Four Million Dollars In A Pie Wagon

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MORE NAZI TROOPS were marching in the spring of 1989, and the air over Europe shuddered to the beat of the Luftwaffe's propellers. The shrill, angry voice of the Fuehrer became a hysterical screaming that numbed men's brains. The pretence of seeking a lasting peace was almost abandoned, and the only question that remained was, When?

But Americans' love of travel was too strong to be much disturbed by these uneasy conditions. As June smoothed out the ocean highways, all the liners were packed with passengers; the German Bremen and Europa were as full as the Queen Mary and the Normandy.

The headquarters group at 65 Broadway was very busy, for more pressing than the routine work of servicing the tourists was the matter of making a blueprint for war. Reports from all the long chain of offices were studied and evaluated. Decisions were made as to which would be closed and which kept open. The probable financial needs of each of them were prognosticated, and their reserve balances in foreign currencies or bank deposits were increased to assure that Travellers Cheques could always be cashed. The locations of individuals travelling with American Express were checked daily, and as the tension increased they were dissuaded from venturing into the critical area around the Polish Corridor.

On August 23, 1939, Molotov and Von Ribbentrop announced the Russo-German pact. That blew the last smoke screen of hypocritical peaceful intentions to shreds and revealed the stark intent of war.

That week end Robert Clarkson called Ralph Reed to his house in Bayville, Long Island. They worked through Saturday and Sunday revising their strategy in the light of the latest developments.

Less than a week later, on September 1, 1939, as Hitler's Panzers rumbled across the Polish frontier, the plan was put into effect. Lynde Selden sailed abroad shortly there after and visited most of the American Express offices to implement the organization's emergency program.

The plan worked exceedingly well. Much of the confusion that attended the surprise outbreak of World War I was eliminated; and the repatriation of Americans, if hurried, was not chaotic. In London and Paris committees were set up, which included the Chambers of Commerce, American consuls, the American Express, and other agencies, to provide transportation. The United States Line converted the public rooms of its ships into dormitories and put extra cots in all cabins. Americans wanted to get out regardless of comfort, and they were willing to pay first-class fare for a cot which included a blanket, towel, soap, life preserver - period. American Express representatives went down to see all ships off and straighten out last-minute tangles.

Much of the success of the evacuation was due to the European managers of the company, who acted on their individual initiative to meet special circumstances. One of the hottest spots was Warsaw. Few American Travellers were in the Polish capital, but the office remained open after the declaration of war. As the German armies coiled across the Polish plains toward the desperate city, the American Express special representative, J. Tobolka, gave orders to destroy the blank Travellers Cheques in the safe. While he and his faithful employees were at work cutting up the Cheques and saving the serial numbers, long-range artillery began to pound the city, and the screaming Stukas dived on its broad thoroughfares. Tobolka looked up to see a fire bomb flash by the window, convincing him that this was no time for orderly procedure. He started a fire in the potbellied stove and burned the Cheques.

Next to Warsaw, the Berlin office, in charge of Clyde R. Merrill, was under the most pressure. Dick Merrill was an adventurous soul ideally fitted to cope with such a situation. He took over the Berlin office in January 1939 and immediately set out to make connections. He was soon in a position to get accurate information on the developing situation.

Shortly after Merrill arrived, the Berlin office was alerted for war. From that time every clerk worked with a gunny sack beside his desk into which he could drop important papers. He was allowed to keep on his desk only those he was actually using. Duplicates of all papers were mailed out every day.

On fateful August 23, Merrill began to call in all blank Travellers Cheques at German banks. Americans who owned securities in Germany brought them in for safety. The Berlin office, formerly the Darmstadter Bank, had deep vaults where they were temporarily safe.

The panic to get transportation out of Germany was on - any space to anywhere, so long as it was out. The trains leaving Berlin were jammed with Americans. Before war came most of those who wanted to go had left.

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What next? The Banner Tours

The Banner Tours

In 1936 the famous Banner Tours of the West were inaugurated. They were moved by special trains over 7,000 miles at a cost to the tourists of only about two and one half cents a mile. This covered not only the cost of transportation, but meals, sight-seeing, and numerous other miscellaneous expenses. Four Banner specials left Chicago in the summer of 1936. The following season they went at the rate of one a week, and in 1939 twenty-two trains were sent out carrying 4,600 Baimerites.

While the domestic-travel business was being built up, the foreign side was not neglected. The country gradually recovered from the depression, and the great new superliners, Normandie, Queen Mary, and America, sailed gaily up New York Harbour. Americans began to flock abroad again. Sales of Travellers Cheques bounded up from depression lows, and company offices in New York and Europe began to hum. In 1939 Pan American Airways inaugurated the first passenger plane service... see: The Banner Tours

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