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Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 2 - Chapter Eight

On the 12th day of May, 1920, an event of great importance to the foreign trade of our country took place. That was the meeting of the Foreign Trade Convention at San Francisco headed by James Farrell, and of which I was vice-president. I delivered the address of welcome, which was well received by the 2500 persons present. I gave up all my time while the sessions were held during the week. My address, reading as follows, was much commented upon:


Mr. Chairman, Honored Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: It is certainly a great pleasure to me, and a privilege to welcome to San Francisco such an audience as I see before me this morning. You come from every State and Territory in the Union, from North and South America and from all parts of the Far East, Japan, China, the Philippine Islands and the Straits Settlements.

This is the first time that we have ever had the privilege of welcoming foreign delegates and it is an auspicious occasion for San Francisco. Hospitality is all very good, and I hope that you will be satisfied, but the object of getting you here is business, to develop foreign trade, and nothing else. No doubt we will do our utmost to be hospitable and treat you the best we can; but, remember the object is the development and increase of foreign trade and nothing else.

All nationalities are welcome to this gathering and I can assure you that you will be treated fairly and right. Those from neighboring states, also, will be treated in a very liberal manner by this organization.

It is opportune that this convention is held here. In the first place, foreign commerce started, as you all know, in Persia or along the Persian Gulf, and it gradually moved westward towards Egypt and the Mediterranean; and there for centuries the people of the various Mediterranean countries arid those of Asia Minor competed for commercial supremacy. At times that supremacy was Persian and Phoenician, again it was Palmyran, and then Rome got it and held it for centuries. Then it spread over Europe and the center finally reached to London. On account of the war it still taking a stride westward, and temporarily New York was the center of the world's commerce. I am going to talk to you a little later on where commerce is going to land before so very long.

We are all interested in foreign trade, every one of us. There isn't a person in this room that is not interested either directly or indirectly in foreign trade. On two of our ships I counted the commodities that were carried—just on two— and there were 304 different commodities on those ships being exported from this country to the Far East. Homeward there were 153 different commodities carried this way. There is not a person in this room but what is interested in some one of those commodities and, therefore, I am talking to an audience that is interested in foreign trade; and I want to say to you that no nation in the history of the world was ever truly great that did not have foreign trade.

Those that are interested are manufacturers, merchants, shipowners and bankers. Now the shipowner, as you all know, is an absolute necessity. Congress by its wisdom, if we can call it by such a name, legislated our ships off the ocean. Our honored President has said there must be no politics in this and anything I am going to say to you has no political bearing at all; but so that you will understand me aright. I want to explain to you the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. (Laughter and applause.)

The Republicans went to work to legislate the merchant marine off the ocean and they came very near doing it, but they did not quite manage it; but the Democrats got in, and am blessed if they didn't finish the job. (Laughter.)

This recognition of the Pacific is timely. It is not too soon, and I can assume you ail that we appreciate your coming so far to attend this convention. When this organization started, it reminded me of the proverbial saying of the man crying in the wilderness. Our foreign trade had reached a very low ebb, but through the instrumentality of our worthy president here, we got this Foreign Trade Convention started seven years ago, and the result is before my eyes.

True commerce is to buy and sell. A great many people think that commerce is to sell only. We must buy. Did it ever occur to you what it would cost to ship your commodities from this country and bring the ships back empty? Wouldn't you have to pay about double the freight? But, if we can get the cargoes each way, then we get our stuff shipped for about half the money; therefore, true commerce is to bring cargoes both ways. The balance of trade would necessitate that, and if we do not have the correct balance of trade we must export gold and silver.

From this port alone in 1919 there was $350,000,000 in gold sent out instead of sending $350,000,000 in products. That is not true commerce, gentlemen. We must have a buying and selling arrangement to make it a success. A couple of years ago I was in a port in China where we had been shipping a great deal of American raw cotton. Strange to say, we were bringing back Chinese raw cotton— it is almost unbelievable. I asked of our manager, "Have you investigated this?" He said, "No, sir, we are getting the trade both ways and I think we should keep quiet about it." I was a little bit inquisitive so I went to the man shipping the cotton, and asked him to explain the matter to me. He said, "Here is some American cotton, it has long fibers and is very fine, straight cotton. This over here is Chinese cotton, which is very short on the grain and very crinkly. By some hocus-pocus that I cannot explain to you, I ship this cotton on your ships and when it gets into the New England factories in America it is converted into wool to make all-wool clothing." (laughter.) I could tell a great many things we have found out but I only mention that one to show you the peculiarities, if I may call it that, of commerce. Thus we are getting freight both ways and it isn't up to us to talk too much about it.

We need banks in foreign countries, and strange to say our laws prohibited our national banks from establishing branches in foreign countries until three years ago when the law was changed.

Then came the Sherman Act, but through the instrumentality of this organization and a vigorous effort on the part of our secretary, Mr. O. K. Davis, the Webly-Pomerene Bill was put through to allow us to develop foreign commerce.

There is one thing that is detrimental to us which this organization has taken up, and I think we should fight to a finish; namely, the law which prevents us from forming corporations in foreign countries and which compels us to pay taxes twice. By the American law we pay taxes in foreign countries to the foreign countries, which is right, as we are doing business there; but it is not right that we should pay, especially the excess profit taxes in this country, which deprives us of the privilege of extending and developing our foreign commerce. Every other nation has that privilege. We have regulations innumerable to hold us down and prevent our doing things, and mighty few regulations to help us to develop our foreign commerce. That is wrong. (Note—The Bill to permit us to incorporate as other nations do, has been defeated by Congress which shows what help we can expect from our wise law makers).

Put the whole thing in a nut shell, our merchants and our shipowners must be put on an equality with their foreign competitors. Nothing else will do. We must demand that and see that we get it! I will give you an illustration. On one of our ships some years ago, there was a bully and he had beaten every one he had tackled; but he reserved one fellow whom he was a little bit afraid of, until the last. Finally he challenged him to come out and fight. Before the fight he thought he would pray to the good Lord and this was his prayer and it is the prayer of us fellows to Congress: "Good Lord, this is the first time I have ever prayed to you and it will be the last time. I don't ask you to help me. I don't want you to help me, but if you will only agree not to help the other fellow it will surprise you how quick I will wipe up the decks with him." (Laughter and aplause.) Now if Congress will only say, "We are not going to help you but we will put no obstructions in your way!" I want to tell you we will come pretty near getting there. (Applause.)

We are terribly handicapped by the delay in our cables. That you all know, and some desperate effort should be made so that we can get our cables through and not have to wait a couple of weeks for them. In the modern way of doing business we have to have cables. In the olden times we did not need them. Now we must have cables and better service, and it is up to our Government to see to it that we get better service.

We have brought you here to look out on the Pacific, Ocean, and you are looking out on very nearly one billion people; far more than half of the people of the world are on the other side of this Pacific. That gives you some idea of the importance of this meeting here.

I am going to make a statement which I think I will substantiate with figures. In a short time the center of the world's commerce will be transferred from the Atlantic to the Pacific. That is not very nice information for you gentlemen of the East, but it is going to happen and nothing can stop it. Probably you will say, "Well, he is optimistic." The fellow that is in foreign trade and is not optimistic, is not in foreign trade at all. (Applause and laughter.)

All that I want to say to you is by way of encouragement, and I do not wish to say anything in the way of discouragement. There never was a time when those who are in foreign trade had more cause for congratulation and encouragement than at the present time. In order to show our present progress I will tell you of some of the things that are being accomplished.

Five years ago, I tried with our Consul General in Shanghai to form an American Chamber of Commerce and we could not get together twelve men to form such an organization. The consul called a meeting of the American business men and only three responded. I then gave a luncheon and asked as a particular favor to me that they attend, and the result of that meeting is, the present membership of 300. Isn't that encouraging, an American Chamber of Commerce over there?

As you all know, the whole world is upside down. Sterling exchange, that has been the standard of the world, has dropped to an unimaginably low figure—the silver of China is worth more than gold today, so there is to be a day of reckoning soon.

In talking of what is ahead of us, what would any one have said if a man had stood up, as I am standing before you today, in the days of Columbus and talked about the center of the world's commerce coming to the Pacific; or what would they have thought if he had talked of the center of the world's commerce moving out of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic? Wouldn't they have locked him up as a lunatic? They would!

Now just a few words to show you what progress has been made here. Twenty-six years ago, 40,000 tons of cargo passed through the Golden Gate at San Francisco, and 37,000 tons passed through Puget Sound, a total of 77,000 tons of trans-Pacific cargo. Of this total there were only 7500 tons of American products bound for the Far Fast. In other words, our ships were mostly in ballast going to the other side.

Fifty-three years ago the first steamer crossed the Pacific Ocean. I have given you these figures to show you the comparison of those times and the present so that you can figure out what the difference is going to be in twenty years from now. Just twenty years ago the real start was made in steam shipping on this Pacific Ocean. Two hundred and thirty-seven thousand net tons of steamers were engaged at that time! In 1919 the entrances and clearances on this Pacific Coast were 39,000,000 tons. I wish that some of you fellows who are smart at figuring would tell me where we are going to land in twenty years at that ratio. Is it any wonder that we have big expectations?

Japan now has 90,000,000 people. Commodore Perry opened the ports of Japan sixty-six years ago. Sixteen years ago when I happened to be in Hakodate, there were only three Americans there at that time. They were celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Hakodate to the world's commerce by Commodore Perry. On the prinicipal street there was a painting of the Mikado shaking hands with


Commodore Perry. They didn't shake hands when he first went there. He threatened to blow them off the island if they didn't open the port.

We went into the park, where there was a full-sized model of a yacht. The framework of wood was covered with canvass and painted so as to represent a perfect vessel of the type, including masts, smokestack, etc. Hanging on the side of the ship was a placard with printing in Japanese characters. An interpreter translated it for me as follows:—

"This yacht was presented by Queen Victoria to the Mikado thirty-three years ago. It was our entire steam fleet at that time. To show you what progress we have made and what we have done since, please turn around."

The painted canvass had been placed on a hillside, and turning around and looking in the opposite direction, there was disclosed to view the great battleship fleet of Japan at anchor in the harbor—the fleet that was in a comparatively short time to destroy the Russian ships. I never saw a finer illustration of progress than that.

I want to talk more particularly of China because the opportunities in China are so much greater than in any other country. There are 400,000,000 people there and I am sure there are even more than given by the census. One day a Chinaman met me on the street and we discussed the possibilities in China. I said to him. ''The way we are going to increase the trade here is to increase the purchasing power of the people." He said, "How can that be done? It cannot be done." At that particular moment there were thirteen men who came along hauling a wagon of lumber, which happened to be from my lumber yard. It was in the winter time and there was snow on the ground. Those men were all barefooted, and I was paying them eight cents a day. I said, "You take those thirteen men off that wagon, put a horse there with one man to drive it and put the other twelve men into a factory and you will increase their purchasing power; then they will buy more and develop the commerce of your country." I asked that man how many men and women in China were going barefooted, and he replied that there must be 100,000.000 anyway, if not more. I told him if they could earn more they would not go barefooted; that they were going barefooted from necessity and not from choice. I also told him that each one wanted to buy a pair of shoes and stockings. There are some shoe manufacturers here, and I just want you to take that home with you. (Laughter.)

Hong Kong for several years held second place in the world's commerce of seaports. That gives you an idea of the magnitude of its business. China produces one-third of the raw cotton; it has minerals beyond calculation. Then again, there are a great many oils.

I want to tell you gentlemen that it is a good thing you are not so optimistic as I am, and that you don't see the prospects as I see them, because every mother's son of you would want to go over there and get into business.

The Province of Szechuen has more inhabitants than all of South America. The last census gave 66,000,000. Szechuen is entirely cut off from the world's commerce as there is no way to get there except through the Yangtse River gorges, a dangerous trip. Two powerful steamers are now running through the gorges to Chungking, 1700 miles from the ocean, both of them flying the American flag, and incidentally you will see the Dollar mark on the smokestack.

There are a great many young men here in the audience, arid I want to say to you, that many of you will live to see the center of the world's commerce on this Pacific Ocean, and I am not dead sure but that I will live to see it myself.

In conclusion I will say to you, that San Francisco opens wide her doors to you, her heart is with you and through her Chamber of Commerce and her citizens she offers you the very best that she has. I thank you. (Applause.)

It was a great event for the foreign trade of the Pacific Ocean, as it brought our very biggest men face to face with the importance of the prospective development of the American Asiatic trade. This was the first of any of these meetings to be held on the shores of the Pacific and on account of the distance from the centers of population, especially from the eastern seaboard of the United States, we went about it with some doubt; but the attendance and the enthusiasm exceeded that of any former convention, which was a surprise to all of us who were back of it.

In New York, last October, I made the motion to hold the next meeting in San Francisco at this time, and possibly more on that account than any other, it was agreed upon, although there were grave doubts of its success on the westerly rim of the continent. However, all is well that ends well, and this convention certainly fitted the bill. The next one will be held in Cleveland, Ohio, May, 1921.

On account of our being unable to get reliable information about the price of ships, Mrs. Dollar, Margaret Dollar Dickson and I left for England by way of Vancouver. I visited the mill at Dollarton and surroundings, and found everything in excellent shape. I also visited the logging camps and found the work progressing satisfactorily.

Addressed a meeting of the Canadian Manufacturers' Association in Vancouver, on Pacific Ocean Trade, a subject I was sorry to find that most of them knew nothing about. So my talk was like Greek to many of them, and it was as though I were speaking in an unknown tongue. A lot of missionary work must be done in Canada before they will thoroughly appreciate and understand the vital importance of foreign trade to the Dominion. They are gradually working up to it but it is discouragingly slow work. This is especially so in reference to the Far Eastern trade, as the merchants and manufacturers of Eastern Canada arc looking only to the Atlantic; whereas, the merchants in the Eastern United States are fully alive to the situation and are reaching out quite fast now for what they have learned to be the most promising trade of the world in years to come.

On the way to New York and England I stopped off at Ottawa City. Senator W. C. Edwards took me up the Gatinean to see the places where, as a boy, I started work. To say I was intensely interested does not express it, as I left there fifty-seven years ago. Many of the places came back to my mind, but as I remember it, it was an unbroken forest, with no one living near the place and at that time it was certainly a wild country. I went to the site of the first shanty I worked in. The lake I used to carry the water from was there, and the ground on which the camp was built where I washed the dishes and did the chores, but instead of the unbroken forest there was a beautifully cultivated field. The forest had disappeared and it was difficult for me to realize the tremendous change that had taken place. The country now was dotted with happy farmers' homes. Instead of only a path or trail, we drove there in an automobile, whereas, we had carried our bags of clothes on our backs and marched Indian fashion through the woods. I visited the village of Desert, now a terminus of the railroad. In my time it was a Roman Catholic Mission and a small Indian village, now it is a small town.

All this caused me to ponder as to the future of the foreign trade of the United States on the Pacific, which a few of us had started in the smallest kind of a way, and see how it has grown already, although only the surface has been slightly scratched. As a boy I had been a pioneer of the unbroken forest that was now a fine agricultural country; and if I could live fifty-seven years longer, what a transformation I would see in this Pacific Ocean trade, of which I was also a pioneer. The change would be greater by far, and of more national importance, than the changing of a forest into cultivated lands.

On this visit I met an old man named De Chain whom I bad worked with when a boy. I had completely forgotten him but strange to say he had watched my movements all these years. I went to New York and entered the hurry and rush of that great city—what a change from the scenes I have been describing.

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