Lehman Brothers, a 158-year-old investment bank choked by the credit crisis and falling real estate values, filed for protection from creditors in the biggest bankruptcy filing ever and said it was trying to sell off key business units.
Monday’s filing was made in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., the bank’s holding company. The case had been assigned to Judge James M. Peck.
Lehman fell under the weight of $60 billion in soured real estate holdings, and the credit market’s dislocation ultimately forced it to seek court protection. The credit crisis has caused global banks to write down more than $300 billion in asset value since last year, and caused the shotgun sales of Merrill Lynch & Co. and Bear Stearns Cos.
Lehman’s bankruptcy filing marks the end of a Wall Street firm that started the U.S. cotton trade before the Civil War and financed the railroads that built a nation.
The company’s roots began in 1844 when Henry Lehman immigrated from Rimpar, Germany, to Alabama, where he established a dry goods store that catered to local cotton farmers in Montgomery. Lehman Brothers evolved from merchandising to a commodities broker, and then later into underwriting where the firm helped finance construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad, among others.