Melvin Alvah Traylor, banker, was born to James Melton and Kitty Frances (Hervey) Traylor on a farm near Breeding, Kentucky, on October 21, 1878. In the local country school, which operated for only five months each year, he received the equivalent of a sixth-grade education by the time he was fifteen years old. He had worked in his father's corn and tobacco fields and clerked in a nearby country store. At age sixteen, Traylor enrolled in the high school in Columbia, Kentucky, where after four months of work he secured a teaching certificate. He also read law in his spare time. After graduating, he took a position as a teacher in Leatherwood Creek, Kentucky. His inadequate salary-thirty dollars a month for a five-month term-required that he return to after-school clerking in a local store. In December 1898 Traylor moved to Hillsboro, Texas and worked as a store clerk. In 1901 he was admitted to the bar and elected city clerk of Hillsboro. Three years later he was elected assistant county attorney of Hill County. When he failed in a reelection attempt in 1905, Traylor opened his own practice, which he abandoned after less than a year. He ran the Malone Bank from 1905 to 1907. In this tiny institution he was banker, janitor, and night watchman; he slept in the bank. He married Dorothy Yerby of Hillsboro on June 8, 1906, and they raised two children.
In January 1908 Traylor accepted a position as vice president of the Citizens National Bank of Ballinger. When this institution consolidated with the Ballinger First National Bank in 1909, Traylor was appointed president of the new First National Bank. He remained in this post for two years. In 1911 he was made vice president of the Stock Yards National Bank of East St. Louis, Illinois. Two years later he moved to the Live Stock Exchange National Bank in Chicago. He became president of the bank in 1914 and was also appointed president of the Chicago Cattle Loan Company. In 1916, when the Live Stock Exchange National Bank was reorganized as the Stock Yards National Bank, Traylor was made president of the new institution. The directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago selected Traylor to oversee the sale of Treasury Department certificates of indebtedness in the Chicago area after the United States entered World War I. To facilitate the sale of the certificates and raise money for the war effort, Traylor organized an agency that worked through Illinois banks. His success won him recognition as "one of the outstanding bankers of Chicago." After the war he became president of the First Trust and Savings Bank of Chicago. At the same time, he also became vice president and a director of the First National Bank in Chicago. Traylor was selected president of the Illinois Bankers Association for 1923–24; he became president of the First National Bank in 1925. He served as vice president of the American Bankers Association in 1924–26 and won election to the group's presidency in 1926. In 1928, when the First Union Trust and Savings Bank was organized, Traylor was appointed president. In 1931 his bank absorbed Foreman-State National Bank and its affiliates, thereby becoming Chicago's largest bank.
Convinced of the necessity for the postwar world of a "world bank," Traylor served with Jackson Reynolds as the American delegation to the organizing committee of the Bank of International Settlements, which met at Basel, Switzerland, in 1929. Thereafter, his energies were absorbed largely by the Great Depression. Having warned of the dangers inherent in the massive speculation in real estate and stocks and bonds during the middle and late 1920s, Traylor argued, after the stock market crash of 1929 and the succeeding depression, that the nation's financial leaders bore heavy responsibility for the collapse of the American economy. Locally, he was credited with stopping depositors' runs on his own bank and on others as well and with securing withheld salary payments for Chicago public school teachers. Nationally, he supported the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in its efforts to stabilize large financial institutions. As a result of his reputation in national finance, Traylor apparently received some consideration as a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 1932. By 1934, in addition to his other responsibilities, he served as chairman of a state committee on drought relief in Illinois and a national committee to aid drought-stricken farmers. He served on the boards of Northwestern University in Illinois and Berea College in Kentucky. Illinois College awarded him an honorary M.A. degree in 1922. In addition, he served during the 1920s as president of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, a trustee of the Newberry Library, a member of the Art Institute of Chicago, and president of the United States Golf Association. He died after a long battle with pneumonia on February 14, 1934.