World War I

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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 T. Reed, who is now president of the American Express Company, and Harry Stetser, who presently heads the important Financial Sales Department.

In 1919 Fred Small was already a far-seeing executive. Shortly after the Armistice he set out to build up the foreign activities of the company. While Towle and his able assistant, Dr. Clinton L. Babcock, aided and abetted by Vice-President Brooks, worked at home inaugurating the great series of tours, cruises, and special movements, which soon put American Express in the forefront of the travel business, Small set sail for Europe to reopen offices closed by the war and explore sites for new ones.

He wangled his way into Germany, one of the first American civilians to penetrate that country. There he found many of the former German employees anxious to return to the company, some of whom are still with American Express after another war.

One, however, displayed the pathetic intransigence that twice in one lifetime brought ruin to his people. Karl Volirath, former manager of the Hamburg office, was always military-minded. In the old days every employee of that office had to click heels and salute him.

Now he was old and poor. Four of his five sons had been killed in the war, and with the terrible German inflation his pension, paid in marks, would not buy a postage stamp. But Karl's neck was still stiff.

"I'm sorry about your sons and all," Small said to him. "It will take Germany a long time to pay for this war."

"We're not going to pay for it," was the surprising answer.

"Who is, then?"

"You are," said Karl prophetically.

Pitying him, despite his defiance, Small had Volirath's pension changed from marks to dollars so the proud old man would not starve.

Later, in 1921, Small took a trip around the world. One could have followed his trail like the hounds in a paper chase by the American Express offices he opened.

At home the Travel Department rapidly got into its stride. This was aided by the formation of The American Express Company, Incorporated, under the laws of Connecticut, in 1919, a wholly owned subsidiary designed to handle the foreign business of the parent company. This move was necessary because the laws of many foreign countries made it difficult for an unincorporated association like the American Express Company to transact business therein.


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Money Orders, Foreign Remittances, and foreign exchange. There was also the freight-forwarding business and the new activities of the Travel Department, both in this country and abroad.

In having these profitable sidelines, American Express was unlike its competitor companies, who either went out of business or radically changed the nature of their activities. About a year after the formation of the American Railway Express, Wells Fargo and Adams Express sold their Travellers Cheque, financial and foreign businesses, which were comparatively small, to the American Express Company. Wells Fargo owned Mexican and Cuban express companies, exempted from the consolidation, and sold them to American Express in 1920. In 1925 American Express acquired control of Wells Fargo and Company, which had become inactive. Adams Express Company became an investment trust.

The American Express Travellers Cheques and Money Orders became, as they are now, the most important... see: WORLD SERVICE


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