Thursday, April 26, 2007
Jevne: Businessmen Not Expecting Profits During World War I
By ROGER M. GRACE
Doing their part for the war effort during World War I, businessmen throughout the United States acceded willingly to government “do’s and don’ts”…and there was a glut of them, some cutting into profits considerably.
(On the other hand, some cut-backs in frills and services meant reduced overhead without a bit of loss in business because competitors were effecting identical changes…meaning boosted profits.)
A Nov. 10, 1917, article in the Los Angeles Times, tells of Hans Jevne’s read on sentiment within the business community:
“We do not expect to make money during the war, and are satisfied not to,” said Hans Jevne of H. Jevne & Co., grocers, yesterday on his return to Los Angeles after a six weeks’ business visit to New York and other eastern cities.
“ ‘The government first and profits afterwards,” is the motto of most of the big business men of the country now. I found that to be the feeling in New York, in Philadelphia, in Chicago and in other cities that I visited. Everywhere large wholesalers and retailers are busy adjusting themselves to the new government regulations for handling food. They do not know how these will work out in all their details, but they are satisfied to do what the government directs.”
Mr. Jevne said he found indications of business prosperity in all the cities he had visited, though, of course, much of the seeming prosperity was merely a business activity, a large part of the proceeds of which went to the government for war purposes. That, he said, was as it should be.
Among the activities the government wanted stopped was door-to-door soliciting of grocery orders, as mentioned last week. Salesmen, it was thought, if not fit to go overseas to fight the kaiser’s forces, could find employment in some war-related endeavor home side. In obedience to the government’s plea, Jevne fired his sales staff.
Merchants were also asked to curtail home deliveries, and did. (Capitalizing on that, car dealer Earle C. Anthony on Sept. 1, 1918, advertised 3-4 ton “speed wagons” by boasting: “It is less subject to delays and interruptions of service, making practical the once-a-day delivery requested by the Government.”)
Businesses, in their ads, reminded customers of government expectations. For example, a June 27, 1918 ad for Hamburger’s Department Store says:
“The War Advisory Committee has asked us to remind our customers again—to shop in the morning hours. This distributes the day’s business evenly and avoids the necessity for extra salespeople.”
Competing companies entered into pacts to honor government requests. A Sept. 29 ad placed in the Times by the Independent Petroleum Markers Asso.—comprised of Union Oil Co., Richfield Oil Co. and 18 other such concerns—recites:
“The United States Government, through Pacific Coast Fuel Administrator, D. M. Folsom, requests that, beginning October 1, 1918, all garage and service station operators limit their sales of GASOLINE and ENGINE DISTILLATE every day between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. until further notice.
“The curtailment of business is asked for the purpose of conserving fuel and releasing man-power for the army and other war service in this day of shortage of fuel and help in many essential war industries.
“The members of the Independent Petroleum Marketers, Association of California, Inc., individually and collectively, pledge support to this closing plan….”
Competing ice companies in Los Angeles also entered into an accord—were it not in furtherance of a national goal to economize, it would have been termed a “conspiracy”—to cut back on service. If you bought less than a 30-pound block of ice, you’d have to tote it up to your fifth floor apartment, yourself; the iceman would cometh only to the curb and dump it on the sidewalk.
E.T. Earl ceased publication of the Los Angeles Tribune on July 4, 1918, 17 years to the day since it was started, as I alluded to in yesterday’s “Perspectives” column.
Why did the newspaper “fold”? The Tribune’s final issue contains an explanation that the additional Earl newspaper was “not a necessity in these war times, and the money, material and labor used in its production should be conserved for other important work.” Newsprint was in short supply and the federal government asked publishers to economize on the use of it.
An editorial the Los Angeles Times that morning commends Earl…and suggests that William Randolph Hearst, who published the morning Examiner and the evening Herald, should follow Earl’s example, remarking:
“The Times cannot believe that there are enough pro-Germans, pacifists and disloyalists in Southern California to support two Hearst papers. In the spirit of conservation and waste-stoppage, one of them should be discontinued.”
An Oxnard Courier editorial labels those words “ungracious.” Hearst did not happen to follow the Times’s advice.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company