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Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 2 - Chapter Four

On my arrival at Vancouver I spent fifteen days looking over the mill which was not giving entire satisfaction, but we got it better organized. I also visited our logging camps. Arrived home on the 8th of August after an absence of four months.

In October I made a trip to New York to attend the an dual meeting of the Foreign Trade Council, and also visited Washington on shipping affairs. Had many important conferences both in Washington and in New York. From New York I went to Ottawa and in a personal interview with the Canadian Cabinet made satisfactory terms about carrying government freight to Vladivostok.

Was real glad to get home again although in looking over my diary I find I had presided at from two to four public meetings a day, besides trying to look after our own affairs, and raising $360,000 for the Y M. C. A. war fund. This was a big and successful undertaking. Before the end of the year I made two more trips to Vancouver looking after our interests there. I find recorded in my diary for 1917, that we had our annual dinner of employees at which twenty-four were present. (At a similar meeting in 1921 there were fifty-six present; this shows the expansion of the Robert Dollar Company during four years.) I copy the following from my 1917 diary, December 31st:

"Had a very busy day, every minute was fully occupied"; then the following:

"As the years go by I find each succeeding year brings me more cause for great thanksgiving to God for all his abundant mercies and blessings which are past finding out. No man can possibly have more reason to thank God than I have. The question comes up always, what shall I do for all this goodness to me and mine?"

In January 1918, I addressed a meeting- in Stockton, Gallon the importance of foreign trade and shipping to our nation:


To talk of foreign trade in this city seemed to me at first to be out of place. But you are to develop a deep waterway here.

You do not need deep water for your local commerce, and the present depth is amply sufficient for your local needs. In making a deep waterway, you go into foreign trade. This country did not look very favorably on foreign trade until recent years. Then came the war. Now we must have foreign trade—we cannot do without it.

Secretary of Commerce Redfield said the factories of this country can supply the requirements of the people in six months. If that statement is correct, either the production for the remaining six months of the year must be sold abroad, or the factories must shut down and the workingman be idle for that length of time. The factories must be kept busy and we must go after foreign trade in a way we never went after it before. Secretary of State Bryan once told me to stay at home with my ships or I'd get into trouble. I said, I won't.

Who is interested in foreign trade? The farmer is, for he must sell what he produces; the merchant is, for he must handle the goods; the banker is. Until recently there was a law on our statute books prohibiting branch banks in foreign countries. All other countries compel their banks to establish branches. Now things are beginning to change with us. 'The light is beginning to dawn in Washington.

What difference does it make if Great Britain or any other country has a branch bank in every port? When I sold a bill of exchange, the documents were attached and sold to a foreign bank. The foreign banker saw what we were doing and knew our plans. Blood is thicker than water, yon know, and these foreign bankers gave their countrymen the tip as to what we were doing. I know, as I have received a tip myself.

When we get American banks in foreign ports, no one else gets the benefit. We want American citizens in foreign countries to attend to our business; otherwise we "get it in the neck." Now we are busy establishing banks. It is true that American inventive genius is all right, but we need an equal chance with the rest or we will have a hard time of it.

You are urging deep water here. The Yangtse River and its tributaries in China provide commerce for one-sixth of the human race. The commerce of that river is tremendous.

If you get a deep-water channel to this city. 10,000-ton ships will come here from Hankow before I die. I am 75 years old and I expect to keep actively in business for twenty-five years more. You get busy, for I want the privilege of bringing the first 10,000-ton ship to Stockton. I sent the first 9000-ton ship into Los Angeles harbor and I want to go a thousand tons better for Stockton.

The world is changing. You may say there is not so much commerce. Thirty-six years ago only one company had four ships on this coast, and those ships aggregated 10,000 ton. Today the ships engaged in commerce have a capacity of 700,000 tons here on the Pacific. Thirty-five years hence what will it be?

We are just getting started. Imagine the tremendous amount of commerce coming! You all know the commerce of the world started in the upper end of the Mediterranean; during our own time it moved to the Atlantic. I propose to Iive to see the center of commerce on the Pacific.

Why should you pay out your money for a deep-water channel if there were not such a future? The commerce coming to the Pacific, in which Stockton will share, passes the bounds of imagination.

The Seamen's Bill has turned over the commerce of the Pacific to the Island Kingdom. To protect myself from this law I had to move my ships to Vancouver. We had to prohibit the export of gold to prevent our stock from becoming depleted, because Japan had the tonnage and rates on us; that is what can be accomplished with plenty of ships.

Japan has 461 postoffices in Korea and 124 in Manchuria, which are supposed to be under the influence of China where the open-door policy is supposed to exist. Japan has a club


there with which to knock us out if we attempt to enter. There are 12 postoffices of Japan in China. America has a postoffice in China. That's how one country helps its people.

Sixty years ago concessions were secured in Shanghai by the United States, Great Britain and France. The others beautified and developed their concessions, but the United States let its concession go. Now our consulate there is located across the street from a warehouse, and Washington had paid $350,000 to buy a part of the land it once let go, in order to secure a location for the consulate.

But America is getting there just the same. The American population in China has increased 33% during the past two years, and they are the right sort of Americans.

President Wilson said that if American citizens hadn't enough get-up-and-go to them to operate ships, the Government would do it. I replied to him then, that American citizens had two and a quarter million tons of shipping under foreign flags because they could not financially operate them under our flag with success, because of the conditions imposed by the Government. In other countries American ships had to pay all assessments, and that was 30% more than I had to pay in operating ships under the British flag.

Some officials say the raise in wages required for American ships does not count, as American energy offsets all costs. If that is so, why do they compel us to carry 30% more men to operate our ships than any other ships afloat?

Up to this time our country had practiced the destruction of big business. Then the war came, and they almost begged on their knees for big business to come back and help them, because the politicians had failed.

I have here the manifests of two of my ships. They left for China carrying 298 different commodities. I don't care what your business is, you are interested in some of those commodities on those vessels. Coming back they brought 127 different commodities. All here will get the benefit of some of these.

Our Government took all of our ships to operate during the war. It gave me $40,000 for one ship's voyage, and I had to pay back S170,000; and now the Government proposes to keep the ships and operate them. The wise college professor at Washington tells us what the rates will be to the ports of the world. He has a rate of $20 a ton from New York to Shanghai. The rate for steel from Pittsburg to this coast is $17, so that leaves the munificent sum of $3 a ton for the rest of the distance.

It is an utter impossibility for the Government to engage in foreign trade. Look at the Government's management of the railroad business. The railroad presidents, hat in hand, had asked for an increase in rates of 10% and they were refused. Then Secretary of the Treasury McAdcx> took charge of the railroads and increased the rates 35%. We don't know what the Government will do, for the Government is the people, and how are the people to tell us when they don't know themselves.

Our ships are laid up in large numbers in various harbors, for they can not venture out to compete in foreign trade. We do not need any advantage, as we can care for ourselves, if we have an even break. A shipowner who must have "pap" from the Government does not deserve to combine in the business.

Through exposure in Vancouver I had a very serious attack of erysipelas, which confined me to my bed for twelve days, during which time I was totally blind for six days, and delirious for three. This is the first real sickness I have had in forty years, and for a month I was unable to attend to business, but I got over it and am as well as ever.

I find a note in my diary stating that I had sent a check for $50,000 to the New York Y. M. C. A. to be used in erecting a building at Wuchang, Rupeh Province, China. I also sent direct to Wuchang almost $15,000 to purchase additional land to allow for expansion. I consider there is a great opening for this work as there are many hundreds of young men going to commercial and other schools near the site of the building, which will be completed and occupied by 1921.

I find a note in my diary that I had been working several days on a history of steam navigation; whether I will ever get the time to finish it remains to be seen. I also note that most of my time is taken up with public and charitable matters and what time I could spare went to the business, every minute of my time from early morning till late at night is fully occupied, and I hope it will always continue. I neither want idleness nor an easy time.

I spent half of August either in New York or Washington. It was really hot but I got through with a great deal of business, principally in connection .with the consummation of the contract for the Chinese Government to build steamers for the American Government. On closing the contract the Chinese Government through their Ambassador, Wellington Koo, conferred a very high honor on me by telling Mr. Hurley, President of the Shipping Board, that his Government requested the American Government to hand over to me all the money in payment for the ships, which would amount to many millions of dollars and not to ask me to give either bond or agreement for the money. I cannot help but prize this confidence as one of the highest honors I have ever received.

For our part in this business the President of the Chinese Republic honored me with the Chia Ho, a description of which is herewith given in the following excerpt from the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Order of the Chia Ho, China's most prized decoration, has been conferred upon Captain Robert Dollar. San Francisco capitalist, in recognition of his service during the war in securing from the United States Government for the Chinese Government a $14,000,000 contract for the construction of eight ships. Captain Dollar received the decoration—four stars, two gold and two silver overlapping, with a raised shock of wheat in the center—from the President of the Chinese Republic, Wednesday.

"The distinction conferred upon Captain Dollar is one that rarely goes to foreigners. General John J. Pershing also is a member of the order.

"Captain Dollar has extensive interests in China and his reputation for honesty and integrity is so well established that no bond or other security was required of him by the Chinese Government in handling the $14,000,000 shipbuilding contract. The money, secured from the United States Government, was turned over to the Chinese Government by Captain Dollar.

"The Chia Ho in English takes the meaning of Bountiful Harvest. The decoration was brought to this country by officers of one of the ships of the Dollar Steamship Company."

During the month of August I attended many meetings of which the following is an example of one day: Meeting of Seamen's Church Institute; Foreign Trade Committee of the Chamber of Commerce; presided at meeting of China Commercial Club; directors meeting of San Francisco Savings & Loan Bank. In addition I had to attend to all my own business. Is it any wonder I make a notation that I went home tired?

At the urgent request of the Harbor Board I went to Los Angeles to attend its annual meeting, where it was to take under consideration various methods to make Pacific Coast ports more attractive to shipowners.

In November I went to New York and presided at the annual meeting of the Foreign Trade Council. From New York I proceeded to Washington where I had the pleasure of meeting many of our big men of affairs; this was particularly beneficial to me as it put me in close touch with the broad-gauge men of finance, commerce and shipping.

I also attended the Fourth Annual Banquet of the India House which was presided over by Mr. James A. Farrell, who persuaded me to deliver the address of the evening. It was an opportunity to speak to the biggest men of finance and commerce of our country. The room, a large one, was crowded to its utmost capacity and many had to stand.

It has been a pleasure to me to have been a charter member and vice president of this great and prosperous club. We had the pleasure of being the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Alber B. Johnson at their beautiful home at Rosemont. near Philadelphia. At Washington we also had the pleasure of meeting a great many friends which made our visit a very pleasant one, although it was taken solely for business.

ROBERT DOLLAR BUILDING 311 California Street, San Francisco

We bargained to buy what was called the Insurance Block, 311 California Street, which has turned out to be a bargain. We have made it into a ten story building and remodeled it so that it is one of the best office buildings in the city. It has always been one of the most attractive office buildings on California Street, which is now the bankers' and foreign merchants' street of San Francisco. Two banks are on the ground floor and The Robert Dollar Company occupies the entire upper floor, which does not appear to be any too large for our company. The boys have re-named the building, -"The Robert Dollar Building," in my honor.


"Workmen are busy putting the finishing touches on the Robert Dollar building at California and Battery streets, which has just been completed at a cost of $1,000,000. The structure is of imposing dimensions, occupying a half block on California street and nearly the same space on Battery street. As the accompanying photograph shows, it is ten stories in height, of Class A construction and forms a handsome unit in San Francisco's financial district.

"When Robert Dollar purchased the property a little over a year ago it was improved by a building of five stories only. Recognizing the advantage of the location, Mr. Dollar determined to increase the structure to take care of what he deemed the needs of the future. Under the direction of architect Charles W. McCall of Oakland, the task of adding five stories was undertaken. Besides this the entire front and general exterior was altered, additional high-speed elevators installed and changes made to bring the structure to the highest point of efficiency. During the entire period of eight months in which the changes were made not a tenant was disturbed, business being carried on as usual by all the occupants.

"Long before the building changes were completed, space on all the five additional floors was sought by business firms who realized the advantage of the building and its surroundings. The tenth floor, however, was reserved by Robert Dollar for the firm's own offices and when the fittings, especially designed for the purpose are installed, the Dollar Company will have as fine quarters as it is possible to provide.

"As the photographs of the new building show, the architect was given full rein with the detail with the result that, the decorations on the structure's exterior are not only novel but appropriate as well. The pillar decorations include capstans, anchors, tridents and dolphins. Surmounting the first story is a border of cordage set out at intervals with starfish. Reproductions of the Dollar house flag are additional nautical suggestions as to the origin and character of the structure."

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