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(Extracts from The New York Times archives).
Although the papers covered the disaster voluminously, what was far more interesting was the whole issue of the US munitions
export trade. On the one hand, America was supposed to be strictly neutral. On the other hand, the munitions trade would prove
to be worth billions of dollars at a time when trade was markedly down due to the war in Europe. Politically, it was something of a
“hot potato”, but economically, it was an absolute Gold mine. It is important to recall that J P Morgan was acting as Great Britain’s
sole purchaser of munitions (at 1% commission on all order values), President of the IMM company (who owned many of the
transatlantic shipping lines) and was also head of the Morgan Bank. Charles M Schwab was at the head of the Bethlehem Steel
Corp, the second largest manufacturer of munitions in the United States, who were particularly experienced in the manufacture of
shells. Just what big business the munitions trade was will soon become apparent.
What follows is a collection of headlines, bye-lines and slight expansions of articles that all appeared in The New York Times
between December of 1914 and September 1916. They’re in date order as each one kind of blends with the others around it. Let
us start with a Christmas story.
December 24th 1914. SCHWAB CANCELS SUBMARINE ORDER. Head of Bethlehem Steel Co Says He Followed Secretary
Bryan’s Advice. SEES BOOM IN TRADE.
Charles M. Schwab, President of Bethlehem Steel Corp, returned yesterday on the Cunard liner Lusitania from a brief trip to London,
where he cancelled large orders for submarines which he had received from the British and French Navies.
Schwab had taken advice before his trip from Secretary Bryan, who’d told him that if he went ahead and fulfilled those orders, it
would be in breach of America’s neutrality, so Schwab cancelled them. A blow for Schwab by any standard, what is of interest is
the following undoubted “sweetener”.
“Have you a $25,000,000 contract with Great Britain to supply shells and shrapnel?” he was asked. Mr Schwab smiled and replied
that he had several contracts with foreign nations, but he declined to state their nature.
Schwab went on to tell the reporter that he was “very optimistic about the outlook for his business in 1915”. He said that the increase
would start from January and steadily rise throughout the rest of the year. He told the reporter that to his personal knowledge, over
$300,000,000 worth of contracts had been placed in the US from Europe, all of which had to be fulfilled by the following
December. He further stated that the biggest problem was going to be finding enough ships to transport the vast quantities of
products across the Atlantic.
January 20th 1915. BETHLEHEM STEEL PAYS 7%. Increase on preferred of 2%. 1914 Company’s best year.
This was an announcement that the share dividend paid on Bethlehem Steel’s stock was 2% higher than the previous year’s
dividend, reflecting the expected coming of what Charles Schwab referred to as “a decidedly prosperous period”.
March 28th 1915. BETHLEHEM STEEL EARNS $9,649,667 NET. President Schwab reports 1914 $896,996 Better Than the Best
Previous Year. STOCK RISES 8.75% Wall Street not surprised-27,900 Shares Sold-War Orders Account for Prosperity.…..The net
manufacturing profits of the corporation and its subsidiaries for the year, accelerated without doubt by the European War Orders,
amounted to $9,378,373 and with other income, the total net earnings were raised to $9,649,667.
April 14th 1915. BETHLEHEM STEEL UP31 POINTS, DROPS 30. Sensational Fluctuations, but Trading inStock is not Excessively
Active. MILLION-SHARE DAY AGAIN. Copper Issues Rise on News of Sales For War Munitions-Public Interest Increases.
AND THEN CAME MAY 7th, WHEN THE LUSITANIA WAS TORPEDOED AND SUNK.
The disaster itself was of course thoroughly covered by the papers and some might say, predictably in manner. There were tales
of heroism, “Hun piracy”, “Murder on the high seas”, passenger and crew survivor accounts as well as speculation about whether
Captain Turner had received any special instructions, whether the attack was pre-planned by the Germans and of course, there
were many speculations as to the nature of her cargo. A copy of her cargo manifest was printed in many of the American
newspapers, but it was a sanitised two-page copy of the loading manifest, issued to the press by the Insurance Underwriters, that
everybody saw. (It is the one on our Deadly Cargo page) The Supplemental Manifest, filed four days after the Lusitania left New
York, ran to twenty-four pages and was never published in any newspaper.In keeping with most of the other transatlantic liners
leaving New York, she was of course carrying a considerable amount of munitions in her cargo hold. NON EXPLOSIVE cargo of
course; well, up to that point it had been considered so. But what if these “Non-Explosives” HAD contributed to the ship’s rapid
demise? After all, she was a mighty, 45,000 ton liner and she’d gone down in just 18 minutes after being hit by just one torpedo.
Other ships had taken hours to sink under such circumstances. Some, like the US tanker Gulflight, had stayed afloat and made
port despite such damage. What could possibly have gone wrong? Meanwhile, despite some awkward questions being batted
back and forth, strong diplomatic notes passing between the US and Germany and of course, Lord Mersey’s Inquiry, there was
one news item that was almost farcical, yet it ran for two columns.
July 18th 1915. WASHINGTON REGARDS INCIDENT AS GRAVE. Attempt to Sink Vessel Having No Munitions May Affect Tone of
The story was due to the Cunard liner Orduna being unsuccessfully attacked by a German U Boat on her way to America. Of
course, she had some American passengers on board and if the attack had been successful, as the paper went on to point out,
then they may have died, adding their deaths to the considerable number of innocent American citizens that had been murdered
by Germany on the Lusitania. The Orduna regularly carried munitions on her return trips to England, as the paper also pointed
out, but to attack her on a westbound trip, when she was just a passenger liner? It was nothing short of despicable! (Particularly
as she was in all likelihood bringing payment over to the States for the munitions she was helping to ship back)!!!
September 21st 1915. CASH OF ALLIES TO STAY IN BANKS. Plan To Let Them Hold the Proceeds Of the Credit Pro Rata To
Subscriptions. AIM TO EASE MONEY MARKETS. Suggested That Payments May Be Made in Installments Over A Period of Months.
MUNITIONS PROBLEM SOLVED. With Other Needs Provided For, War Supplies Can Be Paid For By Buying Exchange.
This related to a new suggestion that the munitions could be paid for by regular monthly instalments over a very long time. Huge
lump sum payments had been causing disturbances to the money markets whereas regular amounts at regular times would
smooth things out and prevent the huge swings seen on the trading floor whenever the payments landed. It was J P Morgan’s
suggestion. Naturally, the Morgan Bank would hold the credits and the promissory notes and at a favourable 9% interest over
however long it took the British Government to pay their bill…….! (This was in addition to his 1% commission on all orders!). The
scheme was indeed put into operation, near the end of 1915. Kerr-chingg!
October 1st 1915. SUDDEN FORTUNES MADE IN WALL STREET. Speculators In War Stocks Gain Rapid Wealth as Prices Go
Soaring. $500,000 ON $650 START. Investor Who Put $18,000 Into Bethlehem Steel for His Baby Has $364,000 for Youngster.
Riches are coming so fast in Wall Street that families are being endowed from the profits in War Stocks and one baby, whose parents
are very much in society, is wealthy without knowing it….
November 23rd 1915. $15,750,000 GOLD ARRIVES. Liners Bring Specie to Pay for British War Munitions. The White Star liner
Lapland arrived yesterday from Liverpool with $7,000,000 in Gold for J P Morgan & Co., and the American liner St. Paul arrived from
the same port with $3,850,000 in gold specie and $4,900,000 in bullion consigned to New York banks.
(Both the Lapland and the St. Paul were IMM ships, owned by J P Morgan).
December 10th 1915. $10,000,000 MUNITION CARGO. Adriatic Leaves with 18,000 Tons of Supplies for the Allies. The White Star
liner Adriatic, which left for Liverpool on Wednesday, carried 18,000 tons of war munitions, which was described by officials at the pier
as being a record cargo sent from New York to England on any one ship since the war started. It was valued at $10,000,000.
This proud announcement was made despite a statement from the IMM Co, published in The New York Times just one week after the
Lusitania was sunk, that “In future, ships of the IMM Co would no longer carry cargoes of war munitions”. The White Star Line
was owned by IMM, which in turn was owned by J P Morgan of course.
And it was a similar picture for 1916.
On February 4th, Republic Steel announced that 1915 had been its biggest year. With net profits of $4,385,723 it was more than
double those of 1914 and was all “DUE TO MUNITIONS DEMAND.” Likewise, on March 20th, Bethlehem Steel announced that
it had earned $24,821,408 in 1915 and had $175,432,895 worth of orders on hand. Ten days later, this appeared:
March 30th 1916. 19 COMPANIES HOLD $348,436,000 IN CASH. Reports for Year’s End Show Newly Made Profits, Not Capital
Lying Idle. U.S. STEEL HEADS THE LIST.
US Steel held $110,000,000, Bethlehem Steel was next on the list (alphabetically), holding $15,000,000, but the two companies
were not exactly separate entities, thanks to Charles M. Schwab! Following on from this piece of Fiscal Year End joy came the
July 1st 1916. N.Y. FOREIGN TRADE NOW $3,479,026,138. All Previous Records Broken by Returns for Fiscal Year Just Closed.
INCREASE OF $1,387,398,072. Exports of Munitions and Supplies to the Allies Reach $2,312,097,139, a Gain of $1,150,426,567.
New York’s foreign trade in the Government’s fiscal year ended yesterday broke all Previous records, according to a statement issued
at the Custom House by Collector Dudley Field Malone.
Meanwhile, the comings and goings of the liners continued to be announced. On August 13th the departures of two Cunard liners,
the Orduna and the Andania, were published under the Headline “MANY SAIL FOR ENGLAND” The Bye-line stated: “Two
Cunarders Leave with Passengers and Tons of Munitions”. On September 3rd, it was the French liner Rochambeau, the American
liner New York and the Holland-America liner Ryndam whose departures were featured. The article announced that all three had
left “with a large number of passengers and mail and their holds filled with war munitions for the Allies”. Whoever says that the cargo
holds of the transatlantic liners of this period were too small to make the carrying of munitions of war worthwhile, viable or
profitable, is seriously mis-guided.
The final article is this one:
September 7th 1916. MUNITIONS EXPORTS BIG. Expected to Pass Billion-Dollar Mark Next January.