Dr Washington Dodge

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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It's starting to look like some powerful investors in New York were out to get Dr. Washington Dodge.

On or about January 17, 1919, he resigned his position as director of Federal Telegraph Company, owner of Poulsen Wireless. In an article published in the San Francisco Chronicle on January 19, 1919 he denied that he was pressured to resign, and only explained that "the directors (who resigned, including himself) were willing to turn the entire control of affairs over to those whose ideas did not harmonize with their own."

At the time, Dr. Dodge was a defendant in a lawsuit brought by certain shareholders alleging certain misrepresentations by Dr. Dodge. It seems to me that he should have stayed in that position because he would gain the benefit of the company's resources to defend himself. If he left, it would be easy for the company to cut him off. But Dodge denied he was being run out:

The most glaring and vicious misstatement, however, is the one to the effect that I stated I was loath to resign, as honor compelled me to retain my place, since i had induced certain rich New Yorkers to buy a large number of shares of Poulsen stock. The facts are that there is not a word of truth in this statement, either as to the fact of its occurrence, or as to the facts which it states. I never knew these parties. I never sold them any stock. I never had any communication with them until after they had bought their stock and wrote to me for information as to the company's affiars."

Dr. Dodge's statements seem not believable for the further reason that they are just too naive. For example, he says about the directors meeting in which he resigned: "The meeting was a most harmonious one, free from any disputes whatever." Referring to the lawsuit, he says: "This suit has nothing whatsoever to do with the recent chnage in the directorate of the company, and the issues raised by it will be met by me at the proper time and in the proper manner."


He would have us believe that there was simply a disagreement about the company's future course, and he 'harmoniously' resigned to allow the other directors to implement their policy. Obviously he just wanted to produce the image harmony, for public consumption.

The article also mentions that Dr. Dodge sold some of his holdings in Poulsen at a higher price, before the price dropped.

Six months later Dr. Dodge was dead, purportedly from a self-inflicted wound, and consequent skull fracture injury from a fall. A coroner's jury found on July 3, 1919 that the injury was self-inflicted-- but what about these guys in New York?
 
Apr 11, 2001
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Jan-this IS a fascinating story- check out the San Francisco Chronicle. Back in 1984 I went out to the Hamptons area to visit Arthur Dodge, the grandson. He had a suitcase full of letters and clippings about Dr. Dodge. It was one of those cases where the family tried NOT to "talk about IT". It was one of those rainy days so we sat around the diningroom table going through all the stuff- most of which he saw for the first time- learning many of the "sordid details"- I must confess I felt a little guilty for dredging it up-lovely man and delightful family. It was an illuminating afternoon. One of the letters I saw was one which Dr. Dodge received calling him a coward and all manner of nastiness -for saving himself. He suffered greatly from the stigma. What a story!
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Shelley,
Didn't the family say to you that they thought Dr. Dodge's death wasn't a suicide? Two of the original founders of Poulsen Wireless, E.W. Hopkins and Robert Deahl, resigned with Dr. Dodge in January 1919. The wealthy and powerful Rudolph Spreckels later took over Federal Telegraph, which purportedly evolved into the company ITT. I think about that time Dr. Dodge sold his huge Pacific Heights home at 2129 Laguna and moved into the apartment on 840 Powell, where several months later he was found mortally wounded. This also where the purported "ghost" has been sighted. Dodge was a very close friend of the San Francisco Call & Bulletin managing editor, Fremont Older --a quintessential insider and wheeler-dealer local politician. In 1907, Older had been picked up off a busy Van Ness Street (in the middle of the day) by some cronies of the mayor's office, and would have been killed --except that the killer lost his nerve. It's certainly believable that some one might have killed Dr. Dodge, as retribution for some bad stock investment. I'm trying to find out more about the disenfrancisement of these stockholders, who they were, what they were about, and some more about this lawsuit (by two S.F. locals) that was filed naming Dr. Dodge as a Defendant. I don't expect to solve any mystery here --but it is a fascinating story.
 
Apr 16, 2001
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Dear Jan,

Perhaps I can interject a little info here as Shelley and I both visited with Arthur and his wife back in 1984, along with Charlie Haas and Jack Eaton.

Arthur Dodge and his brothers do not believe that their grandfather committed suicide as later reports suggested he could have been the victim of foul play. Arthur didn't know the details but his father never believed the official report, and neither did Ruth Dodge about her husband's "alleged" suicide. They believed that Dr. Dodge was silenced to prevent him from having to testify against some former business associates who became entangled with political corruption in San Francisco.

The reports which we saw at the Dodge residence on Long Island did seem to indicate that Dr. Dodge had more enemies than friends, and that reports later circulated that Dr. Dodge's murder was made to look like a suicide. Ruth Dodge even commented that she could never believe her husband would have taken his own life. She wrote that his love for both she and young Washington, as well as his two children from a previous marriage, was very strong. He was a devoted father and would have never done such a cowardly act.

I tend to agree with the Dodge family since investigations back then were not conducted with the same intensity and scrunity like today. Just look at the Titanic investigations....leaves much to be desired. Then again, the family could have been trying to protect the memory of the husband and father they knew and loved and refused to believe the truth. It's a question that really can't be answered after 80 years.

If I can answer any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask. Arthur and Maria kindly let us photocopy and photograph everything in sight that summer afternoon. They were great folks and never knew what a treasure trove of Titanic memorabilia they had sitting in their attic. The Colonel Gracie letters are the gems since few of his letters are known to survive, and one can see Gracie's persistence in trying to correct many of Dr. Dodge's statements in his address to the Commonwealth of San Francisco.

Regards,

Mike Findlay
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Thanks for the feedback and the offer, Michael. I would really like to look at some of those materials. It's too bad you're on the other coast from me. Maybe we can meet at a convention or something.
 
Apr 16, 2001
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Jan,

You're certainly welcome. I will be attending the BTS convention in Southampton in April as well as the TIS convention in Ottawa in May. If we can't meet in either location, please let me know whenver you are in the New York area. The Dodge material sits in a large box so I can easily transport it. Coincidentally, Washington Dodge Jr.'s former office is three blocks from here - it's still a brokerage house but his name is no longer associated with the firm. His former residence is even closer although the structure is one of the few apartment buildings still in existence in the financial area on Park. It doesn't quite "fit" as it is dwarfed by the skyscrapers on both sides.....

Regards,

Mike Findlay
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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After Dr. Dodge's death, his wife, Ruth Vidaver Dodge was appointed Executrix of the Estate of Dr. Washington Dodge, on or about Sept. 4, 1919. Per the Probate court's order, Mrs. Dodge was to be paid $500 per month. The San Francisco Examiner reported the value of this estate to be around $100,000.

Meanwhile, the Federal Telegraph Company, from which Dr. Dodge was ousted the previous January, filed a claim against his estate for $480,000, alleging fraud in connection with stock sales.

The Examiner reported that this lawsuit was settled on December 8, 1922, for $15,000 paid by Dr. Dodge's estate to Federal Telegraph. At the same time, "it was stated" that an investigation had shown that there were no grounds for the fraud charges against Dr. Dodge. All claims were dropped, on both sides, including the Estate's countersuit against Federal Telegraph for $224,000. The Examiner reported that Mrs. Dodge decided to settle when she was informed that it would cost $30,000 to prosecute the counterclaim against Federal Telegraph.

The Honorable Thomas Graham, the probate judge, declared that Dr. Dodge was vindicated by the dismissal of Federal Telegraph's fraud charges. "The action on the part of Federal Telegraph Company justifies my faith in (Dr. Dodge) and completely clears his name of any stigma."

Here is my take on what happened:

1. Federal Telegraph had an enormous $480,000 claim. The company would get whatever was left after the payment of costs of administration of the estate, on a pro rata basis with other unsecured creditors. However, given the size of its claim, if proven up, Federal Telegraph would probably get the lion's share of any estate assets at distribution.

2. Dr. Dodge's estate was worth an estimated $100,000. In trying to achieve a settlement, the parties would have considered what it would cost to go to trial. If Mrs. Dodge wasn't entitled to any community share, and assuming the counterclaim against Federal Telegraph had merit, the $30,000 cost that the estate would incur in prosecuting the counterclaim (regardless of who wins) would be a cost of administration of the estate, have reduced the value of the estate to $70,000.

3. That leaves $70,000 for distribution to creditors, heirs, etc., including Federal Telegraph. Of that sum, the prosecution of the lawsuit by Federal Telegraph would probably been the equivalent of what Mrs. Dodge's lawyers (representing the defendant, Estate of Dr. Dodge) stated, i.e., $30,000. By settling, this litigation cost was avoided on both sides --but realistically, the estimated amounts of those costs are considered in arriving at a mutual settlement.

4. That leaves $40,000. Mrs. Dodge, as Executrix, and per Judge Thomas' Order, had been paid $500/mo. (probably for 38 months, i.e., Sept. 1919 through December 1922, or $19,000). This leaves $21,000 for settlement.

5. Mrs. Dodge has an incentive to settle so that she could close the estate, and distribute the property. They settled at $15,000. She must have perceived that the counterclaim was not nearly worth (or likely to garner) $224,000 --all she got for it was the statement that an investigation revealed that the fraud charges were unfounded. Perhaps it was discounted because the settlement would effect a closure of the probate estate, and allow for a quick distribution of the funds. Getting the money quicker has some value, in itself.

In sum, this sounds like a nuts and bolts settlement to me --that has little to do with the merits of the claims, respectively. From a practical vantagepoint, the settlement left the estate with roughly $65,000, or more than half, for the heirs and other creditors.
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Further research has revealed that the "guys in New York" who ousted Dr. Dodge from the presidency of the Federal Telegraph Company were: T. Coleman du Pont, the brokerage of Lazard Freres, Mark L. Gerstle, Sigmund Stern, and several others --not exactly persons whom I would refer to as "lightweights." Further, they were represented by Hiram Johnson, Jr., the son (I think) of the former Governor of California and then current United States Senator, Hiram Johnson. Even with his Democratic party connections, Dr. Dodge was out of his league here.

Dodge left a handsome $18,000/year salary, and some serious blood on the floor: his position was taken over by Leon Bocqueraz of the French American Bank of Savings, and incredibly, by the plaintiff in a suit filed against Dr. Dodge, T.C. Tegnazzini of the Anglo California Trust. Thus, the man who sued Dr. Dodge ultimately got his job.

Incidently, at about that time, Dr. Dodge sold his huge mansion on 2129 Laguna Street, shown on the San Francisco Titanica website (http://communities.msn.com/jshomispictures)(look under "Titanic" and then the subpage for "Pacific Heights").

At the shareholders' meeting, Dodge told Johnson that he was loath to retain the presidency, but that honor compelled him to, since he had induced Coleman and Lazard to buy shares in the company. But Johnson produced a telegram from Coleman du Pont stating that Coleman wanted to make "common cause" with Tegnazzini, in that lawsuit, and wished for Dodge to resign.

Apparently, Guglielmo Marconi --of Titanic disaster fame--had some involvement, at least indirectly. The San Francisco Examiner reported that on the day of Dr. Dodge's resignation, the company was set to approve a sale of certain Poulsen Wireless rights and stations in England to Marconi for $500,000, through a company called Radio Development Corporation.

Additionally, Dodge had previously sold various rights and stations to the United States Government for $1,600,000.

Director E.W. Hopkins also resigned, with Dr. Dodge. Then, attorney Johnson, Jr., arranged to terminate a 1911 voting trust that held 201,000 shares of the 250,000 shares outstanding. Trustees Hopkins, J. Henry Meyer, and Prof. C.D. Marx acceded to Johnson's request. The voting trust had given the old board, which included Dr. Dodge, a perpetual sway over the company's affairs.

Given that the stock did a NASDAQ-style dive, i.e., lost 50% of its value, and that Dr. Dodge had sold his shares when the stock was at its peak ($15), Dodge's position was precarious, to say the least.

The interesting unknown here is the function of a company that Dodge organized, known as Valencia Company, that Johnson identified to the San Francisco Examiner. Apparently, a New York lawyer named Nathan Vidaver was involved in its affairs. "Vidaver" suggests a connection to Dr. Dodge's wife, formerly Ruth Vidaver. I suspect, but I really don't know, that Valencia received some commission, from the United States and Marconi transactions. Later, the shareholders sued to recover $480,000 that Dr. Dodge and his associates purportedly received as commissions. Perhaps something was known about Valencia and Vidaver's activities vis-a-vis Poulsen Wireless, and that Johnson and the shareholders used this knowledge to force Dodge to resign without a fight.

I wonder how much Marconi was involved? Any thoughts?

For the record, Dr. Dodge's real name was Henry Washington Dodge, the same as his first son's name. Henry received $20,000 under Dodge's will, one Dr. John Gallwey received $5,000, and Ruth Vidaver Dodge got the rest. Washington Jr. didn't receive anything, at least directly. Who is Dr. John Gallwey? Why did he receive such a sum? Any ideas?
 
Jul 10, 2005
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With all the research that you have put into the Dodge's Jan, you should write a book on them!

I wish I had answers to your questions, and some theories just add up to more questions. Just as some of the questions I am tackling now with the CQD position and where the survivors were picked up and where Titanic's stern section actually are.

According to the San Francisco Call, Gallwey was married to Mary Cathrine Bassett in 1888. That is all I have so far.

Will see if I can dig more up later.

Beverly
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Beverly,

In reviewing some of the marconigrams sent from Carpathia, I noted that Washington Dodge sent one stating "All Safe" to "N. Vidaver" at 116 Nassau Street, New York."

This must be Nathan Vidaver, the lawyer later involved in the Valencia company, and in the Federal Telegraph scandal. Obviously, given the sending of the telegram, Nathan Vidaver must have been a close family member.
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Does anyone perceive a comparison between Dodge's manner of surviving the Titanic disaster, and his dealings with the Federal Telegraph company shareholders? Perhaps there's one. He left the Titanic in a lifeboat, saved himself, while many others died. With Federal Telegraph, he sold his shares of stock at the high price ($15), saved himself from any loss, and in effect, jumped ship (he sold all his shares), while the value of the other shareholders shares sank ($5-7). He suffered the same type of recrimination for both events. I wonder if he drew any analogy in his mind.
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Thanks, Beverly, I don't think I'll do a book, but maybe an ET Article, or update the biography of Dodge on this site --which, frankly, is woefully inadequate.

Thinking out loud here-- another point about Valencia Development Company, consider this: the $480,000 paid to Valencia, which appears to have been run by Dr. Dodge's father-in-law, or other relative, Nathan Vidaver, in connection with the $1,600,000 sales of Poulsen's rights to the U.S. government, was a 30% commission. Dr. Dodge's share of that was purported to be 11% of the $1,600,000, or $175,000. Aside from the self-interest conflict on Dr. Dodge's part, and duty of loyalty issues, does this seem like an usually large finders or brokers fee for Valencia to take?

Notably, Federal Telegraph was controlled by a voting trust. Additionally, directors of companys are like trustees of a trust. As such, they have duties of full disclosure, not to act in their own interest at the expense of the trust, a duty of loyalty, etc. Now, given the amount of money involved, and Dr. Dodge's family connections, the Valencia commission looks very suspicious, even tainted.

Sometimes, company directors get away with stuff like this because the value of the company is so enhanced by the insider transactions, that nobody complains. But here, the company's value went way down --and shareholders started to inquire about why. Taking the commission looked like a milking of the company's assets.

I would like to learn more about Dr. Dodge's side of the story. Perhaps there was full disclosure to the company's other directors, and shareholders, about Valencia. The fact of Valencia's commission, and its connection to Dr. Dodge may have been no secret. With full disclosure, and approval by a quorum of directors not including Dr. Dodge, the transaction may have been okay.

Further, perhaps Dr. Dodge did a lot to earn this commission. Nathan Vidaver, perhaps, had some key connections in Washington, D.C., that enabled the sale. I'm sure that Dr. Dodge would have offered at least some basis or justification for his receiving this fee.

That aside, it's hard to figure out where Dr. Dodge was coming from--other than from the vantagepoint of greed. Valencia may have just been the alter ego of Dr. Dodge, and in effect, he created a shell to look like a separate entity and was paying himself a huge bonus with the $480,000 commission.

But even if he really didn't do anything illegal, or improper, in a technical sense, Dr. Dodge's actions are still hard to fathom. He was always very concerned with his honor, and the appearances of things that might implicate his honorable reputation --but this Valencia thing looks very questionable, just on the surface, i.e., a family controlled entity gaining a 30% commission from which Dr. Dodge receives nearly half, from a sale of a assets of a company Dodge controls. Didn't Dr. Dodge think about how all this would look to the shareholders, or the public? Did he think that by having the money funneled through a shell that no one would ascertain what went on?

He also, when serving as President of Federal Telegraph, sold his shares of stock at $15, when everyone else just took a bath on it. As president of the company, he obviously had superior knowledge about what the company's value was, realistically. Didn't Dr. Dodge think about how that would look?

Maybe, like Titanic, this is a story of arrogance of power, and fish. The big ship was in control of its fate and there is no destiny to worry about. Dodge, Hopkins and the others believed they were firmly in control of Federal Telegraph Company, because they controlled the voting trust (created in 1911). They could do as they pleased --take commissions and whatever else- because they were "unsinkable." But the first thing that the guys in New York got rid of was that voting trust. As such, there's always a bigger fish.
 

Kyrila Scully

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Apr 15, 2001
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Maybe someday I'll do a romance novel about Titanic and tell some of the stories that never got told. Fictionalized, of course, but as true to life as possible. Jan, you've intrigued me with the Dodges' story.

Kyrila
 
Jul 10, 2005
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Hello K & J
happy.gif


I STILL think a book on the Dodge's would be awesome! Jan, you have done so much research on it already! Kyrila, maybe you and Jan need to get together and co-author a book and maybe add some fictional romance or something???

To me, it sounds like there was foul play in the death of Dr. Dodge. It sounds like he played one to many people and lost!

If I can't convince you for a book, then I guess an ET Article will just have to do
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God Bless

Beverly
 

Kyrila Scully

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Ah, Beverly, I almost hate to say fictionalized romance in respect to the Titanic, because of all the other fictionalized tales gone before (Jack and Rose, etc.) I'd rather say, let's flesh out the stories already there. Doesn't that sound better?

Kyrila
 
Jul 10, 2005
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Hi Kyrila,

I concur with you, and the Dodge story is rather juicy and full of intrigue.

I just like a good fictional story is all.


Beverly
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Beverly, Kyrila,

There may be a political, as well as a business-financial dimension to Dodge's Federal Telegraph story.

Dodge was a life-long member of the Democratic Party. He ran on a Democratic Party ticket, as county assessor. His lawyer, Gavin McNab, was for years the local head of the Democratic party in San Francisco--and almost ran for mayor.

T. ("Thomas") Coleman duPont, one of the shareholders who ousted Dodge from Federal Telegraph, was wealthy of the class of John Jacob Astor V, and J.P. Morgan. He and his counsin started the E.I. Nemours duPont Corp.

Additionally, Coleman duPont was an important member of the Republican Party. He served as a member of the Republican National Committee, and in 1916 was one of the people considered for the post of vice presidential candidate (to run with Charles Hughes against Woodrow Wilson).

Coleman served from 1921-1922 and 1925-1927 as a U.S. Senator from Delaware. Born in 1863, he died in 1930.

Poor Dr. Dodge. Look what he was up against. A supremely wealthy group of guys, and political adversaries looking to pick a bone with him. Thus, given who is involved, the attack on Dodge could have been politically orchestrated to smear Dodge and, through him, the Democratic Party.

Further, one of the key transactions involved a major $1,600,000 purchase of assets from Federal Telegraph by the United States Government. Corporations doing major business with the government find themselves subject to the political winds.

To me, this suggests an incentive for Dr. Dodge to get rid of himself, or for some other political honcho to get rid of Dr. Dodge. With Dodge gone, and only his widow around trying desperately to reaffirm her husband's good name, the impetus for the scandal substantially declined.

Notably, there was a lot of sympathy for Dr. Dodge, I think. For example, the local newspapers noted that there was an enormous turnout of people at his funeral on July 3, 1919.
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Sigmund Stern was a nephew to Levi Strauss, and at that time Stern was a vice president of Levi Strauss & Co. He was a neighbor in Dr. Dodge's Pacific Heights neighborhood in San Francisco, and only lived about 4 blocks away.

Here's a picture of Mr. Stern:http://206.14.7.7/multimedia/sfphotos/AAD-3026.jpg

So far, I have not had any luck finding out who Mark Gerstle was.