American Express At Sea

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American Express at Sea

American Express at Sea

American Express was first in the field to serve the travel-hungry American people. On January 27, 1919, a little more than two months after the Armistice, the company sent out the first post-war Caribbean cruise in the S.S. Pastores, "with every stateroom occupied." The first escorted tour to Europe after the cessation of hostilities went under the aegis of American Express in October 1919. The first Mediterranean cruise sailed in the Caronia under the joint control of the American Express Company and Thos. Cook & Son. The Cunard Line was the intermediary of this amazing marriage. Both companies had applied for a ship, and the Cunard officials replied, "We have only one ship available. Why don't you bury the hatchet and operate it jointly?"

This was the beginning of a new phase in the relationship of the two great travel organizations. They have always remained competitive; but since that time, although their rivalry has been keen, they often co-operate for the benefit of the travelling public.

In 1922 American Express scored an authentic first when it sent the Laconia on a cruise around the world. There had been world cruises before the war, but the passengers had always crossed the United States by rail. The Laconia, following in Magellan's wake, was the first ocean liner ever to circumnavigate the globe.

The cruise was under the direction of Dr. Babcock, who had come to American Express in 1917. His was largely the credit for building up the whole great series of cruises and conducted tours which had become so popular, and on an adventurous undertaking of this sort he wanted to have personal command. The cruise was so successful that American Express sent a ship around the world every year until the great depression emptied the pockets of prospective tourists.

The handling of special movements was inaugurated by the Travel Department as early as 1916. The first of these was a large trade delegation from South America. Undoubtedly the most famous special movement that ever was, or ever will be, handled by American Express was arranging passage on the S.S. Baltic on May 28, 1917, for General Pershing and his Headquarters Troop, the first contingent of the A.E.F. to reach France.

Another historic special movement of somewhat later date was secured for American Express by its enthusiastic representative in Switzerland, Dennis L. Harmon. In 1920 Harmon opened the first American Express office in Switzerland in the Hotel National in Lucerne. He was soon on friendly terms with exiled King Constantine of Greece, who was residing with his family in that hotel.

When Constantine was recalled to his throne, every tourist agency in Europe wanted the honor of moving royalty back to Athens, but Harmon had the inside track. He reported triumphantly to the home office: "All this business was entrusted to our Lucerne office."

American Express handled it in regal style. It arranged accommodations for the King and his entourage to Venice, where they boarded a warship for Greece. Meanwhile, several carloads of royal baggage were rushed by fast train to Brindisi, accompanied by American Express couriers. There a specially chartered steamer awaited the party. Six days later it sailed into Piraeus, the port of Athens, and the impedimenta were duly delivered to His Majesty.

The King and his Queen were so impressed by the efficiency of the company that they invited the American Expressmen to stay in the palace and voiced the hope that an American Express office would be opened in Athens. This was done a short time later.


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What next? World War I

World War I

During World War I, American Express lent Small to the American Red Cross, where he became director of the Bureau of Standards. Under the chairmanship of Henry P. Davison a remarkably able group of men had volunteered their services to the Red Cross. Working closely with them, Small mentally selected those he thought would be good material for American Express. During the years of their association in Washington he made no proposals to them, since he did not consider it fitting; but when he returned to American Express he immediately put his plan into execution. Among the former Red Cross executives whom he brought into the company, where they now hold high office, were Howard A. Smith, executive vice-president, and John K. Livingston, vice-president and secretary. He also secured Robert C. James, formerly of the United Gas Improvement Company of Philadelphia. Although James did not remain long with American Express, he brought in two former associates from U.G.I. - Ralph... see: World War I


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