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, the earliest predecessor of today's 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, 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.


Early 1870s: Bangs gains widespread recognition as a leading lawyer of the day in the investigations of notorious political captain William M. "Boss" Tweed.

1870: Concerned about legal and judicial ethics amid 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.


1880: Bangs takes in as partner Francis L. Stetson, then an assistant corporation counsel for the city of New York.

1885: Upon Bangs's death, Stetson becomes the firm's head, a role he will hold for 35 years.

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

1888: Stetson plays a key role in initiating development of the first large hydroelectric power plant in America, at Niagara Falls, New York.

1889:Grover Cleveland joins the firm, now Bangs Stetson Tracy & MacVeagh, as counsel following his first term as president of the United States. Cleveland will leave upon his re-election as president in 1892.

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


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

1895: 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.

1898: Allen Wardwell joins the firm, now known as Stetson Jennings & Russell.


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.

1905: Amid rapid expansion of the Bell telephone system, the firm does legal work for J.P. Morgan & Co. in its role as primary agent on a then-record $150 million bond issue for American Telephone & Telegraph Company. Advising on telephone-system offerings will be a big business for the firm for decades.

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

1909: Wardwell becomes a partner of the firm.


1911: Future partner John W. Davis is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, the beginning of a distinguished career in government that will include service as U.S. Solicitor General.

1915: Future partner Frank L. Polk becomes counselor of the Department of State, where he will later become 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: Within a 12-month period, Stetson and name partners Frederic B. Jennings and Charles H. Russell all die. At the urging of Wardwell, the firm brings in as partners Davis and Polk, with Davis assuming the role of senior partner. Davis had recently been the U.S. ambassador in London, while Polk had been the head of the American delegation to the Paris peace conference following World War I.

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

1924: Davis is nominated as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency and resigns from the firm. After his election loss to Calvin Coolidge, he rejoins.

1925: The firm becomes Davis Polk Wardwell Gardiner & Reed, with existing partners George H. Gardiner and Lansing P. Reed also added as name partners.

1926: Wardwell, who had long been involved with the Legal Aid Society, becomes its president, a role he would hold for a decade.

1926: Recognizing that the firm needs expertise in taxes to complement its other work, Davis asks Montgomery Angell to concentrate in that area.

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 Loew's and its MGM subsidiary, is so impressed by the firm's work that he retains Davis Polk as outside counsel.

1932-1933: 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 establishes the goal of getting the bankrupt company back on its feet with the cooperation of creditors and under the supervision of a trustee.

1930s: During the Depression, the firm is involved in numerous railroad reorganizations, typically representing security holders or trustees. It also represents multiple banks in matters involving corporate bankruptcies, overseas accounts and congressional investigations.

1934: S. Hazard Gillespie, who will later become a partner and senior litigator at the firm, works as one of the first summer associates.

1935: In response to the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which dictates the separation of banking and securities underwriting operations, the firm perform the legal work for the creation of Morgan Stanley & Co. as a separate entity from J.P. Morgan & Co.

1935: Partner F.A.O. Schwarz, working on a Morgan Stanley underwriting for AT&T's Indiana Bell, helps develop new securities offering documents to meet regulatory requirements under the Securities Act of 1933. During the Depression, Schwarz would also take a year off from the firm to run the family toy store founded by his similarly named grandfather.


1942: Several years after the deaths of Gardiner and Reed, the firm becomes Davis Polk Wardwell Sunderland & Kiendl, adding Edwin S. S. Sunderland and Theodore Kiendl as name partners. The firm's name will be unchanged for more than 20 years.

1944: 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.


1953: 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., which ends with a win for the defendants this year.

1952: Davis (assisted by partners Kiendl and Porter Chandler) 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," is one of the most famous litigations of the time.

1955: Davis dies, after a career in which he argued or took part in more than 250 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court as a private lawyer and as U.S. Solicitor General. He was preceded in death by Polk, who died in 1943, and Wardwell, who died in 1953.

1956: The firm represents the Suez Canal Company in negotiations over compensation for the nationalization of the canal by Egypt.

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: The firm successfully represents R.J. Reynolds in one of the first products liability cases against a tobacco company, Lartigue v. R.J. Reynolds.

1962: Davis Polk leaves its offices of 70 years, 15 Broad Street, for the newly built One Chase Manhattan Plaza nearby.

1962: The firm opens an office in Paris, its first overseas outpost. Over the succeeding decades, the firm will expand to a total of 10 offices worldwide, in key financial and business centers around the globe.

1963: A change in U.S. tax law leads to the creation of the Eurodollar market, and the new Paris office advises the underwriters of one of the first Eurodollar financings, for Japanese company Takeda Chemical Industries.

1960s: The firm advises International Telephone & Telegraph on many M&A transactions, as Harold G. Geneen builds ITT into a diversified worldwide conglomerate.

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 law firm.

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

1976: Partner Robert F. Fiske Jr. is 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.

1986: Retired partner Lawrence Walsh is appointed special prosecutor in the Iran-contra investigation.

1987: Davis Polk opens its Tokyo office after Japan eases its rules on foreigners practicing law in the country.

1987: Davis Polk advises the British government on the $1.9 billion IPO of British Airways. This is the first of several major British privatizations that will be handled by our lawyers, including those of British Telecommunications, British Petroleum and British Gas.


1991: The firm assists in the bankruptcy and reorganization of securities firm Drexel Burnham Lambert.

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

1993: The firm opens its second office in Asia, in Hong Kong.

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 opens its Northern California office.

1999: The firm works on the $5.4 billion IPO of United Parcel Service (at the time, the largest U.S. IPO).

1999: At its 150th anniversary, the firm has 525 lawyers, more than triple the head count 25 years earlier. The firm’s 131 partners include 24 women.


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

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

2001: The firm opens its Madrid office.

2002: The firm represents accounting firm Arthur Andersen in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on obstruction-of-justice charges related to the Enron scandal.

2002-2003: Davis Polk plays a major role in the chapter 11 bankruptcy 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.

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

2005: We advise Gillette on its $57 billion acquisition by Procter & Gamble.

2006: We advise the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China on the largest IPO at the time.

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

2008-2010: Davis Polk plays a pivotal role in the largest and most complex matters of the financial crisis, advising the U.S. and U.K. governments as well as major financial institutions. Our work includes advising the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the U.S. Department of the Treasury in the $180 billion restructuring and recapitalization of American International Group (AIG), the world's largest insurer.

2008: We advise the joint bookrunners and representatives of the underwriters on the $19.65 billion IPO of Visa.

2008: We represent Siemens in the largest Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigation to date, resulting in a landmark settlement with the DOJ and SEC.

2009: We advise 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.


2010: The firm serves as an essential resource for major financial institutions as the new Dodd-Frank Act and its many associated regulations bring sweeping changes to the financial services sector.

2010: Davis Polk launches its Hong Kong law practice.

2010: We obtain a $45 million jury verdict in favor of our client, VNUS Medical Technologies, in connection with its efforts to enforce its patents in the field of venous reflux disease treatment.

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

2010: In two of the biggest IPOs to date, we advise the lead managers on the $23.1 billion IPO of General Motors and advise the Agricultural Bank of China on its $22.1 billion IPO.

2010: We advise 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.

2012: Davis Polk launches its English law practice in London to complement our English law practices in Hong Kong and Brazil.

2012: We receive 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 over $50 billion of claims in the U.S. chapter 11 cases and over $10 billion of claims in the largest Securities Investor Protection Act case in history.

2013: We advise the U.S. Treasury, as selling shareholder, on the $20.7 billion common stock offering of AIG.

2013: In the contested cross-border reorganization of Japan’s Elpida Memory, we obtain for the company the first recognition of a Japanese reorganization plan under chapter 15 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

2016: We obtain a winning decision for the 33 underwriters of the Facebook IPO, in an important ruling for the IPO market.

2017: The firm advises Telia in one of the largest Foreign Corrupt Practices Act resolutions, involving allegations that employees paid bribes to enter the Uzbekistan market. The global settlement included resolutions with the DOJ, SEC and Dutch and Swedish authorities.

2018: We advise Comcast on its successful contested $40 billion acquisition of European consumer entertainment company Sky.

2018: In two big healthcare transactions, we advise Aetna on its $77 billion acquisition by CVS Health and Shire on its $62 billion acquisition by Takeda Pharmaceutical.

2018-2019: In a strong market for new securities offerings, we advise issuers or underwriters of numerous transactions, including the groundbreaking direct New York Stock Exchange listing of Spotify Technology and the IPOs of SoftBank and Uber Technologies.

We have worked on many of the most significant business and legal developments of the past 170 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 170-year history of the firm.