Paris under water: The flood of 1910

In January 1910, Paris and its surroundings were threatened by flooding on an unprecedented scale. Societe Generale staff worked to avert disaster. Here’s a look back on the "flood of the century."

Inondation, Paris, 1910, la grande crue de la seine

On 21 January 1910, a violent storm swept across France. The Paris region suffered the bulk of the damage. In the city and its surroundings, the Seine burst its banks, causing unprecedented flooding. With approximately 20,000 buildings and half the underground rail system flooded, the city experienced a slowdown in economic activity. A number of Societe Generale branches were affected. In the suburbs, the branches in Levallois, Clichy, Asnières, Ivry and Vitry were damaged, with most of the damage being to the vaults, located at basement level. Although the valuables at the Faubourg Saint-Honoré branch were spared, about 60 safe-deposit boxes were lost at the Boulevard Saint-Germain branch, even though three pumps were used and protective barriers were erected. Meanwhile, waters rose two metres high at the Rue de Lyon branch, where all strongbox contents were lost, as was all the furniture, requiring the complete renovation of the branch. Finally, the cellars at the headquarters on Rue de Provence were also affected.

In response to these events, salvage operations were carried out by staff. Employees were actively involved in constructing barriers and pumping water. Managers and collection clerks in particular worked to save securities certificates and valuables. The Board of Directors would recognize their efforts by awarding a bonus to the staff involved. A special credit of 50,000 francs was granted by vote to help the worst-affected bank officials.

The "flood of the century" left its mark. It forced Societe Generale management to review its central securities holding, which until then had been located at headquarters on Rue de Provence. To safeguard these securities against flooding, they were transferred in 1914 to a much safer place built for this purpose: the Trocadéro building. From then on, securities were kept safe on higher ground in a tower with thick concrete walls.