The Invasion Of Europe

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Dalliba's interests ranged far beyond the prescribed limits of his job. He became a founder of the American Hospital at Neuilly, a president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris, and the French Government awarded him the Legion of Honour in 1905. Before he retired he was the doyen of the American colony in Paris and the confidant, adviser, and friend of thousands of his fellow countrymen who were entangled in the dilemmas of a foreign land.

On that first trip for American Express, Dalliba made a whirlwind tour of company correspondents in the capitals of Europe, in the course of which he shrewdly assayed the advantages and disadvantages of American Express's opening its own offices abroad. He came home convinced that the ayes had it overwhelmingly.

Not only was Dalliba enthusiastic, but he succeeded in carrying his point with President Fargo. During the summer Dalliba sailed back and forth across the Atlantic as fast as the fine new twin-screw steamers of Cunard and White Star lines could carry him, and on November 6, 1895, he formed the first small link in the long chain of American Express offices now encompassing the world.

The office, at 6 Rue Hal�vy in Paris, was quickly followed by others in London, Liverpool, Southampton, Hamburg, Bremen, and Le Havre. By 1900 the red dots showing foreign offices were scattered all over the big map of Europe at 65 Broadway.

That first year of the new century saw the opening of the most famous of all American Express offices, the meeting place and home away from home for millions of exuberant or homesick Americans, 11 Rue Scribe in Paris. The flat iron-shaped building stands in the triangle where the Rue Scribe and the Rue Auber converge on the Place Charles Gamier beside the Opera. At first American Express occupied only the front of the wedge, yet even then the office was imposing with its four tall Corinthian columns supporting the elaborately decorated ceiling, and its branching stairways with graceful wrought-iron balustrades lifting up toward the mezzanine.

It presented a very different picture on a morning in April 1901. Very early that day Dalliba received a telephone call that the office had been robbed. He hired an old fiacre and, with the bony horse at a full gallop and the iron tires of the wheels striking sparks from the cobblestones, raced to the Rue Scribe.

There he found that the safe had been dynamited - the first time this new explosive had been so used. Fine oriental rugs, which had been wrapped around the safe to deaden the sound, were torn and burned. Twisted gold napoleons and other coins littered the floor. Instead of Travellers, the room was full of sergeants de yule with fierce moustaches, detectives, frantic tellers, and other members of the staff.

The robbery turned out to be a fiasco for its perpetrator, Eddie Guerin, a well-known criminal. Not only did he get very little actual cash, but he and his accomplices were caught and convicted. Guerin himself was sent to dreaded Devil's Island.

Very early in its career 11 Rue Scribe began to assume the aspects of a tourists' Mecca. But it is not to be supposed that American Express was in the travel business. President Fargo distinctly stated that this was not to be. "I will not have gangs of trippers starting off in charabancs from in front of our offices the way they do from Cooks," he said scornfully. "We will cash their Travellers Cheques and give them free advice. That's all."

But the Travellers were insatiable; they expected service and they got it. The business of giving advice evolved by force of popular demand into securing railroad tickets, making hotel reservations, planning itineraries, and finding lost baggage. In addition, the holders of Travellers Cheques kept giving their European addresses as c/o American Express Company. Dalliba soon found himself running a first-class post office as well as an express office, bank, booking bureau, and Travellers' aid society. For a long time the company derived no profit from any of these extra services (indeed, many of them, such as the mail room, are free today) because it was officially not in the travel business.

But if Dalliba was obliged to refrain from cashing in on tourist dollars, there were no restrictions put on his building up the foreign freight traffic. Hitherto American Express had moved mostly small packages, but as soon as Dalliba took command he campaigned for the heavy freight-forwarding business. Supplementary freight offices were opened in many cities, and the European manager, as Dalliba was now officially called, rotated rapidly among them building up the freight business to the profit of American Express and its faithful ally, the New York Central.

On the lighter side - in weight, not value - the shipping of diamonds from the great diamond cutters in Rotterdam was both picturesque and highly lucrative. The gems were sent by the Red Star Line steamers, which sailed every Saturday morning. On Friday evenings the diamond merchants would crowd into the specially arranged American Express office at 17 Gedempte Glashaven. There they would spill their glittering hoards of gems from chamois bags. Express officials ceremoniously sealed them lip before the merchants' eyes. Then, under heavy guard, the small precious packages were conveyed to the waiting ships.

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What next? The First Travellers Cheques

The First Travellers Cheques

The original American Express Travellers Cheque, copyrighted by Berry in 1891, was almost exactly like the Travellers Cheque used today. Indeed, the only basic difference was that in those days of sound government financing and gold standard currencies, when a pound was always worth £4.86 and the franc held steady at 19 cents, the face of the Cheque stated its value in pounds, francs, and lire as well as dollars - an impossible thing today when currencies have depreciated and foreign exchange fluctuates rapidly.

The invention that was the essence of the Travellers Cheque consisted of two blank lines, one at the top left corner of the paper, the other at the bottom left corner. When you bought an American Express Travellers Cheque you signed your name on the top line, and when you cashed it you identified yourself by signing the bottom line. It was just as simple as that.

However, the steps taken to procure acceptance of this... see: The First Travellers Cheques

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