From the New York Times,
October, 1915 By Edward Marshall
CAPTAIN DOLLAR TALKS
That days of such
prosperity as we never knew before are close ahead of us is the opinion
of the most notable expert in ships and shipping, whom I could find to
talk to— an expert so notable that by both sides of the controversy over
the La Follette Bill he has been recognized as one whose opinion must be
And his optimism stands
even in the face of what must be, to him, the most depressing fact that
his particular interests have been hit extremely hard, not only by the
war, but by our own legislation which preceded it.
Captain Robert Dollar is
the largest single ship owner on the Pacific Coast; he is the one
important individual figure in our Oriental maritime trade; he is a very
careful student of world commerce.
"We are confronted by
enormous opportunities." said he. with the strong Scotch burr which
survives his ardent Americanism.
"If we do not take
advantage of them, world conditions cannot be blamed; our own
intelligence will be at fault. We are an intelligent people, and that
should not occur.
"I have seen pessimistic
predictions in the newspapers; I can see no justification for them
there, although I myself have suffered heavily so far. But I have faith
in the United States. We have before us unprecedented chance for foreign
trade, and foreign trade is the surest guarantee of any nation's
prosperity. I don't believe that we shall let it slip I can't believe
"Personally, I an;
confident that the next Congress will adopt such measures as may be
necessary to the development of an American merchant marine, and as soon
as that is done our foreign commerce will spring into proportions which
could not have been possible if the European war never had been
"Indeed the war has done
us a considerable service. It has created an extensive commerce in
munitions, which has been more than sufficient to offset the commerce
which the conflict has kept off the seas, and when I say 'munitions,'
thus, I do not include in this classification any arms or ammunition,
any military transport, or indeed any purely military material of
whatsoever character. We have exported these things, but we have
exported other things in truly mammoth quantities.
"We have been uniquely
situated in the past. We have grown with such rapidity that our
production never has far exceeded our own demands, so we have not
greatly needed foreign trade. Hence we have never studied seriously the
art of getting and retaining it.
Competitors for world
"Only a few years before
the war began, it, for the first time, became apparent that conditions
had begun to change and that our continued national prosperity upon the
old scale would necessitate our entrance into competition with the other
great producing nations for world commerce.
"But we were in the habit
of an insular prosperity, and could not adjust ourselves readily to the
fact. We lost because of slowness of adjustment. Long ago our merchants
seem to have forgotten both their opportunities and their necessities;
our legislators stupidly have failed to revive shipping laws and
inspection requirements, which makes it impossible for American vessels
to successfully operate in foreign trade. Now has come the La Follette
Bill, which caps the climax. It was passed not long after hostilities
commenced, in spite of its obvious injustices. Without it we should have
borne much better the world-shock of the great conflict.
"Instantly after the war
began, there sprang into the public attention various statements of the
enormous gains which would accrue to American shipping- as soon as
foreign bottoms were scared from all the seas by hostile ships. Those
who have made these predictions failed to take this law into there
"This did not occur,
first, because we had no ships worth mentioning with which to take
advantage of our chance: second, because those which we had were
governed by restrictions making them unprofitable even in the face of
the great opportunity; and third, because the ocean war was so uneven
that the commerce-carrying vessels of one country only suffered.
England's and those of France remained practically free to sail and
trade as they never before had sailed and traded. And remember-—we but
recently had handicapped ourselves.
"Instead of a period of
reconstruction of American shipping came a continuance of its decline.
We had no ships, and under existing regulations could not profitably
build or buy ships. We could not begin to develop a great foreign
commerce without a merchant marine, any more than a man could start a
factory without tools. Indeed, we sold some of the ships which we had.
"The war, however, has
been a great educator, and the next session of Congress is bound to
remedy some of our old mistakes, adjusting our affairs so that certainly
we shall be able to take some advantage of the chance before it passes
into history. I cannot doubt this.
"There has been a general
stimulation of our national interest in those foreign markets which will
be open to us as soon as we have carrying facilities wherewith to supply
them, and those carrying facilities surely will be possible to us before
another year comes to an end.
"The opportunity in South
America is very great, as we are her logical source of supply. Since the
European trade with South America has been shut off. we have built up a
large volume of business, and, as soon as we get ships where with to
forward it, that trade will grow rapidly.
"A laden vessel sent to
foreign countries becomes a drummer there, not only for the sale of the
goods carried in her holds, but for cargoes to bring back with her; and
if is through such exchange of cargoes that foreign trade is nurtured.
As soon as we get ships we shall rind that every one of them will create
trade m both directions.
"Take the expedience
which my own firm has had with its own ships. It is the rule in our
various Far Eastern offices to cable the home office when one of our
vessels has discharged in an Oriental port, and there has found herself
without a cargo for the homeward voyage. Our representative tells us how
many more tons of cargo can be carried than already has been secured,
and lets us know what can he bought there on the ground.
The ship a trade
"The ship is a trade
missionary. Not finding a cargo ready to bring home she seeks one, even
going to the length of buying one, if she can obtain one in no other
"We will say that she can
buy hemp at Manila at a certain price. We, at the home office, know the
price at which hemp can be sold in the United States. If that which she
can buy can be sold here, at an advantage great enough to give us
profit, possibly only enough for reasonable freight rates, it is wise
for us to buy it, is it not?
"We buy it; she brings
it; we sell it. Thus we get. at least, freight charges for its handling
and its carriage, and a new trade has been established. See how the
vessel has acted as a trade missionary?
"Our ships have developed
a nice little pig-iron trade between China and this country, having been
stimulated to the task by the fact that they had no cargoes to bring
home after they had discharged those which they had carried westward.
"They are now bringing on
each homeward voyage enough to make that voyage profitable, and when
they do this it must be clear that not they alone, but the whole
commerce of the country benefits.
"We sent cargoes to the
Philippines some years ago, and in order to make the voyages profitable
brought copra back with us. Previous to that no trade in copra with the
Philippines existed. Now it is a very satisfactory affair, amounting to
from 20,cxi0 to 30.000 tons a year.
"On one occasion, finding
our ships light in the north of Japan, we began to get out oak timber
there for the return cargoes. We bought the standing lumber, put in the
men to cut it. and had it stacked and ready for such occasions as might
come when we could find no other cargo. There were several such
occasions. In San Francisco the timber was cut and made into furniture.
"We are now developing
Philippine mahogany along exactly the same lines, bringing 4,000,000
feet a year in our own ships. It does not yield a profit yet, but later
on it will. Our ships which bring it are trade missionaries.
"If we did not have the
ships we could not do these things, and the whole country would be the
loser. If we had more ships we could do more such things, and the whole
country would be the gainer. If there were many ship owners doing
similar things the national effect would be tremendous. This would be
the case with more liberal laws.
Bringers must be takers
"The man on the street
who considers ocean commerce is likely to forget that if we bring we
must take, and if we take we must bring. Ships must be loaded as they
travel or their travel will be profitless. A vessel voyaging in ballast
one way must get double freight the other way, or lose money, and double
freight is an oppression upon commerce, the consumer and the nation
which is forced to pay it.
"There is no good reason
under heaven why this nation should not be prosperous at the present
time as never before. A vast opportunity has been thrust upon us by this
war, which has driven Germany from the seas and preoccupied the other
nations, or filled their vessels' holds with war munitions, to the
exclusion of the commodities of ordinary life for themselves and
non-belligerent nations. Statistics show enormous loss of foreign
"With this unparalleled
decrease of foreign bottoms and the total cessation of commercial
shipbuilding at the yards of the belligerent nations which are the
greatest in the world, and with the stoppage throughout Europe of
ordinary manufacture—the substitution of the manufacture of
death-dealing commodities for the manufacture of life and comfort-giving
commodities—our mills and shops should rind themselves faced by a
constructive task such as never came to them before, and surely such as
never will come to them in the future, for it is inconceivable that, m
the face of such an argument for international peace, all Europe will
involve itself in war again, or at least, in any war which will affect
"We must consider the
matter of our foreign trade very seriously. It is of importance, to
every human being in our territory, and not merely to the residents of
seacoast cities and seafaring folk.
"Indeed, analysis of the
situation places the man whose interest is in slips last upon the list
of those whose interest in foreign traders vital.
"I think those interested
should be mentioned in this order: First, the farmer: second, the
manufacturer; third, the merchant who has branches or representatives in
foreign countries; fourth, the banker who finances and furnishes
exchange; fifth, the ship owners who furnish bottoms for the carnage of
Trade cannot develop
"I have said that ships
are the best drummers for a nation's business, and have told you why I
think so. We, of all people, have learned the lesson that even local
trade cannot be developed without drummers. If we wish American trade to
grow, and we do wish that, tor we do not desire to deteriorate
nationally, we must have, not only ships to carry our commerce, but they
must be American ships. The existence of American ships plying to the
world's ports will mean the existence in the world's ports of American
branch houses, righting for the world's business.
"Some of our
manufacturers employ foreign houses to act as agents for them in the
foreign field, but this is a foolish business. Foreign agents will work
for our prosperity but half-heartedly if at all. This is a lesson which
those of us who are endeavoring to develop foreign trade have learned in
sorrow. The German. Austrian. English or French firms
in foreign ports will not
develop trade for us, save when such opportunities occur as cannot be
met by their compatriots.
"The situation, as it
stands, is an absurdity, and would be a tragedy were we not capable of
correcting our mistakes with a rapidity and thoroughness exceeding the
capabilities of any other nation in the world.
"Already we are waking to
the fact that we must do our own banking. An inefficient system has
existed in the past. For instance, England has controlled all Oriental
business. Our Pacific Coast has done business with Japan and China
"Now this is beginning to
change, and, if we choose, we may have the opportunity of seeing to it
that the change continues till we take the place which rightfully is
"Years ago I hoped for
this, and thought I saw it coming. Now my greatest hope is that I may
live to see the day when it shall be a matter of fact. Today, New York
is temporarily the financial center of the world. If we are reasonably
intelligent it will have so established its advantages and its prestige
by the time the war ends that the cessation of hostilities will not
alter this condition.
"We already have the
farmers and the land, the manufacturers and the raw material with which
they can work effectively. Now we must have the American merchant with
the foreign house, the American banker to finance exchange in dollars
(not pounds, as now) and American ships with which to carry commerce.
We must deliver the goods
"We have been in the
position of the merchant who has no delivery service, but is compelled
to hire from his competitor across the street, the vehicle with which
his wares are taken to his customers.
"Of course, such a
merchant would not get the best of service. The growth of his trade
would be subordinated to the growth of that of the man who owned the
vehicles} his interest would be a secondary matter. He would deliver Sis
own goods first, leaving ours to time and opportunity. We must see to it
that our trade is primary to those intrusted with promoting it. What
would you think of the farmer who left the marketing of his grain until
his neighbor's and rival's wagons should be idle?
"Another thing: American
ships can carry American cargoes, under reasonably equal conditions,
cheaper than anybody else can carry them. I am a shipowner, we will say,
living in New York. Could I carry freight to you from another port as
cheaply as I could carry it to and from New York?
"Of course not, for if I
live in New York I shall be upon the ground there, my ships normally
will di>ck there, my orifices will be there, my trusted men will be
there: there will be less chance there than elsewhere of mistakes in the
conduct of my business.
"Is it not, therefore,
obvious that the nation and its cities where the shipowners are located,
and the home ports and nations of the ships, will get the trade? It
seems so to me.
"I live on the Pacific
Coast. Is it likely that I shall try especially to develop New York's
trade? Only in a general way. New York's trade indirectly benefits me
but the Pacific Coast trade directly benefits me.
"The city and the nation
that has the ships will get the cheapest freight rates, for reasons
which cannot be gainsaid.
"I have done, something
to develop Pacific Coast trade because I have lived on the Pacific
Coast. A Boston man, a Philadelphia man, a resident of New York,
situated as I have been, would have done what he could to develop
Atlantic Coast trade—-particularly trade with his particular home port.
The fact that England owns more tonnage than any other nation explains
the fact that British commerce leads the world. Men help their own home
ports and nation.
"Merchants will tell you
that in business they forget the flag under which ships sail. That is
absolutely true. But they do not forget the operating expenses of those
ships, for they fix the freight rates.
"Our government has done
something to develop its foreign trade. It has had wonderful consular
reports, and has done fine missionary work abroad. But it has done
little or no missionary work at home, and that is what we need.
Some things we might do
"If our Government would
select one merchant or manufacturer in each of the lines promising- the
best foreign trade development, and see to it that his interest was
aroused, he would straightway become a home missionary.
"It takes the product of
many factories to make the cargo of a ship. The bigger the cargo the
cheaper the rate. So, it is to the interest of every business man who
wants foreign trade, to see that his neighbor also wants it, and to
assist his neighbor in obtaining his share, of it.
"I, personally, have had
some interesting experiences with regard to foreign trade. I arrived in
China just after the revolution started, a few years ago. I told my son
that there would be no Chinese business, and he replied, that he had
been thinking of the Philippines. I went to Manila and was met with a
note from Governor Forbes, who said lie had been laying for me.' He put
a steamer at my disposal and assigned a man to take me around the
islands, stating, that the longer I kept them the better he would like
it. for lie knew that my journey would mean an increase of American
"I kept the steamer and
the man sixteen or eighteen days, and they did mean American trade. From
Zatnhoanga I cabled home for a big steamer to come out and load with
copra and mahogany. It did so, and an absolutely new American trade was
"Was Governor Forbes the
missionary? No. Was I? No. Was the ship? Yes! Governor Forbes' effort,
and my own, would have been futile if there had not been an American
ship waiting at the. other end of the Pacific cable.
"Governor Forbes was
delighted. I went on to Shanghai, and before I left there I cabled him
that I had sent for another ship. Many ships have gone since then, and
many more will go.
"There was a case in
which our Government co-operated with a private individual in working
for the public good. There should be more of this.
"Our tendency toward
antagonism between Government and individual is too great. Of late in
the United States the successful man, or the enterprising man, is likely
to be looked upon at once as one to be suppressed and handicapped. We
must get over that. It is a foolish tendency.
Every citizen interested
"I have said the farmer
has an interest in ocean shipping and the passage of right laws
regarding it. Was not this startlingly illustrated when the cotton
crisis came? Is it not strikingly illustrated now, when we have bumper
crops of grain.
"Crops must be moved to
market, else the farmer cannot raise them profitably. If we raise more
than the domestic market can absorb the surplus must be moved to foreign
markets. This can be carried to foreign markets only in ships. If we
have not the ships it cannot go. If there is no movement, of what value
are crops to the men who have produced them?
"Not long ago, a friend
told me of the necessity of sending a ship to South America to bring
back cargo, but said that he could find no cargo for the outward trip.
He sent cards to friends asking them to help him find a cargo.
"They did so. He sent her
laden with potatoes and the potatoes sold in South America, although
North American potatoes had never been offered there before. The ship
brought back South American goods which were badly needed here.
"That was constructive
work which could not have been done if the ship had not been available.
If we pass laws allowing ships to be profitable we shall have more
ships. The fellow that has the transportation comes near to being master
of the situation. Have not we on land learned that, in dealing with the
"That man must be
comfortable. If we bother him too much we all shall lose by it. Give him
a fair chance, and he'll make good. Don't let him take advantage of you.
That will hurt you both. We have learned that, too, in connection with
the railroads, but don't unduly oppress him."
New trade after the war
"What new trade, ought we
to get after the war is over?" I asked Captain Dollar,
"We ought not to wait
until the war <s over," he replied. "The markets of the world are open
to us now, if we do enough missionary work among our business men,
arousing them not only to their opportunity for getting it, but to the
means for keeping it.
"It is of paramount
importance that we should put our men in the foreign fields. The first
chance now exists for us to put them there. We need foreign trade. We
never really have needed it before. We can get it. We never before have
had so favorable an opportunity.
"We must be farsighted if
we wish really to be prosperous. We had not studied carefully the South
American-situation. We had been buying but not selling there. We had
allowed the money which we spent, there to be respent in Europe.
"That was an exceedingly
poor business method. When we go there now, in the tremendous effort
which I hope we shall put forth, we must tell the South Americans that
we will buy of them, but that, if we do they, in turn, must buy of us.
"We shall be in a
position to dictate if we are wise. Commerce, really, should be merely
barter, consisting of an exchange of commodities, rather than an
exchange of money from one side for the commodities from the other. We
took commodities and gave money. England. Germany and Europe generally
"But when the war began
Europe's position altered immensely. She had to buy of us more than she
sold to us. Had she been in a position to sell to us as much as she had
to buy of us, I do not believe that she would have sent, as she did not
long ago, the allied commissioners for the negotiation of a great war
"Among truly prosperous
nations the balance of trade must be about equal. We must try to
equalize our balance of trade with every nation on earth, and we never
can do that until we are ship owners.
"We have at hand the best
potential salesmen ability that the world has ever known. Years ago
Americans abroad were no credit to their home country, hut those days
have passed. Our Consuls at one time were a miserable lot; but, happily,
that has been remedied.
"But we still must be
careful of our representatives. When I go to a foreign country those
with whom I do business do not call me 'Mr. Dollar'; they say, 'that
American,' If I do wrong my nation suffers.
"When a foreigner treats
us badly here we speak of him as 'that Japanese,' 'that Austrian,' or by
"We must remember these
things when we select our agents to do business for us in foreign
"We must impress on all
those whom we urge into new-trade that, the honor of the nation, to a
considerable extent, is in their hands; and we must encourage for the
work only the best men of the highest ability and ideals. Not only must
we have good salesmen, but good citizens abroad. This cannot be too
strongly emphasized. The days when the whole world distrusted Yankee
shrewdness, now are past. I know we stand as well abroad as Englishmen
or Germans do. If we do not we should see to it that we rise promptly in
the world's estimation.
"So, assuming that for
honesty and integrity we compare favorably with our competitors in
foreign countries, it is high time that we began to compare favorably
with them in enterprise and trade intelligence, and I know that we do
not do that, at present.
"Foreigners, now, have no
doubt of the quality of the goods which we sell them, but they have some
doubt that we will send them exactly what they order. We have been
strangely prone to assume that we know better what a foreign market
needs than that market knows itself.
"When a market orders a
certain sort of carpet we do not always send that kind to it, but,
instead, sh.p to it the sort of carpet which we think it ought to want.
And thus, sometimes, with other things.
Must take no liberties
"Very likely we are
right, but we must not take such liberties until we have proved that to
be the case We must abate that foolish arrogance.
"When I began in the
China trade there was a demand there for long American timber. It was
inconvenient stuff to handle, and short timber would have served the
purpose just as well, so I started a campaign of education to prove
this, and at length succeeded. But until I had done this I gave my
Chinese customers long timber, shifting to the short only when they,
themselves, as the result of that which they had learned, asked me for
"Before we end this talk
I want to say a few more words about the farmer's interest in the export
trade, and the strong link which binds every human being in this country
to the great problem of ocean shipping, even though they may live in the
interior, far distant from the seacoast.
"It is to the interest of
everyone that our shipping laws should be such as to make shipping and
ship-owning possible. They are not so at present. The La Follette law is
an attempt to equalize wages on all ships in the world. When I was asked
by the Congressional committee if an increase in wages on the ships
would not necessitate an increase in rates, I answered in the
affirmative, of course. Then I was asked who would pay, and, of course,
the only answer was, 'The consumer.'
"As a matter of fact, it
will cost us 2 or 3 cents a bushel more to carry grain under this law
than it did under the old laws.
"Will the consumer pay it
always? No! Sometimes the producer must pay it—he must if he meets
competition not similarly burdened—and he does exactly that when he
sells his grain for export.
"When we are forced to
charge increased freights the farmer must sell at a less price or not
sell at all. And so, also, with the manufacturer. This shipping problem
is a great one, touching all of us."