standard for the American electric system.

1889: Grover Cleveland joins Bangs, Stetson, Tracey & MacVeagh as 'of counsel' for the period between his nonsequential terms as President of the United States.

Late 1880s: Stetson advises William Whitney on the creation of the first integrated transit system in New York City.


1892: On behalf of J. Pierpont Morgan, the firm performs the legal work on the organization of General Electric.

1895: Partner Frank Stetson works with J. P. Morgan, August Belmont, Robert Bacon and President Cleveland to halt a run on gold and stem a national financial crisis by arranging a private sale of gold to the U.S. Treasury Department.

1898: The firm conducts the legal work on the creation of the International Paper Company. Stetson is named general counsel of the company, followed shortly thereafter in the position by Jennings.


1901: The firm does the legal work for the merger of 15 separate steel companies to create United States Steel, which was then the largest company in history with a capitalized value of $1.4 billion – an astonishing 7% of the country's gross domestic product. Stetson becomes general counsel, a position later held by partner Charles MacVeagh.

1905-1908: Stetson, as part of an elite American Bar Association committee, helps to write the first national code of legal ethics in 1908.


1911: Future partner John W. Davis is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, the beginning of a distinguished career in national politics, during which he was the U.S. Solicitor General, Ambassador to the United Kingdom and the Democratic Party nominee in the 1924 presidential election.

1913-1955: Davis argues or took part in more than 250 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, 160 of which were for the government during his period as Solicitor General, the remainder in private practice. No other lawyer has participated in so many.

1915: Polk is appointed Under Secretary of State.

1917-1918: Wardwell serves as an American Red Cross officer in a humanitarian mission to Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. This is the first of his several leadership positions in humanitarian efforts in Russia over the next 25 years.


1920-1921: At the urging of the firm's new leader, Allen Wardwell, John Davis and Frank Polk join the firm, with Davis assuming the role of senior partner.

1923: In the wake of the disastrous Tokyo earthquake of 1923, the firm advises J.P. Morgan & Co. on the first Japanese financings.

1924: Davis loses to Calvin Coolidge in the presidential election.

1927: The firm helps to create the American Depositary Receipt, one of the earliest important cross-border financial products.


1930: Davis represents 10 film studios in a Supreme Court case alleging Sherman Act violations in film distribution. Though the decision goes against Davis, Louis G. Mayer, head of Loews and its MGM subsidiary, is so impressed by the firm's work that he retains Davis Polk as outside counsel.

1932: The firm works to develop a more efficient mechanism for handling railroad failures and helps produce Section 77 of Chapter VIII of the 1933 Bankruptcy Act, which established the goal of getting the bankrupt company back on its feet with the cooperation of creditors and under the supervision of a trustee.

1933: Davis defends the partners of J.P. Morgan & Co. in the Senate Banking and Currency Committee’s hearings on the behavior of financial institutions, known informally as the Pecora Hearings.

1934: S. Hazard Gillespie works as one of the firm's first summer associates.

1935: In response to the Glass-Steagall Act, which dictates the separation of J.P. Morgan & Co.'s banking and securities underwriting operations, Davis Polk lawyers perform the legal work for the creation of Morgan Stanley & Co. In first year of operation, Morgan Stanley handles one-quarter of all U.S. underwritings.

1935: Partner F.A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz helps develop the standard telephone company registration form for AT&T. During the depression, he would take a leave of absence from the firm to run his family's toy store.


1944: Partner Theodore Kiendl successfully represents Erie Railroad in the well-publicized Supreme Court case Erie v. Tompkins, in which Justice Louis D. Brandeis formally ends the 90-year-old doctrine of a federal common law.

1948: Davis defends Loew’s and other film companies in the landmark antitrust case of U.S. v Paramount.

1949: Kiendl represents Senator William Benton in his libel suit against Senator Joseph McCarthy.


1950: Partner Ralph M. Carson serves as lead defense counsel in the massive six-year government antitrust case against 17 investment houses, U.S. v. Henry S. Morgan, et al.

1952: Davis (assisted by partners Porter Chandler and Theodore Kiendl) represents U.S. Steel and successfully leads a group of steel companies and their respective law firms against a government seizure of steel mills led by President Truman. Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer, or 'the steel seizure case' as it was generally known, was the most famous litigation of the time.

1956: Spofford also advises the Suez Canal Company to prevent a seizure of the canal by Egypt, arguing that the canal was international.

1958: Davis Polk advises on the first public offering by Boeing Airplane Company, which finances the construction of the first passenger jet, the 707.


1960: Partners Kiendl and Chandler successfully represent R.J. Reynolds in one of the first products liability against a tobacco company, Lartigue v. R.J. Reynolds.

1962: Davis Polk leaves its offices of 70 years, 15 Broad Street, for Chase Manhattan Plaza.

1962: Davis Polk opens an office in Paris, the firm's first overseas outpost. The firm continues to open offices in key financial and business centers around the world: London (1972), Washington DC (1980), Tokyo (1987), Hong Kong (1993), Northern California (1999), Madrid (2001), Beijing (2007), São Paulo (2011).

1967: The partnership votes to change the firm name to reflect the three most influential partners in the firm's evolution: Davis Polk & Wardwell.


1971: Lydia Kess is elected to partnership, becoming only the second female partner in a major Wall Street firm.

1972: The firm opens its second overseas office in London.

1974: Associate William Parsons Jr. assists on the creation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a new law, which brings about Federal regulation of pension plans.

1976: Partner Robert F. Fiske Jr. appointed U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York.


1980: The firm opens an office in Washington DC.

1980: Davis Polk lawyers advise Morgan Stanley on the IPO of Apple.

1981: Davis Polk plays an important role in negotiating the financial aspects of the resolution of the Iranian hostage crisis. As leaders in Iran refused to deal directly with governments, international banks and their legal counsel essentially represented the West.

1981: Davis Polk becomes one of the first law firms in the world to roll out a firmwide computer network.

1983: Davis Polk successfully defends Babcock & Wilcox, a designer and manufacturer of nuclear reactors, in a $4 billion suit brought by General Public Utilities as a result of the Three-Mile Island accident.

1987: Davis Polk opens its Tokyo office.

1987: Retired partner Lawrence Walsh is appointed Independent Prosecutor in the Iran-Contra hearings.

1987: Davis Polk advises Her Majesty's Government on the $1.9 billion initial public offering of British Airways. This marks the first of several major British privatizations that would be handled by Davis Polk lawyers, including those involving British Telecommunications, British Petroleum, British Gas and the power generating companies run by the British Department of Energy.


1992: After more than 140 years in Manhattan's Financial District, Davis Polk moves its office uptown to 450 Lexington, near Grand Central Terminal.

1998: Davis Polk lawyers take a lead role in negotiating the landmark $206 billion tobacco settlement with 46 states – the largest settlement of civil litigation in history.

1998: Davis Polk advises Exxon on its $81 billion merger with Mobil (at the time, the largest merger in history) to create world's biggest oil company.

1999: The firm works on the $5.4 billion initial public offering by United Parcel Service (at the time, the largest-ever U.S. IPO).


2000: Davis Polk advises long-time client, J.P. Morgan & Co. in its $38.6 billion merger with Chase Manhattan Bank to form JPMorgan Chase.

2000: Davis Polk works on the $10.6 billion initial public offering of tracking stock of AT&T Wireless (at the time, the largest-ever U.S. public offering.

2001: Davis Polk advises Comcast on its acquisition of AT&T Broadband to create the nation's largest cable company.

2002-2003: Davis Polk plays a major role in the Chapter 11 cases of Enron, Adelphia Communications, Conseco, Bethlehem Steel, Dow Corning, LTV and Napster.

2003: In New York County Lawyers' Association v. the State of New York, Davis Polk successfully challenges as unconstitutionally low the rates paid to court-appointed lawyers for the indigent.

2003-2005: Davis Polk corporate lawyers and litigators advise Oracle on its contested $10.3 billion acquisition of PeopleSoft.

2004: Davis Polk advises The St. Paul Companies on its $26 billion merger with Travelers to form one of the nation's largest commercial insurers.

2004: The firm advises several prominent mutual funds and broker-dealers in investigations by the New York Attorney General and the SEC regarding mutual fund trading.

2005: Davis Polk advises Goldman Sachs (Asia) and CSFB as lead managers on the $124 million initial public offering of ADSs by Baidu.com, a Chinese language Internet search provider.

2005: Davis Polk advises Telecom Italia on its 20 billion euro combination with Telecom Italia Mobile. This was the largest European M&A transaction completed in 2005.

2006: The firm advised the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China on the largest IPO at the time.

2007: Davis Polk opens an office in Beijing, its third office in Asia.

2008: The New York City Bar honors Davis Polk with the City Bar Justice Center Award for its pro bono leadership.

2008: Davis Polk plays a pivotal role in the largest and most complex matters of the current financial crisis.

2008: We advised the joint bookrunners and representatives of the underwriters on the $19.65 billion initial public offering of Visa. This is the second-largest U.S. IPO in history.

2008: We represented Siemens AG in the largest FCPA investigation in U.S. history, which resulted in a landmark settlement with the DOJ and SEC. We also advised on the company's global defense to investigations in multiple jurisdictions and a settlement with the World Bank.

2008-2010: We advised the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the U.S. Department of the Treasury in the $180 billion restructuring and recapitalization of AIG, the world's largest insurer.

2009: We advised Roche on its $46.8 billion successful contested acquisition of the 44% publicly held interest in Genentech. The deal is the largest-ever completed going-private transaction.

2009: We have acted as lead counsel to Citi on all of its major financial crisis-related matters.


2010: Davis Polk launches its Hong Kong law practice, and in 2013, the firm strategically expands its global enforcement capability and strengthens its market-leading litigation practice in Asia and Hong Kong.

2010: We represent Hyundai Heavy Industries, the manufacturer of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, in multidistrict litigation arising out of the Gulf oil spill.

2010: We advised the lead managers on the $23.1 billion SEC-registered IPO of General Motors. This is the largest IPO in history.

2010: We advised the Agricultural Bank of China, a leading commercial bank in China in terms of total assets, loans and deposits, on its $22.1 billion IPO. This is the second-largest IPO in history.

2010: We advised Comcast in connection with its $37.5 billion NBCUniversal joint venture with General Electric.

2011: The firm opens its first office in Latin America in São Paulo, Brazil.

2011: Thomas J. Reid named first non-U.S.-born managing partner in the firm's history.

2011: Davis Polk is named the "Most Innovative Law Firm" in the United States by the Financial Times.

2011: Carey Dunne nominated as President of the New York City Bar Association. He will join an impressive list of Davis Polk lawyers who have held this prestigious position. They include one of our founding partners, Francis Bangs, as well as Frank Stetson, Allan Wardwell and John W. Davis.

2012: Davis Polk launches its English law practice in London to complement the firm’s English law practices in Hong Kong and Brazil.

2012: We received an extremely favorable settlement for the partners of Sterling Equities, owners of the New York Mets, their families and affiliated entities in the Madoff Trustee Litigation.

2012: Davis Polk advises the joint administrators and liquidators of Lehman Brothers International (Europe) and its U.K. Lehman affiliates in connection with (1) over $50 billion of claims in the U.S. chapter 11 cases and (2) over $10 billion of claims in the largest Securities Investor Protection Act case in history.

2013: Davis Polk ranked 1st in the global and U.S. league tables for the first quarter of 2013. Deal highlights included Heinz’s $28 billion acquisition by Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital, and Comcast’s $18.1 billion acquisition of the remaining equity stake in NBCUniversal.

2013: At the 2013 IFLR Americas Awards, Davis Polk won the “Americas Law Firm of the Year” and “Debt and Equity-Linked Team of the Year” awards – the first firm to win each award two years in a row. The firm also won “Financial Regulation Team of the Year,” “Restructuring Team of the Year” and “Restructuring Deal of the Year” (Lehman).

2013: We advised the U.S. Treasury, as selling shareholder, on the $20.7 billion SEC-registered common stock offering of American International Group – the largest common stock offering in U.S. history.

2013: After launching its Hong Kong law practice in 2010, the firm strategically expands its global enforcement capability and strengthens its market-leading litigation practice in Asia and Hong Kong.

2013: We advised CNOOC on its $15.1 billion acquisition of Nexen – this is the largest-ever takeover by a Chinese acquirer of a foreign target.

We have worked on many of the most significant business and legal developments for more than 165 years – from landmark court cases to the formation of major corporations and financial institutions to the development of new financial instruments. 

Today, we continue to expand upon this tradition of leadership, creativity and extraordinary client service.

We work with the leading companies in the world, frequently on matters and cases that are unprecedented in size, scope and complexity. Our practices – all of them – rank among the highest in the profession worldwide. No one offers smarter, more dedicated lawyers or more meaningful leadership in innovation. Our balance and depth have allowed Davis Polk to remain at the epicenter of business and legal matters through good times and bad, as our clients navigate the ups and downs of the economic cycle.

The timeline above includes a selection of notable events in the more than 160-year history of the firm.