The White Star Line and The International Mercantile Marine Company
The White Star Line, the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company was, from 1902 until 1927, a wholly owned subsidiary of the International Mercantile Marine Company (IMMC). From its inception thirty years earlier up to the turn of the century, it was probably the most successful of the British transatlantic carriers. Thomas Ismay, the Line’s founder, was both conservative and innovative. During a period of competitive turbulence and rapid technological advances, White Star earned an enviable reputation under his personal guidance not only for the quality of its steamers which became prototypes for the modern ocean liner, but also for consistently profitable operations and regular dividends. The shareholders were happy.
When Ismay died in 1899 just prior to the maiden voyage of his ground-breaking design Oceanic (II) the White Star Line was at its zenith. It can be argued that its second thirty years, twenty-five of them under IMMC ownership, was a period of gradual decline followed by a precipitous plunge into the abyss of the Great Depression.
What part did the IMMC play in this turn of fortune?
What was the IMMC and what was its genesis?
Much has been written about the omnivorous Morgan Combine, some of it misleading. The neologism to Morganize became synonymous with ruthless business practices by aggrandizing robber barons out to corner whole industries for the sole purpose of maximizing their fortunes.
J Pierpont Morgan’s railroads and steel mergers [such as the Pennsylvania Railroad and US Steel] may have fit that stereotype. His less sanguine venture into ocean shipping was viewed in the same light by contemporary critics. Later commentaries were somewhat kinder. John G. B. Hutchins wrote of the formation of the IMMC:
‘This was the most vigorous attempt of American capitalists to avoid the burdensome restrictions of the registry laws and to take advantage of the economy and security of combination. The episode in a sense indicated that the American capitalist economy had begun to approach maturity and was in a position to raise large sums of capital, found great trusts and/or combines, and reached out for control of resources and instrumentalities overseas.’
According to Morgan’s biographer Herbert L Satterlee, he planned ‘…an alliance of successful transatlantic steamship lines under a (single) management’ that would set rates and rationalize schedules ‘so that instead of two or three steamers belonging to many different lines leaving New York on the same day with competitive advertising for business and accumulated mails, a first class steamer would leave the port every day in the week.
‘Looking ahead into the future, it was planned for the transportation of American goods and passengers in ships which either were under the American flag or were controlled here. It was a great step forward in the development of the American Merchant Marine.’
Unfortunately the opposite proved true. Since the Civil War the American Merchant Marine had been in a perpetually depressed state, a victim of higher costs relative to its competitors, technological lag and the absence of a consistent national maritime policy. The basic problem, however, was an inability to accumulate capital because of superior opportunities ashore.
Outside of the protected coastwise trades (where railroad-owned carriers dominated) American flag steamers were exceedingly rare. On the North Atlantic only two American shipowners were active, Clement A Griscom and Bernard N Baker.
Griscom inaugurated his American Line in Philadelphia in the same year that the White Star Line commenced service. He never added to his original four American-built steamers employed in passenger-cargo service between Philadelphia and Liverpool and eventually they became supplemental to chartered British tonnage.
Griscom was also involved in the Philadelphia-based International Navigation Co. which in 1872 was the principal founder of the Red Star Line (Societe Anonyme de Navigation Belge Americaine). Its British-built vessels flew the Belgian flag in service between Philadelphia and Antwerp. The Red Star Line prospered, the American Line did not.
In 1882, Baker, whose lighterage and cold storage business was located in Baltimore harbor established the Atlantic Transport Line. From the outset its steamers were British-built, British registered and managed in London, a condition that was not affected by the advent of an American subsidiary, Atlantic Transport Co. of West Virginia in 1898. The ATL too was a prosperous venture and extended its range through acquisition of the failing National Line of Liverpool in 1896.
Griscom and Baker were key figures in the creation of the IMMC though in the retelling of the tale over the decades since they were inevitably overshadowed by the financial giant Morgan. Historians of American business have found on close examination of the complex negotiations which spanned nearly four years that Morgan’s investment at least in the initial stages was simply as a banker. The thought of creating a massive shipping trust to monopolize the North Atlantic passenger and cargo business did not spring whole from his brain. Indeed it was Griscom an ardent champion of the American merchant marine, indefatigable lobbyist, who touched match to fuse. Here it is necessary to backtrack.
In 1884 the International Navigation Co. acquired the American Line and two years later the foundering Inman Line of Liverpool, once a mighty name in British shipping on the North Atlantic. Its nationality remained unchanged. In 1891 however the Ocean Mail Act was passed, the first comprehensive subsidy measure in the United States since the ante-bellum days. In 1892 a special act of Congress allowed the transfer of Inman’s crack liners the City of New York and City of Paris (great rivals of the Teutonic and Majestic (I) to American registry. As the New York and Paris they became US mail liners the following year under a subsidy grant of eight dollars per mile eastbound for 20 knot service between New York and Southampton. A Cherbourg call was added in 1899.
They were joined in 1895 by the new American-built mail steamers St. Louis and St. Paul. This service was styled the American Line. But it also employed two British steamers, the ex-Inman City of Chester and City of Berlin which were registered to the International Navigation Co. Ltd of Liverpool. The latter subsidiary continued to operate the Philadelphia-Liverpool service chiefly with British steamers including the new Southwark and Kensington and later the larger Haverford and Merion.
At the turn of the century therefore the parent International Navigation Co. (reincorporated in New Jersey) was operating transatlantic passenger and cargo services under the American, British and Belgian flags. Its two European subsidiaries showed profit; the parent company showed a loss from its inception.
Nothing stimulates the shipping market quite so effectively as war. Two nearly simultaneous wars, the Spanish-American and the Boer War absorbed huge volumes of tonnage. This triggered a boom on the North Atlantic which coincided with an upsurge in American exports between 1898-1900. Between 1900 and 1902, transatlantic passenger carryings climbed from 875,000 to 1.149 million, a 24 percent rise.
Griscom unable to pay dividends lobbied intensively in Congress for an improved subsidy scale. At the same time in view of the bullish outlook for shipping he sought to raise additional capital for expansion. His approaches to the Philadelphia banking firm of Drexel & Co. were received favorably and a $13 million, five percent mortgage bond issue was floated in 1899 on behalf of the International Navigation Co. for the construction of six large passenger steamers, two to be built in the United States. Drexel was closely associated with the Morgan Bank in New York. Thus the first connection was made between an American shipping entrepreneur and America’s greatest financial house.
Baker also in search of capital to exploit the North Atlantic boom charted a different course. He prepared to sell the money-earning ATL to Frederick Leyland & Co. Ltd of Liverpool, operators of the largest cargo fleet trading to the United States. The chairmanship of Leyland resided at the time in the hands of John R Ellerman, who at 36 was already a towering figure in British shipping. Leyland steamers served a range of ports from New York northwards. Its absorption of the ATL would extend its range southward from New York, expanding Ellerman’s North Atlantic business at a precipitous time. The inducement for Baker was the prospective exchange of ATL shares for Ellerman’s highly valued securities. But for Griscom the rumored merger was a blow for it meant further concentration of American-owned shipping in British hands.
To dissuade Baker from consummating the deal Griscom had to offer an attractive alternative. Capital to enable the ATL to build new ships was one possibility and apparently on the recommendation of Drexel, Griscom went to New York to discuss it with the House of Morgan which agreed to consider the matter. His arguments eventually bore fruit for, in May 1900 instead of the expected sale of ATL stock to Leyland, Baker pulled out of the deal and entered into negotiations for the merger of his company into Griscom’s International Navigation Co.
In December 1900 the merger was announced. The ATL was to order six new steamers with funds advanced by J P Morgan & Co. The announcement also stated that two other steamship companies, their identities initially undisclosed would be added to the merger.
To the astonishment of the shipping and financial worlds, they turned out to be the White Star and Leyland Line. Why Ellerman sold out is not a mystery. A genius in finance rather than ship operator he had none of Griscom’s sentimental attachment to the business. He recognized a good deal when he saw one and as it turned out he proved more than a match for the much older giant of Wall Street, Morgan. From Morgan he extracted in payment for Frederick Leyland & Co. North Atlantic interests, not only the $3.5 million representing the current market value of his personal holdings but by insisting that the same offer be made to all Leyland shareholders a total price in excess of $11 million. Moreover this was entirely in cash for Ellerman refused to accept any stock in exchange. His relatively brief flyer into North Atlantic shipping yielded immense profit for himself and his shareholders and by pulling out when he did he may have demonstrated a prescience that others lacked.
The sale of White Star shares to the International Navigation Co. was pushed chiefly by William J Pirrie chairman of Harland & Wolff and owner after Thomas Ismay, of the largest block of White Star stock.
There has been speculation that after Ismay’s death Pirrie entertained misgivings about the ability of J Bruce Ismay to fill his father’s shoes. White Star was Harland & Wolff’s best customer and apart from its chairman’s personal holdings it had an important stake in the Line’s fortunes. At this juncture J P Morgan & Co. was no longer merely a bank advancing credit and marketing securities It was involved in the merger to the extent of $11 million (paid for Leyland) which was advanced by its London affiliate J S. Morgan& Co. Its Philadelphia partner and associate Drexel & Co. had floated the $13 million bond issue for International Navigation Co. to finance new tonnage for the Red Star Line. Clearly the protection of those investments in a fiercely competitive climate demanded a greater degree of control over North Atlantic shipping than may have been originally contemplated. The White Star shares came high for the company and were an immensely valuable property. It had been earning in recent years some fifty percent more per ton than the prospering American-owned ATL. But there had never been a public sale of White Star stock and consequently no established market price.
The base selected for the purchase price was White Star earnings for the year 1900 less Boer War charter fees. The result was a figure nearly a third larger than the average earnings for the preceding five years which had been substantial, multiplied by ten to reflect true worth. Also taken into consideration was the new tonnage entered into service by White Star at the turn of the century representing additional earning power. The final base price was about $32 million, a third more than the Americans had originally offered. Pirrie with the Ellerman deal fresh in mind apparently guessed correctly how much they were willing to pay. Unlike Ellerman the White Star owners were prepared to accept seventy-five percent of their payment in preferred shares of the new combine and the rest in cash. The consolidation, propelled by its own momentum was enlarged at the same time by the acquisition for $4.5 million of the Dominion Line (British & North Atlantic Steamship Co.) of Liverpool operating British-flag passenger and cargo service principally between the United Kingdom and Boston.
The new combine now agreed to take over the Morgan loan made to the ATL for new tonnage and there were additional commitments by the other lines involved for new ships. Its initial cash needs amounted to some $50 million which was double the original estimate. For that purpose, a $50 million 4 1/2 percent bond issue was floated. Morgan & Company was given until April 30 1902 to organize the underwriting syndicate with the proviso that it could withdraw from the agreement in this time but the sellers could not. The fate of the entire merger lay in Morgan’s hands. Conditions had changed however since negotiations with Griscom two years earlier. The war shipping boom which peaked in 1900 began to fade the following year leaving in its wake as such booms always have the problem of overtonnage and plummeting rates. The Hanna ship subsidy bill in which Griscom and Morgan had placed high hopes also soured. It was passed by the House of Representatives but amended to deny subsidies to vessels built outside the United States inasmuch as the registry laws barred them from American documentation. This proved academic for the bill was never reported out of Senate committee and its demise ended prospects for immediate relief to ailing American merchant shipping.
These prospects in any event were not improved by the new Anglo-American shipping combine on the Atlantic. Although hailed in some quarters as a means of wresting control of the nation’s ocean commerce from foreign interests it was in fact inimical. Any chance for effective American flag competition was eliminated by the anomaly of operating the American Line and White Star Line on identical routes under the same roof.
Despite depressed trading conditions and failure of the subsidy bill Morgan & Company were too deeply committed in funds, prestige, time and energy to back out of the agreements. Formation of the combine the name of which was changed to International Mercantile Marine Co. Inc (NJ) was officially announced by J P Morgan in London on April 18 1902. Incorporation took place in October. Long before its formation the IMMC raised storm winds on the never placid North Atlantic shipping scene. The British press and public were incensed by what was perceived to be a sell out especially of the White Star Line for American gold and much worse a clear danger to British hegemony on the Atlantic which for some time was under severe challenge from the powerful German lines. The venerable Cunard Line then running a poor second to White Star utilized these pressures to extract a subsidy and loan from the Exchequer. That it amounted to a virtual gift of the magnificent steamers Lusitania and Mauretania can be credited to the astuteness and influence of Cunard’s chairman Lord Inverclyde.
Albert Ballin managing director of the Hamburg-Amerika Line (Hapag) probably the shrewdest mind in transatlantic shipping at the time was also alerted to the potential power of the Combine to determine rates and channel traffic on the North Atlantic. After a series of meetings with Morgan beginning in July 1901 agreement was reached whereby Hapag and the Combine would each guarantee the other an annual dividend of at least six percent on earnings. Ballin a German patriot to the core insisted on bringing his Bremen-based rival Norddeutscher Lloyd into the deal. Another condition of Ballin’s cooperation was purchase of 51 percent of the share capital of the small but profitable Holland America Line to be held jointly by the Combine and the two German companies. The Rotterdam firm positioned to siphon off a respectable share of the Continental traffic to the United States was the principal competitor of the Red Star Line and affected Hapag and NDL carryings as well. Harland & Wolff were their shipbuilders and it seemed appropriate that Pirrie conduct negotiations with the Dutch shipowners which he did without intimating that one of his principals was Ballin.
The IMMC at its inception embraced or had linkages with every major passenger carrier on the North Atlantic save Cunard and the two British lines engaged exclusively in the St. Lawrence trade, Allan Line and Canadian Pacific. The French Line too was left out but that heavily subsidized carrier was in fact a government enterprise with a national treasury to call upon.
Morgan is said to have underestimated the intense national feelings aroused by the IMMC’s acquisitions indeed there were no like sentiments among Americans toward native shipping enterprises which might have warned him. Surprised by the hostility of the British Press and opinion he readily agreed that the Combine would preserve the integrity of the British lines and protect their interests an accommodation that returned to haunt the IMMC twenty years later when American nationalism was at its peak.
The presidency of the IMMC went first to an American, Griscom. But under pressure from White Star shareholders dissatisfied with his administration he was replaced by Joseph Bruce Ismay in 1904. It has been suggested that the White Star Line chairman directed the Combine’s resources toward the enhancement of his company at the expense of the other subsidiaries. This may be partially true but it is also true that the White Star Line alone of the IMMC holdings showed profit in the decade of 1904 to 1914. Its earning powers and berth capacity were increased appreciably in that period. If the Celtic of 1901 is included, a total of five steamers of slightly over 100,000 gross tons were built to the White Star Line account before the Olympic-Titanic-Britannic trio were ordered. In addition, six steamers of some 82,000 gross tons built or ordered for the Dominion Line were transferred to the White Star fleet.
Although passenger carrying was the most important activity of the major North Atlantic steamship lines income from passengers was only one of the factors that contributed to the final balance sheet. While the White Star Line remained profitable in the years before the First World War its position as a passenger carrier declined vis-a-vis its only powerful competitor the Cunard Line.
In 1913 more than 2.6 million passengers were carried across the Atlantic a figure never previously matched or ever again reached by surface carriers in peacetime. The White Star Line carried 191,838 passengers that year compared with 199,746 by Cunard between the United Kingdom and other European ports and the United States. Average carryings per trip work out to 1,048 passengers on 183 crossings by White Star steamers and 1,128 passengers on 177 crossings by Cunarders.
The two British companies accounted for 7.3 percent of the total traffic respectively. But both were overshadowed by Hapag which carried 244,661 passengers in 1913 or 9.4 percent of the traffic on 197 crossings, an average of 1,242 passengers per trip.
In September of 1914 the directors of the IMMC announced that because of the disruptions and uncertainties by the outbreak of the war they were deferring the October 1 interest payment on 4.5 percent bonds. The bond indenture provided that a six month postponement did not constitute default. But by the spring of 1915 with $3.3 million in interest still owed the Combine was declared to be in technical bankruptcy and on April 3 a receiver was appointed in the person of Philip A S Franklin, vice president of the IMMC in America and a director of the Atlantic Transport Co. of West Virginia. Shortly thereafter Mr. Franklin succeeded to the presidency of the IMMC, replacing Harold A Sanderson of the White Star Line who himself had replaced J Bruce Ismay at the end of 1912. (SEE ADDENDUM)
Almost simultaneous to the default the fortunes of the IMMC improved and its earnings began to increase because of wartime demands for shipping. IMMC steamers carried one quarter of the entire American Expeditionary Force to France and nearly 15 million tons of war supplies. The White Star Line maintained civilian sailings in every one of the war years save 1917. There were 102 White Star passenger arrivals at New York and Boston in 1914, 61 in 1915, 44 in 1916, and 41 in 1918. In 1919 the number increased to 47.
At the end of the war with future trading conditions unpredictable the North Atlantic liner industry was affected by two developments that would have been unreasonable to expect four years earlier. One was the elimination of German ships though not the German lines Hapag and NDL which survived the war with their basic organizations and facilities intact and their competitive spirit still formidable if dormant.
The second was the immense accretion of tonnage to the American Merchant Marine through the Emergency Shipbuilding Program and seizures of interned vessels among the latter some 300,000 gross tons of passengers steamers. The United States for the first time since the inception of steam navigation was in a position to challenge Great Britain’s dominance of the world’s ocean trades at least in terms of carrying capacity. This threat was taken seriously by the British because the bulk of American deep-sea shipping was for the moment State-owned and could be unleashed on the sea lanes regardless of cost differentials and impact on rates. For policy reasons of its own the Wilson Administration played upon these fears which were in large measure behind the bid by a British syndicate to repurchase the White Star Line and other British-flag tonnage from the IMMC in 1919. President Wilson refused to sanction the deal.
The IMMC was in an awkward position. Clearly it wanted to share in the expected renaissance of American shipping. But it continued to derive the bulk of its earnings from the income of British ships. The conflict of interest was obvious. In the climate of intense nationalism that prevailed in the United States in the immediate post-war years Morgan’s 1903 agreement to pursue ‘no policy injurious to the British Merchant Marine or British trade’ was used in effect to prevent the Combine from acquiring vessels from the United States Shipping Board.
The situation was not without paradox. The IMMC was the only American shipping house with the financial resources, management expertise and agency connections capable of absorbing former German passenger tonnage now under the American flag. The Shipping Board was not unaware of its efficacy. But the Board placed high hopes in a relatively new venture the American Ship & Commerce Co. which in May 1920 was purchased by a young rising star in the US business firmament W Averell Harriman. The United American Line which Harriman promptly established became the Board’s chosen instrument to open direct passenger and cargo service between New York and Hamburg Hapag’s exclusive preserve before the war. The foundation of this deal laid earlier by the Shipping Board was a twenty year agreement between Hapag and the UAL providing among other things for the latter’s use of Hapag’s berthing facilities and agency services. A joint transatlantic passenger-cargo service employing American and German flag ships as soon as the latter should be available was also established.
Hamburg was at the time along with Bremen and Danzig was one of the chief embarkation ports for would-be immigrants to the United States from central and eastern Europe thus a rich source of Third Class and Steerage traffic. The IMMC moved into this trade in January of 1920 with the 16 year-old liners Mongolia and Manchuria assigned to the American Line. The UAL did not open its service until December 1920 with the DeKalb an ex-German steamer of the same vintage purchased from the Shipping Board and shortly afterwards renamed Mount Clay.
The two American firms were in direct competition for Third Class business out of Hamburg. But whatever prospects existed for either to develop a viable service were ruined by the Emergency Quota Act which took effect early in June 1921.
On December 31 1919 Franklin announced that the Shipping Board had ‘informally’ turned over to the IMMC four ex-German liners of over 115,000 gross tons for operation by the American Line between New York – Plymouth – Cherbourg – Southampton. This of course paralleled the White Star mail service about to be revived. But the proposed transfer aroused fierce opposition from among others Senator Wesley Jones the chairman of the Commerce Committee and the Anglophobe publisher William Randolph Hearst and was never consummated.
The American Line’s New York – Cherbourg – Southampton service resumed in February 1920 employing the obsolete steamers New York, Philadelphia (ex-Paris) and St. Paul. The purpose was to fulfill the company’s postal subsidy obligations which expired at the end of the year. No application was made for renewal and American Line service to United Kingdom ports and Channel ports was terminated in November 1920.
The White Star Line perforce remained the IMMC’s most valuable asset and showpiece. Regular New York – Southampton service was reopened in 1920 employing Olympic and Adriatic. On 37 crossings they carried 60,120 passengers an average of 1,624 per trip. The Cunard Line was in a better position however. With Mauretania, Aquitania and imperator soon to be renamed Berengaria they had their post-war express service at full strength and on 57 crossings carried 88,295 passengers an average of 1,549 per trip. The senior of the two British lines would retain its edge from then on.
Differences between the two carriers were hardly perceptible on the express service. Both provided the ambiance demanded by wealthy travelers and the convenience of weekly sailings (in season) which landed their passengers in England or France on the sixth day out of New York. Majestic (II) (ex-Bismarck) was of course an improved version of the Berengaria and the faster of the two though structurally reputed to be less sound. Aquitania was substantially faster than Olympic and a more modern vessel. Mauretania though no liner afloat could match her speed was the oldest of Britain’s ‘Big Six’ and less economical to operate than White Star’s Homeric (ex-German Columbus).
The latter however was a slow steamer by express standards. The contrast between White Star and Cunard was to be found in the composition of their intermediate fleets of the post-war period. It was in that area that the difference of policy between the Combine and the independent carrier, master of its own house, were most evident.
Cunard opted for the economy of standardization. Its six 14,000 ton A-class steamers built for the New York and St. Lawrence runs were virtually identical as were the three 20,000 ton Scythia-class liners.
The Franconia and Carinthia were improved Scythias with more lavish accommodations for the dollar-earning off-season cruise market.
The IMMC for the most part made do with what was at hand either British-built or ex-German tonnage of pre-war vintage. It also shuffled its vessels from route to route or line to line to meet shifting demands. This provided a degree of flexibility out at the cost of consistency which was important to maintain a proper image with shippers and the traveling public.
The White Star Line’s post-war building program was meager. Although Franklin spoke in 1919 of a new 35,000 tonner laid down at Harland & Wolff ‘with a speed of 21 knots and private baths in every cabin on the two upper decks’ that ship [Oceanic III] never materialized. The first postwar liner completed to the White Star account was the 16,000-ton Doric of 1923 built for the Canadian service. She was in fact a delayed addition to a class of liners projected before the war. Her sisters Pittsburgh and Regina were laid down in 1913 and 1917 respectively the former for the American Line and the other for the Dominion Line. Regina was assigned to the White Star-Dominion Canadian service, Pittsburgh was employed on both the St. Lawrence and New York routes and wore White Star colors until 1925 when she was shifted to the Red Star Line and registered to the ownership of F Leyland of Liverpool. A year later she was renamed Pennland to conform to the Red Star nomenclature.
Between 1921 and 1927, Canopic, Cretic, Arabic, Adriatic and Pittsburgh were employed at various times on White Star services from Mediterranean ports to Boston and/or New York and Hamburg. Beginning in 1921 the old Haverford operated for a few years as a White Star liner in service between Liverpool and Philadelphia with some calls at Boston. The IMMC was content to leave the Liverpool – New York service, White Star’s second largest traffic source to the original ‘Big Four’ of which the youngest was Adriatic dating from 1907. Occasionally she or Baltic helped out on the Southampton service. The last White Star liner ordered before the IMMC sold the company back to British owners was the 18,000-ton Laurentic of 1927 an enlarged Doric for the Canadian run. Strict economy dictated her design but that goal was sought not in new technology but in several features which were retrogressive. She will always be a puzzle. [Editor’s note. Perhaps because coal in Canada was cheap and available, she was built purposely as a coal burner rather than an oil-burner thus earning more money for the company?]
From 1919 onward there had been no British representative on the IMMC board. It was apparent by the mid-twenties that the Combine was interested in divesting itself of foreign holdings. The 1920 Merchant Marine Act had failed to stimulate private American activity in the North Atlantic passenger liner business. But new legislation was in the wind promising new incentives if only to relieve the Shipping Board from the burden of operating the money-losing United States Lines.
In the interim the once massive Combine underwent consolidation. In 1920 the IMMC purchased all of the common shares of Leyland that it did not already own and most of the preferred. Red Star Line steamers were registered to Leyland ownership and flew the British rather than the Belgian flag. The British and North Atlantic Co. were liquidated and its ships and property sold to Leyland although the Dominion Line name like Red Star were retained for trading purposes.
By 1924 the American Line as such was gone forever from the Atlantic. The American-built steamers Mongolia and Manchuria, Finland and Kroonland, the latter pair financed by the Drexel Co. bond issue on behalf of the Red Star Line were employed by the IMMC in the protected inter-coastal service via the Panama Canal styled the Panama Pacific Line. The White Star Line remained the second largest passenger carrier on the North Atlantic but the gloss had faded and it was showing a loss. In 1926 IMMC shareholders voted to accept a British offer to buy the White Star Line for the equivalent of $33.9 million something over the base price paid for it in 1902. The buyer was the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. which took over in January 1927. That was the parting of the ways. The subsequent history of the International Mercantile Marine Co. and the White Star Line which then became part of the ‘Kylsant era’ is beyond the scope of this article.
by William B Saphire
The late Mr. William Saphire was a THS member since the late 1960s. He was a news writer from Brooklyn New York who had a general interest in ships. He made his first voyage in September 1932 on MS Vulcania of the Consulich Line and returned on the Cunarder Berengaria. On that same day he saw Olympic for the first time under pilotage in the North River. He saw her again in the summer two years later from Norton’s Point in Brooklyn and noted that the wash she created had lifeguards clearing the beach which minutes later was flooded by her literal tidal-wave. He traveled on more than forty ships and was advertising manager from 1955 to 1967 for Zim Lines. His articles have been published in The Compass, Ships and the Sea and Sea Breezes.
From THE ISMAY LINE
by Wilton J Oldham
published by The Journal of Commerce Liverpool 1961.
Circumstances of Bruce Ismay’s Retirement
On January 10th  while at Southampton waiting to sail to New York aboard the Olympic Bruce Ismay wrote to Sanderson part of the letter read:
I had a long and friendly talk with Grenfell last night, in regard to the wish you have expressed of retiring from the service of the IMM Company at the end of the present year.
During our conversation I told him briefly of what took place when you and I talked the situation over the other day in Liverpool referring more particularly to your remark that during the whole of your business career you had never filled the premier position in the business in which you were engaged and that this had caused you a certain sense of disappointment and both Grenfell and I fully appreciate and realize your feeling.
I further stated that, had I left the IMM Company a few years ago, as I had intended, you would have taken the position of President for a certain length of time, when you would have retired, having occupied the highest position in the service. I repeated to Grenfell what I told you at our interview, namely, that I was prepared to resign the position of President at once in your favour, but that this apparently did not appeal to you. I am very anxious to meet your wishes, and will gladly do anything in my power to enable you to complete your business career at the top of the tree, and, with this in view, I would ask you to seriously consider the following proposition, namely, that I will remain on as President of the IMM Company until the 31st December, 1912 during which period I would practically make London my headquarters, coming to Liverpool, say, once a week, in order to attend to my duties as director of the Liverpool, London & Globe, the Sea Insurance Company, and the Protection Association, and you should take entire charge of and be responsible for the conduct of the Liverpool business, only referring to me matters of exceptional importance, and questions of policy; that you should take the chairmanship of Shaw, Savill & Albion Company and continue looking after the London business as you have done in the past. In reply to this letter Sanderson sent the following cable to New York which Ismay received on his arrival there: Consider proposal contained in your letter 10th most generous, and assuming you are not solely actuated by kindly consideration for me, I accept provided bankers in accord, in which event. Will do utmost justify your and their action. I attach particular importance your offer remain British Committee, and will endeavour to make your cooperation there as agreeable to yourself as it will certainly be helpful to company. Later having had several discussions on the subject with all concerned in the Morgan Combine, Bruce Ismay sent the following cable to Sanderson: Would it be entirely agreeable to you, if my resignation took effect from the 30th June, 1913 instead of 31st December, 1912. Referring to your letter 13th have no intention mentioning proposed changes to anyone. Wish matter kept absolutely private for present. Sanderson replied, also by cable: Please conclude any arrangements regarding your resignation which is agreeable and convenient to yourself and bankers, but if later date than December 31st next fixed prefer my resignation take effect then as arranged, and if thereafter bankers desire me take office will be very pleased fall in with their wishes all being well, and provided interval not sufficient put me out of touch with affairs. On January 24th, 1912 Bruce Ismay sailed for Southampton aboard the Olympic and on arrival in London he wrote to Sanderson explaining his point of view: It is my intention (subject always to the IMM not giving me six months notice to resign the presidency at an earlier date), to remain in my present position until the 30th June, 1913 instead of resigning on the 31st December, 1912, as indicated in my letter of the 10th ultimo. My reason for this is, that, in any circumstances, I can only look upon my prospective severance from the business with which I have been connected all my career with very mixed and doubtful feelings, and, perhaps selfishly, I am anxious to make it as easy as possible, which, after all, is not unreasonable. I feel that making such an entire change in my mode of life as that contemplated would come less hardly if made in the summer than in the winter, as in the former case, I should have good weather, long days, and my shooting to look forward to, which would give me occupation for some months and this would enable me to better prepare for the time when I should have little or nothing with which to fill up my time. Forgive me for remarking that it is difficult to understand why you should be apparently anxious to assume the presidency on the 1st January, 1913 has no attraction to you whatever. This however, is not my business. I understand your position is as follows: If I remain as president of the I.M.M. Company until the 30th June 1913 you wish to resign from all your positions on the 31st December, 1912, and if on the 1st July, 1913, all being well, and you feel that the interval during which you have been out of the business is not sufficient to put you out of touch with affairs, and our friends in New York wish it, you are prepared to accept the position of president of the I.M.M. Company. If I have accurately stated your decision, and I think I have, let us see how it would work out from a business and personal point of view. The position would be as follows: I would, during the last six months of office, have not the least idea as to whether or not I was going to retire from business on the 30th June, 1913, as it must be obvious that, if you decided you did not wish to assume the position of president, I must continue to do so until such time as some other arrangement could be made, as I could not, for one moment, be a party to placing the IMM Company in a difficulty, and (perhaps stupidly), I feel that if both you and I were to sever our connection with the company at the same time, it would do so. Sanderson’s answer to this was the following: I have for years looked forward to the 31st December, 1912 as the date on which I shall take the important step of retiring, and retirement, or altered conditions, such as you propose in your letter of the 10th January would alike give me the relief and change I need. This idea, did not appeal to J. Bruce Ismay as he says: Of course I cannot express any opinion as to how your proposition will appeal to our banking friends, this is a matter for them to consider, but it occurs to me that there are many serious difficulties in the way of their coming, under such a commitment. Has it occurred to you what people will say, and think, if the suggestion you make is given effect to, viz: ‘that you resign from business on the 31st December, 1912, and I resign on the 30th June,1913, and you succeed me on the 1st July 1913′ They would, I think, naturally draw the following conclusions: When Sanderson resigned, Ismay tried to carry on the business alone, failed, and had to resign, then Sanderson was brought back to take the presidency although he had resigned from the company six months previously. Would this not be a very natural inference to draw from what has taken place?â Please do not think I am trying to bring pressure to bear on you to remain with the company during the six months in question, as I do not wish to influence you in your decision, but no question such as that indicated in the previous paragraph would arise did you do so, and assume the office of president the day I resign without any interregnum. Finally, two days later, after a further discussion between them a memorandum was issued and signed by them both. The following is the result of my conversation with Sanderson in regard to retirement, and I understand the arrangement come to is entirely satisfactory to him, viz.:
That I should remain as president of the IMM Company and hold my present position until the 30th June, 1913 on which date I resign the presidency. Sanderson to be granted six months’ leave of absence from the 31st December, 1912. During this time he would act as chairman of the Shaw, Savill & Albion Company and of George Thompson, but be entirely relieved of all other work. He wishes it understood that during this time he would receive no remuneration. Sanderson would resume all his duties on 1st June, 1913, or some time about this date, so as to get in touch with the business, and assume the office of president of the IMM Company on the 1st, July,1913. I would continue a member of the British Committee after the 30th June,1913, and if thought desirable, would act as a director of Shaw, Savill & Albion Company, and George Thompson & Co., either prior or subsequent to this date. Of course, it is understood that the above arrangement has been come to subject to its being agreeable to Messrs J P Morgan & Co. (signed) Bruce Ismay. Harold A. Sanderson. Dated London, 26th February, 1912. This was followed by a letter from J. Bruce lsmay to Charles Steele, the secretary of Morgan & Company, in New York, which read: It is abundantly clear that Sanderson has definitely made up his mind that unless he is to succeed me as president of the IMM Company on the 30th of June 1913 he will absolutely retire from business on the 3lst December next. Further, he practically makes it a condition of remaining with the IMM Company that he should be granted six months’ leave of absence from the 31st December (without any remuneration), on the grounds that if he could not continue in business for a day after the 31st December, being tired, and wound upto that date but for no longer; he also feels that rest will be beneficial, in view of his assuming the duties of president in July. There is no reason, from my point of view, why the six months’ leave of absence should not be granted. I am anxious that Sanderson should obtain his wish as to holding the, premier position in the business in which he is engaged before he retires from business, and the only possible way of giving effect thereto is by my resigning, in his favour and this I have expressed my willingness to do. Of course, the 30th June, 1913 is a FAR CRY and much may happen between now and then, for this reason I suggest that whatever may be arranged should be kept absolutely private until the 31st December. No good purpose would be served by making any announcement, as it only creates a feeling of unrest, and the suggested changes may never come into force. We can talk the whole situation over when I see you in April, as I hope to do. On March 2nd and just one month before the Titanic set out on her trials in Belfast Lough, Charles Steele wrote the following reply to J. Bruce Ismay’s letter: There must be something like mental telepathy in the world, for as I came down town, I was thinking about the situation over there, and had just about decided to cable you making the suggestion which you had already thought of and adopted. The proposed arrangement is entirely satisfactory to me, and I hope, is, both to you and Sanderson. I quite agree there is no reason whatever why it should be made public at the present time, and I think it much better that nothing more should be said on the subject until the time arrives to act. I trust everything will run along smoothly now. There are lots of things that may happen before the 30th June, 1913.
WHEN THESE ARRANGEMENTS WERE MADE AND BRUCE ISMAY WROTE THOSE LAST WORDS, HE LITTLE KNEW THAT BEFORE ALL THESE CAREFULLY MADE PLANS COULD TAKE EFFECT, THERE WOULD BE A MARINE DISASTER OF SUCH MAGNITUDE THAT IT WOULD SHAKE THE WHOLE WORLD, THE SINKING OF THE TITANIC ON HER MAIDEN VOYAGE IN APRIL 1912, AND THAT HE HIMSELF WOULD HAVE TO FACE AN ORDEAL OF HATE AND CALUMNY STARTED BY THE NEWSPAPERS SUCH AS FEW MEN HAD TO ENDURE. ONE OF THE RUMOURS STARTED AT THE TIME OF THE TITANIC’S LOSS WAS THAT HE COULD NOT FACE PUBLIC OPINION HE RETIRED FROM HIS POSITION IN THE IMM COMPANY AND WHITE STAR LINE, WITHDREW TO IRELAND AND BECAME A RECLUSE. THIS RUMOUR HAS BECOME LEGEND BUT AS CAN BE SEEN FROM THE FOREGOING CORRESPONDENCE, THE TITANIC AFFAIR HAD NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH BRUCE ISMAY’S RETIREMENT WHICH ALREADY HAD BEEN ARRANGED TWO MONTHS BEFORE THE SHIP WAS PUT INTO COMMISSION.