The Chicago World Fair

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The Chicago World Fair

The Chicago World Fair

In 1932 Chicago was planning a World's Fair, despite the fact that business was sinking to its low-water mark. White saw the possibilities of giving profitable service and prepared a plan for handling the Fair goers which he presented to a group of railroad executives then meeting in Chicago. "This is what we need," they said.

Ralph Towle hurried over from New York to add his fine salesmanship to the project, and an agreement was concluded with the railroads to handle their tourist traffic to the Fair.

During the dreary winter of the Bank Holiday planning went forward. A new Chicago office was opened on Washington Street. American Express contracted with Chicago hotels for 3,500 rooms a day. Railroad ticket agents all over the country were furnished with prices for tours of the Fair of from two to seven days. These package tours sold from five dollars up.

The technique of the operation was for a railroad ticket agent to sell a traveller an order on American Express for one of its tours. On arriving in Chicago the tourist was directed to the American Express kiosk set up in the Union Station and manned by uniformed representatives. Here he exchanged his order for a strip of coupons. One of these paid his taxi to the assigned hotel; another paid for his room, and others were honoured for meals and at the Fair.

There was an American Express desk at every large hotel. The American Expressman in charge kept the keys to the reserved rooms right in his drawer until they were claimed by the clients, so there could be no tampering with company-held reservations.

The Fair venture paid off well. The gates were thrown open May 29, 1933, and by July 1 American Express had done more than £1,000,000 worth of business. During that summer the company handled 22,000 visitors to the Fair. The biggest day was Labour Day, 1938, when 5,100 people were serviced by American Express.

The business continued in the summer of 1934. As a result of the splendid service rendered by American Express, the railroads asked for the same co-operation at the San Diego, Dallas, and New York fairs in later years.

When the Chicago Fair finally closed in the autumn of 1934, White was left with too large a staff, among whom were three or four brilliant young men. Towle, on a visit to Chicago, regretfully remarked, "I'm afraid we don't need these boys.

"You should keep them," White argued.

"If we did, what would we do with them?"

White thought fast, for he hated to have the company lose such men. "Mexico is a fertile field," he said. "Unpublicised."

"Let's go," answered Towle.

That night they left for a tour of Mexico, which had two immediate results and also long-range effects. The first development was that they sold Robert Hill of the Rotary Clubs on the idea of holding an annual convention in Mexico City. American Express handled it in collaboration with the Wells Fargo Mexican subsidiary. Because of lack of hotel space, they ran a Pullman city to house the Rotarians in Mexico's capital.

Another derivative of the Towle and White Mexican trip was the routing of the big cruise ship Resolute to Vera Cruz. These two moves were the entering wedge which started the tourists to Mexico.


For more on Business Ethics & Corporate Governance

What next? SEE AMERICA FIRST

SEE AMERICA FIRST

In 1935, New York, bought a controlling interest in the American Express Company. It put some of its own people on the Board of Directors of American Express, but in general left its management in the hands of the men who had the requisite experience and who had proven their ability.

This arrangement continued until the Securities Act of 1984 was passed, which forced the banks to divest themselves of their investment businesses such as Chase Securities. Since the principal holding of the latter company was American Express stock, it was reorganized as the Amerex Holding Corporation and now owns more than 99 per cent of American Express stock.

At this time Robert L. Clarkson became prominent in the affairs of the company and was elected chairman of the Board of both Amerex and the American Express Company. Though Clarkson knew little of the detail of the business of the American Express Company, he was a man of vast experience and great acumen... see: SEE AMERICA FIRST


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