Albert Ballin

Albert Ballin

Bernhard Huldermann
Bernhard Huldermann

Author: Huldermann, Bernhard
Hamburg-American Line
Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft
Capitalists and financiers — Germany — Biography
Germany — Politics and government — 1888-1918 — Biography
Albert Ballin

Albert Ballin

Bernhard Huldermann

Translated from the German
W. J. EGGERS, M.A. (London)

Cassell and Company, Limited
London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne

To the Memory of
A L B E R T   B A L L I N
in true veneration and heartfelt gratitude

He was a man; take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.

Shakespeare, Hamlet (Act I, Scene 2).


MY principal reason for publishing the information contained in this volume is to keep alive the memory of Albert Ballin. I particularly desire to show what was his share in bringing about the economic advance of Germany during the golden age of the Empire’s modern history, and to relate how he—unsuccessfully, alas!—strove to prevent the proud structure which he had helped to raise, from falling to ruin in the time of his country’s distress. I believe that much that concerns the latter aspect of his work will be new to most readers. In spite of all that has been said and written concerning the political activities which Ballin displayed (and is alleged to have displayed) both before and during the war, their object—and, more important still, their intimate connexion with his economic activities—is scarcely known. Eminently successful though Ballin had been in creating an atmosphere of mutual understanding between the various nations in the economic sphere, his attempts to reconcile the contending ambitions of those same nations where politics were concerned ended in failure. And yet it is impossible to understand his failure in one respect without first understanding his success in the other; indeed, the connexion between the two sides of his work forms the key to the character of the man and to the historical significance of his achievements.
It is possible that this volume may shed some new light on the causes of Germany’s collapse; this idea, at any rate, was before my mind when I decided upon publication. Frederick the Great somewhere remarked that, to the great loss of mankind, the experiences gained by one generation are always useless to the next, and that each generation is fated to make its own mistakes. If this is true, it is nevertheless to be hoped that Germany, considering the magnitude of the disaster that has overtaken her, will not allow the spirit of resignation implied by this remark to determine her actions in the present case.
In thus submitting to the public the information contained in this book, I am carrying out the behest of the deceased, who asked me to collect his papers, and to make whatever use I thought fit of them. Moreover, the fact that I had the privilege of being his collaborator for more than ten years gives me perhaps a special right to undertake this task.
My best thanks are due to Director A. Storm for supplying me with material illustrative of Ballin’s early career; to Chief Inspector Emil F. Kirchheim for assistance with the technical details, and to Professor Francke, who was on intimate terms of friendship with Ballin during a number of years, for information concerning many matters relative to Ballin’s personal character.
My constant endeavour has been to describe persons and events sine ira et studio, and to refrain from stating as a fact anything for which no documentary evidence is available.
The Author.
October, 1921.


1. Morris and Co. 1
2. General Representative of the Carr Line 12
3. Head of the Packetfahrt’s Passenger Department 21
4. The Pool 28
5. The Morgan Trust 40
6. The Expansion of the Hamburg-Amerika Linie 69
7. The Technical Reorganization of the Hamburg-Amerika Linie 121
8. Politics 131
9. The Kaiser 193
10. The War 213
11. Personal Characteristics 287
Extract Annotated by William II 316
Index: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, U, V, W, Y, Z 317



Morris and Co.

Albert Ballin was a native of Hamburg. Before the large modern harbour basins of the city were built, practically all the vessels which frequented the port of Hamburg took up their berths along the northern shore of the Elbe close to the western part of the town. A long road, flanked on one side by houses of ancient architecture, extended—and still extends—parallel to this predecessor of the modern harbour. During its length the road goes under different names, and the house in which Ballin was born and brought up stood in that portion known as Steinhöft.
A seaport growing in importance from year to year is always a scene of busy life, and the early days which the boy Ballin spent in his father’s house and its interesting surroundings near the river’s edge left an indelible impression on his plastic mind.
Those were the times when the private residence and the business premises of the merchant and of the shipping man were still under the same roof; when a short walk of a few minutes enabled the shipowner to reach his vessel, and when the relations between him and the captain were still dominated by that feeling of personal friendship and personal trust the disappearance of which no man has ever more regretted than Albert Ballin. Throughout his life he never failed to look upon as ideal that era when every detail referring to the ship and to her management was still a matter of personal concern to her owner. He traced all his later successes back to the stimulating influence of those times; and if it is remembered how enormous was then the capacity for work, and how great the love of it for its own sake, it must be admitted that this estimate was no exaggeration. True, it is beyond doubt that the everyday surroundings in which his boyhood was spent, and the impressions gained from them, powerfully influenced his imagination both as boy and growing youth. It may, however, also be regarded as certain that the element of heredity was largely instrumental in moulding his character.
Ballin belonged to an old Jewish family, members of which—as is proved by ancient tombstones and other evidence—lived at Frankfort-on-Main centuries ago. Later on we find traces of them in Paris, and still later in Central and North Germany, and in Denmark. Documents dating from the seventeenth century show that the Ballins at that time were already among the well-to-do and respected families of Hamburg and Altona. Some of the earliest members of the family that can be traced were distinguished for their learning and for the high reputation they enjoyed among their co-religionists; others, in later times, were remarkable for their artistic gifts which secured for them the favour of several Kings of France. Those branches of the family which had settled in Germany and Denmark were prominent again for their learning and also for their business-like qualities. The intelligence and the artistic imagination which characterized Albert Ballin may be said to be due to hereditary influences. His versatile mind, the infallible discernment he exercised in dealing with his fellow-men, his artistic tastes, and his high appreciation of what was beautiful—all these are qualities which may furnish the key to his successes as a man of business. His sense of beauty especially made him extremely fastidious in all that concerned his personal surroundings, and was reflected in the children of his imagination, the large and beautifully appointed passenger steamers.
Ballin always disliked publicity. When the Literary Bureau of his Company requested him to supply some personal information concerning himself, he bluntly refused to do so. Hence there are but few publications available dealing with his life and work which may claim to be called authentic. Nevertheless—or perhaps for that very reason—quite a number of legends have sprung up regarding his early years. It is related, for instance, that he received a sound business training first in his father’s business and later during his stay in England. The actual facts are anything but romantic. Being the youngest of seven brothers and sisters, he was treated with especial tenderness and affection by his mother, so much so, in fact, that he grew up rather a delicate boy and was subject to all sorts of maladies and constitutional weaknesses. He was educated, as was usual at that time, at one of the private day-schools of his native city. In those days, when Hamburg did not yet possess a university of her own, and when the facilities which she provided for the intellectual needs of her citizens were deplorably inadequate for the purpose, visitors from the other parts of Germany could never understand why that section of the population which appreciated the value of a complete course of higher education—especially an education grounded on a classical foundation—was so extremely small. The average Hamburg business man certainly did not belong to that small section; and the result was that a number of private schools sprang up which qualified their pupils for the examination entitling them to one year’s—instead of three years’—military service, and provided them with a general education which—without any reflection on their principals—it can only be said would not bear comparison with that, for instance, which was looked upon as essential by the members of the higher grades of the Prussian Civil Service. Fortunately, the last few decades have brought about a great improvement in this respect, just as they have revolutionized the average citizen’s appreciation of intellectual culture and refinement.
Albert Ballin did not stand out prominently for his achievements at school, and he did not shine through his industry and application to his studies. In later life he successfully made up for the deficiencies of his school education by taking private lessons, especially in practical mathematics and English, in which language he was able to converse with remarkable fluency. His favourite pastime in his early years was music, and his performances on the ’cello, for instance, are said to have been quite excellent. None of his friends during his later years can furnish authoritative evidence on this point, as at that time he no longer had the leisure to devote himself to this hobby. Apart from music, he was a great lover of literature, especially of books on belles lettres, history, and politics. Thanks to his prodigious memory, he thus was able to accumulate vast stores of knowledge. During his extended travels on the business of his Company he gained a first-hand knowledge of foreign countries, and thus learned to understand the essential characteristics of foreign peoples as well as their customs and manners, which a mere study of books would never have given him. So he became indeed a man of true culture and refinement. He excelled as a speaker and as a writer; although when he occasionally helped his adopted daughter with her German composition, his work did not always meet with the approval of the teacher, and was once even returned with the remark, “newspaper German.”
In 1874, at the age of seventeen, Ballin lost his father. The business, which was carried on under the firm of Morris and Co., was an Emigration Agency, and its work consisted in booking emigrants for the transatlantic steamship lines on a commission basis. Office premises and dwelling accommodation were both—as already indicated—located in the same building, so that a sharp distinction between business matters and household affairs was often quite impossible, and the children acquired practical knowledge of everything connected with the business at an early age. This was especially so in the case of young Albert, who loved to do his home lessons in the office rooms. History does not divulge whether he did so because he was interested in the affairs of the office, or whether he obtained there some valuable assistance. The whole primitiveness of those days is illustrated by the following episode which Ballin once related to us in his own humorous way. The family possessed—a rare thing in our modern days—a treasure of a servant who, apart from doing all the hard work, was the good genius of the home, and who had grown old as the children grew up. “Augusta” had not yet read the modern books and pamphlets on women’s rights, and she was content to go out once a year, when she spent the day with her people at Barmbeck, a suburb of Hamburg. One day, when the young head of Morris and Co. was discussing some important business matters with some friends in his private office, the door was suddenly thrust open, and the “treasure” appeared on the scene and said: “Adjüs ook Albert, ick gah hüt ut!” (“Good-bye, Albert, I am going out to-day!”) It was the occasion of her annual holiday.
The firm of Morris and Co., of which Ballin’s father had been one of the original founders in 1852, had never been particularly successful up to the time of his death. Albert, the youngest son, who was born on August 15th, 1857, joined the business when his father died. He had then just finished his studies at school. The one partner who had remained a member of the firm after Ballin’s death left in 1877, and in 1879 Albert Ballin became a partner himself. The task of providing for his widowed mother and such of his brothers and sisters as were still dependent on his help then devolved on him, and he succeeded in doing this in a very short time. He applied himself to his work with the greatest diligence, and he became a shining example to the few assistants employed by the firm. On the days of the departure of the steamers the work of the office lasted until far into the night, as was usually the case in Hamburg in former years. An incident which took place in those early days proves that the work carried on by Morris and Co. met with the approval of their employers. One day the head of one of the foreign lines for which the firm was doing business paid a personal visit to Hamburg to see what his agents were doing. On entering the office young Albert received him. He said he wanted to see Mr. Ballin, and when the youthful owner replied that he was Mr. Ballin the visitor answered: “It is not you I want to see, young man, but the head of the firm.” The misunderstanding was soon cleared up, and when Ballin anxiously asked if the visitor had come to complain about anything connected with the business, the reply was given that such was by no means the case, and that the conduct of the business was considered much more satisfactory than before.
To arrive at a proper understanding of the conditions ruling in Hamburg at the end of the ’seventies, it is necessary to remember that the shipping business was still in its infancy, and that it was far from occupying the prominent position which it gained in later years and which it has only lost again since the war. The present time, which also is characterized by the prevalence of foreign companies and foreign-owned tonnage in the shipping business of Hamburg, bears a strong likeness to that period which lies now half a century back. The “Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft,” although only running a few services to North and Central America, was even then the most important shipping company domiciled in Hamburg; but it counted for very little as an international factor, especially as it had just passed through a fierce struggle against its competitor, the Adler Line, which had greatly weakened it and had caused it to fall behind other lines with regard to the status of its ships. Of the other Hamburg lines which became important in later times, some did not then exist at all, and others were just passing through the most critical period of their infancy. The competitors of the Packetfahrt in the emigrant traffic were the North German Lloyd, of Bremen; the Holland-America Line, of Rotterdam, and the Red Star Line, of Antwerp. Apart from the direct traffic from Hamburg to New York, there was also the so-called indirect emigrant traffic via England, which for the most part was in the hands of the British lines. The passengers booked by the agents of the latter were first conveyed from Hamburg to a British port, and thence, by a different boat, to the United States. It was the time before the industrialization of Germany had commenced, when there was not sufficient employment going round for the country’s increasing population. The result was that large numbers of the inhabitants had to emigrate to foreign countries. That period lasted until the ’nineties, by which time the growth of industries required the services of all who could work. Simultaneously, however, with the decrease of emigration from Germany, that from Southern Europe, Austria-Hungary, and the Slavonic countries was assuming huge proportions, although the beginnings of this latter were already quite noticeable in the ’seventies and ’eighties. This foreign emigrant traffic was the mainstay of the business carried on by the emigration agencies of the type of Morris and Co., whereas the German emigrants formed the backbone of the business on which the German steamship lines relied for their passenger traffic. Either the companies themselves or their agencies were in possession of the necessary Government licences entitling them to carry on the emigration business. The agencies of the foreign lines, on the other hand, either held no such licence at all, or only one which was restricted to certain German federal states or Prussian provinces—such, for instance, as Morris and Co. possessed for the two Mecklenburgs and for Schleswig-Holstein. This circumstance naturally compelled them to tap foreign districts rather than parts of Germany; and since the German lines, in order to keep down their competition, refused to carry the passengers they had booked, they were obliged to work in conjunction with foreign ones. They generally provided the berths which the sub-agencies required for their clientèle, and sometimes they would book berths on their own account, afterwards placing them at the disposal of the agencies. They were the connecting link between the shipping companies and the emigrants, and the former had no dealings whatever with the latter until these were on b

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