Question Pirrie's role and motivations in the IMMC deal?


Jan 23, 2019
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Hello,

I recently came across some articles claiming Pirrie was the one who headed the deal between the White Star Line and the IMMC. It also suggested it was because Pirrie was skeptical of J. Bruce Ismay's capabilities as Chairman. This would align with a claim (I admittedly can't recall where I read it) that Ismay wasn't enthusiastic about joining the IMMC but was pressured to do so by his shareholders.

Is the above true in any regard?

As my own pure speculation, could it also be the case that Pirrie wanted to have a stronger connection to shipping lines other than the WSL that were under the banner of the IMMC, and therefore have a greater chance at securing their contracts? Could it be that he offered the WSL, which he was heavily involved with, as his bargaining chip?
 

William Oakes

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Perhaps Pirrie's age was a factor.
Maybe he just wanted the cash.
Also, it has been reported that he had accumulated a serious amount of debt.
 

Thomas Krom

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Hello gentlemen,

William Pirrie was not only the president of Harland and Wolff shipyards but also one of the shareholders of the Oceanic Steam Navigation company. He was in favour of the sale since it opened new opportunities for Harland and Wolff shipyards. The new opportunities were off-course that ships of the International Mercantile Marine Company could now be commissioned at Harland and Wolff shipyards, this would also bring more working opportunity inside the shipyard at the many different works and could help improve the economy of Belfast.

There is none mention of William Pirrie every giving the indication that he was sceptical about Mr. Ismay his capacities as a chairman of the Oceanic Steam Navigating Company. It is true however that not only Mr. Ismay but also the Ismay family and 1/4th of shareholders of the Oceanic Steam Navigating company weren’t very enthusiastic about the deal. While William Pirrie was one of the shareholders who wanted that the deal was accepted not only him but also 3/4th of the shareholders wished to accept the offer of the International Mercantile Marine Company. And so in December of 1902 the sale was fully completed.

I hope this may help you.

Yours sincerely,
Thomas
 
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Kate Powell

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Hello gentlemen,

William Pirrie was not only the president of Harland and Wolff shipyards but also one of the shareholders of the Oceanic Steam Navigation company. He was in favour of the sale since it opened new opportunities for Harland and Wolff shipyards. The new opportunities were off-course that ships of the International Mercantile Marine Company could now be commissioned at Harland and Wolff shipyards, this would also bring more working opportunity inside the shipyard at the many different works and could help improve the economy of Belfast.

There is none mention of William Pirrie every giving the indication that he was sceptical about Mr. Ismay his capacities as a chairman of the Oceanic Steam Navigating Company. It is true however that not only Mr. Ismay but also the Ismay family and 1/4th of shareholders of the Oceanic Steam Navigating company weren’t very enthusiastic about the deal. While William Pirrie was one of the shareholders who wanted that the deal was accepted not only him but also 3/4th of the shareholders wished to accept the offer of the International Mercantile Marine Company. And so in December of 1902 the sale was fully completed.

I hope this may help you.

Yours sincerely,
Thomas

Hello,

on a similar note, is it true that the idea for the Olympic Class liners started out with a drawing made by Lord William Pirrie on the back of a napkin? This was mentioned in the TV series Titanic: Blood and Steel. Not sure if this is fact or fiction.

If true, I guess it would have happened at the dinner party Mr. J. Bruce Ismay attended held at Downshire House, Lord and Lady Pirrie's London home.
 

B-rad

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IMM was the spin off of the International Navigation Company, ran by Griscom. The INC would be best known for the Red Star Line and the American Line. The pot began to stir for bigger and grander things when Ellerman of the Leyland Line wanted to purchase Barker's Atlantic Transport Line, a deal that Pirrie would try to squash but fail. At some point the deal was called off, and many suspected it was the arrival of JP Morgan who probably started dipping his toes in the shipping business after talking with Baker.
Up until this point it was to costly to build and own ship's in America, and America did not have a 'Free Ship' deal, which meant that no ship outside of being built by Americans could fly the American flag. This is why American's started buying shares of foreign companies. Being to costly to build, maintain and man the ships, this was the best route. But subsidies bills in the US were beginning to gain foot, and some of these bills not only allowed for subsidies but also the admission of foreign ships.
So if a bunch of British ships were purchased via stock in the shipping company, and the subsidy bills passed, then these British companies could then become American.
Talks now began to merge Baker with Griscom's INC. Morgan would in fact buy Ellerman's Leyland Line. Now all three men (Griscom, Baker and Morgan) began working together.
This was a bit of a scare for the foreign shipping lines who were not part of this alliance, as they feared that the men's power would spill over into the railroad industry and the cost of freight for their ships would go up, while those of the three men's would be a wash. America was a major export and import.
On top of this Harland and Wolff built ships for the three men's companies, and as such was afraid that if the US subsidy bills past then their market would go away as ships would then be built in the US. Hence Pirrie (who already knew Baker and Morgan - and maybe Griscom I can't remember off the top of my head) stepped in. Pirrie had the double duty of not only protecting Harland and Wolff's interests but also the interest of the WSL.
No doubt Ismay was aware of all this, and though yes it has been published as far back as the deal itself that Ismay and Pirrie were not on good terms it should be remembered that at this point Bruce Ismay was not the only acting director of the WSL. His brother James was still involved as was Imire and Graves. It was only after the selling of the WSL that the other three dropped out, possibly indicating that Bruce was fine with the deal after all.


As far the napkin story, this dinner party has been debunked due to the time line, though I am not entirely sure it needs to be completely debunked. A Harland and Wolff company book give the ‘go head for proceeding with designs of ships 400 and 401’ (Olympic and Titanic respectfully) date of April 30, 1907, or a whole season before the fabled dinner. It may be noted though that it is entirely feasible that Ismay and Pirrie discussed the two new ships ordered, their details and possible design that summer, and it is this story that is remembered, for the actual design approved, design ‘D’, would not be approved until July 29, 1908, with the contract being made two days later on July 31.

So the drawing on the napkin may be what led to the over all of design 'D'. Just a theory.
 
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Nov 14, 2005
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IMM was the spin off of the International Navigation Company, ran by Griscom. The INC would be best known for the Red Star Line and the American Line. The pot began to stir for bigger and grander things when Ellerman of the Leyland Line wanted to purchase Barker's Atlantic Transport Line, a deal that Pirrie would try to squash but fail. At some point the deal was called off, and many suspected it was the arrival of JP Morgan who probably started dipping his toes in the shipping business after talking with Baker.
Up until this point it was to costly to build and own ship's in America, and America did not have a 'Free Ship' deal, which meant that no ship outside of being built by Americans could fly the American flag. This is why American's started buying shares of foreign companies. Being to costly to build, maintain and man the ships, this was the best route. But subsidies bills in the US were beginning to gain foot, and some of these bills not only allowed for subsidies but also the admission of foreign ships.
So if a bunch of British ships were purchased via stock in the shipping company, and the subsidy bills passed, then these British companies could then become American.
Talks now began to merge Baker with Griscom's INC. Morgan would in fact buy Ellerman's Leyland Line. Now all three men (Griscom, Baker and Morgan) began working together.
This was a bit of a scare for the foreign shipping lines who were not part of this alliance, as they feared that the men's power would spill over into the railroad industry and the cost of freight for their ships would go up, while those of the three men's would be a wash. America was a major export and import.
On top of this Harland and Wolff built ships for the three men's companies, and as such was afraid that if the US subsidy bills past then their market would go away as ships would then be built in the US. Hence Pirrie (who already knew Baker and Morgan - and maybe Griscom I can't remember off the top of my head) stepped in. Pirrie had the double duty of not only protecting Harland and Wolff's interests but also the interest of the WSL.
No doubt Ismay was aware of all this, and though yes it has been published as far back as the deal itself that Ismay and Pirrie were not on good terms it should be remembered that at this point Bruce Ismay was not the only acting director of the WSL. His brother James was still involved as was Imire and Graves. It was only after the selling of the WSL that the other three dropped out, possibly indicating that Bruce was fine with the deal after all.


As far the napkin story, this dinner party has been debunked due to the time line, though I am not entirely sure it needs to be completely debunked. A Harland and Wolff company book give the ‘go head for proceeding with designs of ships 400 and 401’ (Olympic and Titanic respectfully) date of April 30, 1907, or a whole season before the fabled dinner. It may be noted though that it is entirely feasible that Ismay and Pirrie discussed the two new ships ordered, their details and possible design that summer, and it is this story that is remembered, for the actual design approved, design ‘D’, would not be approved until July 29, 1908, with the contract being made two days later on July 31.

So the drawing on the napkin may be what led to the over all of design 'D'. Just a theory.
Wow...great info in that post. You might be the person to ask. Did any of IMM controlled ships fly flags from diffrent countries like they do today to get around certain regulations? Or was that not an issue in 1912?
 

B-rad

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Thanks. I'm actually, coincidentally, writing a book on the subject (started as a long research paper but was suggested to be expanded into a book when I tried to have it peer reviewed). Got a lot done but Covid has caused considerable delays. I will get back to u on ur question tomorrow as I am away from my work.
 

B-rad

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Wow...great info in that post. You might be the person to ask. Did any of IMM controlled ships fly flags from diffrent countries like they do today to get around certain regulations? Or was that not an issue in 1912?

In an essence not really. The Atlantic Transport Line, Leyand, White Star, Dominion Line were all British shippings line, so the only advantage would be that it was cheaper to build and operate ships. As mentioned before the idea was to hopefully have the subsidy laws passed so that the ships could be eventually registered American, but until then, it was better to keep the British and allow them to still use British subsidies, hence Morgan’s guarantee the WSL would remain British. Pirrie would also become well spoken out against subsidies, most likely to hinder any subsidy competition.


The only other way a ship could be registered as a US ship was via an act of congress which happened with the Inman line, and their ships City of New York and City of Paris, which were absorbed into the American Line. The American Line also achieved a mail subsidy from the US government, but it was not competitive with the British subsidies. Being a US company there was not much to gain and were kept afloat by chartering steamers from the British Shipowners Company.


The Red Star Line was originally supposed to be an American company, but with a 25 – 30 percent increase in first costs it was decided to organize the company in Belgium. They would gain the mail contract from Antwerp and NY, but this was well before the IMM.


The Holland- American line was brought in at the concern of Ballin (of the Hamburg-America Line), as the Holland line encroached on the Hamburg’s profits. So their adding was merely as a means of protecting Ballin’s interests. The Dominion Line is a bit more of a mystery as to why exactly they were added, but it seems that it was a simple added bonus given to the IMM by Pirrie. Eventually this company would merge with the WSL and introduce the latter to the Canadian market, most notably with the two ships the Laurentic and Megantic – with the Laurentic being WSL’s first dabble in the combination engine design.


Overall the IMM was created just as the steel trust and the several failed attempts of rail road trusts, to create monopolies to cut costs and gain profits. It was the forming of the steel trust that started signaling red flags and anti-monopoly laws began to form. The rail roads acted like the wild west and were hard to get companies to come to agreements. Several attempts were made by the steamship companies to come to terms as far as freight and passenger rates, and some of these lasted for a while but ultimately they failed, so the creating of the IMM was to create a large company with regulations and as such consistency and profit.

Your observation is important to know for people taking cruises, and unfortunately a lot of people do not. If something happens on board ship, and lets say your a British or US citizen, one would think that it would be handled like the western world might handle it, but if the ship is registered in a foreign country (often times cause its cheap - so maybe the IMM and modern is not too different) the laws on how to handle the situation is based on that foreign company's laws which may be vastly different from the western world's. That's why some missing people investigations on cruise ships are not thoroughly investigated cause the laws of the country the ships are registered to do not require the intensive investigations that lets say the US or England would.
 
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In an essence not really. The Atlantic Transport Line, Leyand, White Star, Dominion Line were all British shippings line, so the only advantage would be that it was cheaper to build and operate ships. As mentioned before the idea was to hopefully have the subsidy laws passed so that the ships could be eventually registered American, but until then, it was better to keep the British and allow them to still use British subsidies, hence Morgan’s guarantee the WSL would remain British. Pirrie would also become well spoken out against subsidies, most likely to hinder any subsidy competition.


The only other way a ship could be registered as a US ship was via an act of congress which happened with the Inman line, and their ships City of New York and City of Paris, which were absorbed into the American Line. The American Line also achieved a mail subsidy from the US government, but it was not competitive with the British subsidies. Being a US company there was not much to gain and were kept afloat by chartering steamers from the British Shipowners Company.


The Red Star Line was originally supposed to be an American company, but with a 25 – 30 percent increase in first costs it was decided to organize the company in Belgium. They would gain the mail contract from Antwerp and NY, but this was well before the IMM.


The Holland- American line was brought in at the concern of Ballin (of the Hamburg-America Line), as the Holland line encroached on the Hamburg’s profits. So their adding was merely as a means of protecting Ballin’s interests. The Dominion Line is a bit more of a mystery as to why exactly they were added, but it seems that it was a simple added bonus given to the IMM by Pirrie. Eventually this company would merge with the WSL and introduce the latter to the Canadian market, most notably with the two ships the Laurentic and Megantic – with the Laurentic being WSL’s first dabble in the combination engine design.


Overall the IMM was created just as the steel trust and the several failed attempts of rail road trusts, to create monopolies to cut costs and gain profits. It was the forming of the steel trust that started signaling red flags and anti-monopoly laws began to form. The rail roads acted like the wild west and were hard to get companies to come to agreements. Several attempts were made by the steamship companies to come to terms as far as freight and passenger rates, and some of these lasted for a while but ultimately they failed, so the creating of the IMM was to create a large company with regulations and as such consistency and profit.

Your observation is important to know for people taking cruises, and unfortunately a lot of people do not. If something happens on board ship, and lets say your a British or US citizen, one would think that it would be handled like the western world might handle it, but if the ship is registered in a foreign country (often times cause its cheap - so maybe the IMM and modern is not too different) the laws on how to handle the situation is based on that foreign company's laws which may be vastly different from the western world's. That's why some missing people investigations on cruise ships are not thoroughly investigated cause the laws of the country the ships are registered to do not require the intensive investigations that lets say the US or England would.
Again great info. I have read about the railroads in the 1800's and all the scandals and other questionable business practices they did ( lots of railroad stock being used as payoffs...ect). Never though about the point you brought up with the different countries regulations regarding someone going overboard. Would that not only apply in international waters? I need to read about it as I'm not up on maritime law. But aren't ships required to meet minimum standards to use another countries ports? Anyway thanks again.
 
Nov 14, 2005
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Hello,

on a similar note, is it true that the idea for the Olympic Class liners started out with a drawing made by Lord William Pirrie on the back of a napkin? This was mentioned in the TV series Titanic: Blood and Steel. Not sure if this is fact or fiction.

If true, I guess it would have happened at the dinner party Mr. J. Bruce Ismay attended held at Downshire House, Lord and Lady Pirrie's London home.
That's not inconceivable. It's been said that more big deals get done on the golf course than in the boardroom. Plus the whole Enron scandal was conceived on a napkin on a jet airliner if the docu on it is accurate.
 
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B-rad

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Again great info. I have read about the railroads in the 1800's and all the scandals and other questionable business practices they did ( lots of railroad stock being used as payoffs...ect). Never though about the point you brought up with the different countries regulations regarding someone going overboard. Would that not only apply in international waters? I need to read about it as I'm not up on maritime law. But aren't ships required to meet minimum standards to use another countries ports? Anyway thanks again.
They are. I'm not to familiar with all the regulations I just remember reading about this register port thing and looked up some quick info. Of course it was all the horror stories but that's as deep as I went.
 
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They are. I'm not to familiar with all the regulations I just remember reading about this register port thing and looked up some quick info. Of course it was all the horror stories but that's as deep as I went.
Ok thanks. When you speak of subsidies were those mainly from the british govt to lock in certain ships for wartime service if the need arose? Or were they for something else like mail contracts? Sorry to pick your brain on this but I have been interested on how they did business during those times. Today subsidies are mostly just back handed payoffs. At least it sounds like in 1912 they got something for their money.
 

B-rad

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Ok thanks. When you speak of subsidies were those mainly from the british govt to lock in certain ships for wartime service if the need arose? Or were they for something else like mail contracts? Sorry to pick your brain on this but I have been interested on how they did buisness during those times. Today subsidies are mostly just back handed payoffs. At least it sounds like in 1912 they got something for their money.
Both. There was the mail subsidies which was pretty much profit. Then the admiralty subsidies which were profitable in the building part of the ship but not the functionality part as it merely covered the expense for extra coal and for profits loss by areas that could be used for passengers and for cargo. Plus as new ships rolled out the ships were still reserved but the subsidies ended and were kept for the newer ships. When it came to the Oceanic WSL would state that they could have made the ship more state of the art but in reality it was probably made to be more profitable for the WSL due to a situation that had happened with the Cunard line with the dropping of some ships from the subsidies and the fact subsidies were being questioned as worthwhile. My research has shown that the admirably subsidies were to end around 1905 (if memory serves me) but I cannot find anything to say it did but at the same time can't actually find anything that said it didn't. Still a point of research. I know that ships were still registered but rather the subsidy was still in effect.
 
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B-rad

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Some good books: History of shipping subsidies by Royal Meeker; the american invasion by Thwait; the american peril by Vivian vale. The first two u can read on Google the last u have to buy.
 
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Some good books: History of shipping subsidies by Royal Meeker; the american invasion by Thwait; the american peril by Vivian vale. The first two u can read on Google the last u have to buy.
I just did a search on a site I go to often and this came up. Might be familiar to you already but thought I'd pass it along. Thanks for the recommendations.
 

Kate Powell

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That's not inconceivable. It's been said that more big deals get done on the golf course than in the boardroom. Plus the whole Enron scandal was conceived on a napkin on a jet airliner if the docu on it is accurate.

Thank you for your thoughts on that. I've always wondered if there's any truth in the story.

It does sound possible to me and I'm sure the work generated by building the Olympic liners would have been welcomed by Harland and Wolff and the liners when completed, useful to White Star Line in their rivalry with Cunard.
 
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Thank you for your thoughts on that. I've always wondered if there's any truth in the story.

It does sound possible to me and I'm sure the work generated by building the Olympic liners would have been welcomed by Harland and Wolff and the liners when completed, useful to White Star Line in their rivalry with Cunard.
Yes you would be right about that. Not only the liners themselves but they had to revamp their shipyards and other facilities also to handled the new liners. Lots of jobs for Belfast.
 
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