American Express On Broadway

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American Express on Broadway

American Express on Broadway

The company offices were temporarily moved to another address, and construction was started on a large steel-and-concrete building at 65 Broadway. American Express moved into its splendid new quarters on April 4, 1917. It has been there ever since.

Two days after this final move America entered the war. Washington called for help in manning the great war agencies of the government, and many of the company's key officials became dollar-a-year men in the service of the government. Among the most indispensable of these men was Fred Small, who became a high official of the American Red Cross.

As always in wartime, business boomed. The officials who remained, together with those employees who had not entered the armed services, were almost overwhelmed by the flood of new business.

American Express handled many strange cargoes destined to advance the combined war effort. One of its major services was shipping vast quantities of manufactured goods to our ally - of that war - Japan.

The rising power of Japanese industry was making itself felt in the economic balance of the world, but the great Japanese magnates like Baron Kuhara, who headed a huge vertical trust of banks, shipbuilding companies, and mines, and the Mitsubishis and Mitsuis, whose interests were even farther-flung, were insatiable in their demands for American products. Forwarding of these goods was handled largely by American Express.

The Emergency Fleet Corporation ordered hundreds of ships from Japan to relieve our own shipyards, hard pressed in the race against the German U-boats. These ships were built mostly of steel, prefabricated in the United States and forwarded to Japan by American Express. The volume was tremendous; frequently there would be three concurrent bookings of 80,000 tons or more.

The domestic express business was an even more important factor in the war effort. But it was not destined to remain long in the hands of the American Express Company.

On December 28, 1917, Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo announced that the government would take over all the railroads of the United States to co-ordinate them for the war effort. At that time all the hard-won contracts between the express companies and the railroads were cancelled. Then came the final blow, the Director General of Railroads - Mr. McAdoo proposed that in the interests of efficiency all the express companies should be consolidated into a single giant company with which he could negotiate one all-embracing contract.

There is no use pretending the express companies liked it. It was a bleak prospect, but they recognized the inevitable. The thing was done, but it was not done without some hot discussion. Southern, Adams, Wells Fargo, American Express, and a Northwestern group of companies were the survivors of the numerous express companies of an earlier day. They all had different ideas as to how the consolidation should be arranged. Tempers became frazzled and everyone grew irritable. At an exciting meeting, impulsive President Taylor started across the council chamber in Washington with fire in his eyes. For a moment it appeared that he might come to blows with President B. D. Caldwell of Wells Fargo, but out of the storm came his inevitable smile and the old friends shook hands.

In these complicated negotiations Taylor and the American Express officials had the advice of an able and hard-working young lawyer named Edwin De T. Bechtel of the old, established firm of Carter, Ledyard & Milburn. Although Bechtel began to serve the American Express. Company under President Fargo, President Taylor, at the commencement of his administration, at first thought that he might prefer a more elderly legal adviser. John G. Milburn, Bechtel's distinguished senior partner, counsel for the American Express Company and a member of its Board, vouched for his young associate. Throughout his presidency Taylor worked with Bechtel unremittingly on the many important legal questions of his administration. And in the succeeding presidencies of Small and Reed this relation progressed and became even more absorbing.

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What next? Howard Brooks

Howard Brooks

When he became president, Taylor put men of his own calibre in high positions. One of them was Howard K. Brooks, his devoted friend who had followed him all the way from Wisconsin to Chicago and on to New York. Brooks played an important role in shaping the American Express Company as it is today. He was an enthusiast for Money Orders, and he devoted immense energy to building up the Travellers Cheques. He also took a great interest in the foreign-exchange business. Though he had nothing but an elementary-school education, he wrote the first important textbook on foreign exchange in the United States and lectured on the subject at the University of Chicago. His imagination and initiative were powerful factors in building up the Travel Department, and he pursued his friend, George Taylor, until he accomplished this purpose.

It was Brooks who put American Express into the lucrative business of collecting bills for the public-utility companies. He suggested the... see: Howard Brooks

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