The World Goes To War

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In 1914 President Fargo was an old man, and very ill. He had served the company brilliantly for many years, guiding its destiny with skill and courage through difficult and dangerous times, through the crises after the Civil War and the great battles among the rival express companies, through boom and depression, neither over expanding in good times nor fearfully cowering in bad. Though he had sometimes blocked the path of progress, he had more than compensated for that when by his vision and foresight he evoked the Money Order and the Travellers Cheque which today are the great bulwarks of American Express.

He was a martinet, but no despot demanding subservience. He was abrupt and concise in speech and manner, but just and ever honourable. He feared no man, nor would he truckle for favours. Once when a high official of a great steamship line which had the power to give much business to American Express was rude to Fargo in the latter's own office, J. C., quivering like an enraged terrier, said, "Sir, you can go to hell and get out of this office!"

Fargo's blue eyes could seem to bore through armour plate, yet they could twinkle as though behind his crusty manner he was laughing at himself.

Now, in his eighty-sixth year and the seventy-first to the European economy. No passports were needed in that enlightened summer. The hotels and luxury trains like the Simplon-Orient and the Train Bleu were in their heyday. There were plenty of charming corners of the Old World still undiscovered, and the newly perfected automobiles, Renaults, Rolls-Royces, and Panhard-Levassors, with shining brass and powerful, noisy engines, would reach them with hardly a breakdown. What wonder that the ships went out with tourists crowding them like swarming bees as 150,000 Americans started for a gay vacation abroad.

No. 11 Rue Scribe was a place of pleasant confusion, and Mr. Dalliba, newly entitled director genera! in Europe of the American Express Company, beamed happily down from the mezzanine and lightly touched the waxed tips of his moustache.

He had good reason to be happy. Business was very good indeed, the freight and express and financial departments were doing superlatively well, and the travel business bade fair to justify his prediction that it would someday exceed the others in importance and profit.

To handle the expected rush in the Paris office, Dalliba and the assistant director general, William J. Thomas, had gathered an excellent staff. Among them were Ludovic Contanseau, genial and debonair, and William Dodsworth. Billy Dodsworth was the friend of all the theatrical great of the day, Flo Ziegfeld and Constance Collier, Maxine Elliott, John Drew, and Charles Frohman, who came every year. He induced them to patronize American Express and squired them around Paris. Because of his wide acquaintance and sure, intuitive knowledge of human nature, Dodsworth's particular job at 11 Rue Scribe was to okay the personal checks of American tourists who had run out of cash. It is said that his judgment was 99.95 per cent accurate.

Another valuable employee was the cashier, Fred C. Arrowsmith. He was an expert in the tricks of the confidence men who were plying their trade among Americans who had just cashed Travellers Cheques, many of whom were saved from falling for the old Spanish prisoner gag or the Rosary game by Arrowsmith's intervention.

With such experienced men in charge of the other principal offices as Karl Volirath in Hamburg, Groenings in Rome, and Karl van der Zeyde in Rotterdam, Dalliba seemed justified in his confidence that this would be a happy and prosperous season for American Express. He paid little heed to the distant mutterings of war or the summer lightning in the Balkans. Europe had a diplomatic crisis every summer, but people were too sensible to let it go too far. So thought Mr. Dalliba and about 100,000,000 fellow Americans on June 27, 1914.

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What next? Into Italy

Into Italy

Traffic from Italy, while less dramatic, was fragrant and appetizing. The American Express office in Genoa handled bushels of chestnuts, tons of Italian cheeses, and gallons of olive oil. Because of the carefree banditry then rampant in Italy, the company hired special railroad cars and put armed guards aboard to move the more easily pilfered goods from the inland cities to the sea.

Other European countries helped to swell the tonnage moved by American Express with such of their products as required careful handling. Shiploads of lemons went from Sicily and Spain. The vintages of France, fine woollens from England, and fragile mechanical toys from Germany were part of the regular trade, while for anything out of the ordinary, from a camel to a coffin, American Express was quickly called upon.

In addition, the Foreign Remittance business was booming and there were large dealings in foreign exchange and securities.

An early coup brought off... see: Into Italy

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