News from 1913: The end of Ismay Imrie and Co


Mark Baber

Staff member
MAB Note: The 16 June article mentioned in the last paragraph of this article appears here.

The Times, 30 June 1913


To-day there is withdrawn from the business world, or to be more
precise from the shipping world, the name of a firm which for the past
45 years has stood not only for progress and success, but for foresight
to an extent that has made the activities of the company a subject of
world-wide interest. Founded in 1868 by the late Mr. T.H. Ismay at the
age of 31 for the purpose of bringing into existence the now famous
White Star Line, officially known as the Oceanic Steam Navigation
Company (Limited), the firm of Ismay, Imrie, and Co. closes its career
with the retirement to-day of Mr. J. Bruce Ismay from the position of
President of the International Mercantile Marine Company, the company
generally known as the "Morgan Combine." There were other shareholders
in the old White Star Line besides its founder, some of whom had
comparatively large holdings, but it is no exaggeration to say that
Messrs. Ismay, Imrie, and Co. and the White Star Line were convertible
terms, and that the late Mr. Ismay and his son after him were its


The articles of association contained some unusual clauses (among them
one restraining a shareholder from disposing of his holding to an
outsider) designed to establish a benevolent autocracy. As an
illustration of this it may be recalled that on one occasion at a
general meeting during the long stretch of seeming inactivity in
building new steamers between 1874 arid 1889 a shareholder who ventured
to hint that the line was lagging behind in developments was reminded
that the alternative to accepting the existing policy was to hand in
his shares---it is true, at a premium. The relevancy of such an
incident arises from the fact that the present withdrawal of the firm's
name is also a result of its founder's policy. The late Mr. Ismay held
that the successful conduct of shipping called for strong individual
control and deep personal interest in all details of the business. Under
other conditions he regarded it as a doubtful venture; hence the clause
in his will that the money in trust must not be invested in shipping. It
was this clause which gave rise to rumours of disagreement at the time
of the sale of the line, the late Mrs. T. H. Ismay and certain other
members of the family having to be paid wholly in cash and not partly in
stock according to the terms which had been generally accepted. Thus
when Mr. Bruce Ismay accepted Mr. Morgan's offer to purchase the line
and also necessarily the business of Messrs. Ismay, Imrie, and Co. he
made it a condition of the sale that on his retirement, the date of
which was definitely fixed much earlier than is generally supposed to
be the case (it has no connexion whatever with the Titanic disaster),
the name should no longer be used and that it should remain his personal
property. It may also be mentioned that in the deed of partnership with
those originally associated with him the late Mr. Ismay made provision
that his elder sons should have the rights over the firm's name.

Though the White Star Line has always been a limited company its affairs
had been kept so close a secret that no figures dealing with its
operations had appeared in public print until there was published in the
first issue of the Financial and Commercial Section of The Times
a table showing, together with other details, the net profits for each
year from the beginning until the sale of the concern to the late Mr.
Pierpont Morgan. The story of that transaction has not yet been made
public, but it can be told in very few words. Mr. Morgan approached
Messrs. Ismay, Imrie, and Co., who, in accordance with their traditions,
declined to divulge any figures, and thus the deal was arranged, as it
were, in the dark on the basis of ten times a year's profits, a recent
year of ordinary trade conditions being selected. Examination of the
books disclosed the fact that the net annual profits were in round
figures at the rate of 100 per cent.


Mr. Ismay's policy, from which he never departed, was only to build new
steamers when conditions permitted a marked advance to be made in ship
construction. The pioneer vessel of the line, the first Oceanic, was,
all things considered, perhaps a greater advance on preceding steamers
than any other of the later White Star triumphs has been. The Britannic
and the Germanic held their own as popular favourites for years after
their contemporaries had disappeared. The Teutonic and Majestic are in
service to-day. The Oceanic created a greater stir at the time of her
appearance, and was deemed a more daring venture, than any of the more
recent leviathans. To the White Star Line we owe the great cargo
steamer, the still larger freight and passenger steamer, which has
attained mammoth dimensions in the last few years, and the one-class
Australian liner, of which the triple-screw Ceramic (18,000 tons) is the
latest example. It is well known that money was generously and even
lavishly expended on the White Star ships; but it was by no means a rash
expenditure. The principle behind it was that outlay in the first
instance was a small matter if thereby the cost of upkeep and working
expenses could be reduced. What proportion of the credit for the
numerous and striking improvements represented by these vessels should
go to their famous builders Harland and Wolff (Limited), it is
difficult to say; but that the late Mr. Ismay had full confidence in
his own views as to how success could be attained in spite of expert
constructive opinion is shown by his refusal to listen to Sir Edward
Harland when the latter urged him to build steamers for the North
Atlantic trade between 1874 and 1889. Mr. Ismay's plan was to take in
hand the scheme of the next ship directly after the appearance of the
previous one. And week by week every new idea suggested by the working
experience of each department---freight, passenger, engineering,
&c.---was considered and was embodied, if deemed good, in the scheme of
the projected vessel, so that when the actual time for building arrived
nothing was overlooked and every feasible suggestion received attention.


The late Mr. Ismay was the originator of the real armed merchantman---a
vessel which in an emergency could take an active part in repelling
"commerce destroyers." The Teutonic and Majestic, specially built with
this end in view, had their engines placed below the waterline and
could steam at cruising speed round the world without recoaling. In
their day, too, they were fast ships, and could reach India via the Cape
in what was then a surprisingly short space of time. The Teutonic with
her guns in position, took part in the Naval Review at Spithead in 1889
and was inspected by the late King Edward, then Prince of Wales, and
the German Emperor, who paid great attention to everything on board.
Turning to Prince Henry of Prussia the German Emperor said: "We must
have ships like this without delay."

The late Mr. T. H. Ismay was little known to the general public. He took
no part in politics, though he did much good service on various
commissions connected with the mercantile marine, the Army and the
Navy, national defence, and life-saving appliances. After consultation
with his eldest son, Mr. Bruce Ismay, he declined the offer of a

As regards the future of the White Star Line and its allied companies,
an account of the past experience of the new managers was given in The
of June 16, which showed that they had all served for a
sufficiently long period under the old management to be thoroughly
imbued with the Ismay ideas and tradition, so that it may be assumed
that there will be no break in a remarkably successful policy. Mr. Bruce
Ismay, it has also been announced, retains his various directorships at
the request of his associates.