A Crisis Met

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A CRISIS MET

A CRISIS MET

When it came to serving in the great war, they promised not only to hold his job open for him but to pay him full salary while he served his country.

This enlightened policy was later applied to all employees who volunteered in that they were given half pay. The words of the directors' resolution on this subject are worth quoting: 'It behooves all men who are true and loyal to come forward in their individual and corporate capacity to arouse by every effort in their power the dormant energies of the people, awaken them to a sense of the danger that overhangs us and our liberties, and send men at once to the support of the authorities. The influence of the company we represent is wide and extended over the whole country, its example will stimulate others to like patriotism. Our country's necessity will justify us, our large increased earnings will sustain us."

With the passing of the draft act and the raising of mass armies, the company discontinued this policy, but it faithfully kept its promise to the expressmen who had volunteered, paying half of their salaries throughout the war.

Typical of the shrewdness which mingled with the idealism of its officials was the fact that the company derived an unexpected advantage from its generosity. As parts of the Confederacy were overrun, the American Express advertised delivery of parcels to those places and the parcels were actually delivered in the wake of the advancing armies by soldiers in the uniform of the United States.

As the war progressed dismally from Bull Rim to Chancellorsville, and then less ingloriously but ever more bloodily from Gettysburg to Appomattox, the government made great use of the express companies in the delivery of thousands of items to its depots throughout the country.

Perhaps the most unusual service rendered by the express companies was arranged by doughty John Butterfield. The story is related by Chauncey M. Depew, at that time secretary of the state of New York. In 1864 it was his duty to take the vote of the soldiers at the front. Depew writes: "I left Washington that night with a list and location of every organization of New York troops. When I reached New York I summoned the officers of the express companies of that day to know if they could get packages containing the blanks for the soldiers' votes to the various regiments and batteries of New York troops scattered as they were all over the South. Without consultation they said it could not be done. I then sent for old Mr. Butterfield, the originator [sic] of the American Express Company, and stated the case to him. He said they were organized for such purposes, and if they could not accomplish them they had better disband. He then undertook to arrange through the various express companies, by his own direct superintendence, to secure the safe delivery in time to every company - and he succeeded!"

Under the impetus of government use and the inflationary boom of wartimes, the American Express expanded still more rapidly. By 1862 it maintained 890 offices, employed 1,500 men, and ran express over 9,200 miles of railway each day. Its profits were a moderate three cents a mile a day on the gross miles run.

The directors proudly pointed out in an official statement that American Express covered ten states with an aggregate population of 14,680,858 and an area of 550,889 square miles, adding, "and every man's door therein is, or can be, reached by this Express."

The profits of the American Express Company were exceedingly large in those days of untrammelled opportunity and practically no taxes. Nevertheless, its directors and officials felt a profound - and at that time unusual - sense of responsibility to the community. They repeatedly raised salaries to meet the rapidly climbing cost of living. Their concern for the welfare of their employees and the safety of the nation is evidenced by their action.


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What next? Cash on Delivery

Cash on Delivery

The business of the company had become extremely various. Money, jewellery, goods, packages, presents, and daguerreotypes were sent to any point in the country. Bills, notes, drafts, and accounts were collected and paid.

In this connection the American Express Company had already made the first of its many contributions to the improvement of commerce by inventing the C.O.D. system of delivery, which enabled merchants shipping goods to customers to have the Express Company collect the price for them.

On the day of its opening the new headquarters was the largest privately owned building in New York. The directors of American Express, who were no tyros when it came to publicity, did things up in style, with bands playing and a gala parade, the grand climax of which was the directors themselves riding in a glittering, extra-size express wagon drawn by ten of the magnificent horses of which they were so justly proud.

Incidentally, when... see: Cash on Delivery


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