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740.00112 European War 1939/2887

Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Charles W. Lewis, Jr., of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs

[WASHINGTON,] June 4, 1941.

Participants: Mr. Harvey S. Firestone and Mr. Larabee of the Fire

stone Company

Mr. Villard

Mr. Lewis

Mr. Firestone referred to the discussions which took place in the Department on May 13, 1941, with regard to the demands of the British Chargé d'Affaires that the Firestone subsidiaries in Liberia cease banking and commercial relations with German firms and with neutral firms which have been placed on the British Statutory List. He stated that under date of May 20 his company had written a letter to Mr. Helm, of the British Embassy, setting forth the position of the company with reference to the Liberian Proclamation of Neutrality, which, whatever the personal preferences of the management and employees of the company and its subsidiaries, circumscribed the operations of the subsidiaries in Liberia and made it impossible for them to comply with the demands of the British Chargé d'Affaires, Mr. Routh. A copy of this letter is attached. Mr. Firestone added that under date of May 23 the company received an acknowledgment of this letter from Mr. Helm, who stated that he was transmitting the letter to the Minister of Economic Warfare, who, he knew, appreciated the cooperation of the Firestone Plantations Company. A copy of Mr. Helm's letter is also attached.



Mr. Firestone then stated that under date of May 22 his company had received a telegram from Mr. Seybold which indicated that the Chargé d'Affaires was still pressing his original demands and, in addition to refusing to issue navicerts, was now demanding that the Bank of Monrovia relinquish certain of its agencies in Liberia.

A further and even more surprising telegram was received by the company from Mr. Seybold under date of May 26, Mr. Firestone continued. This telegram indicated that the British Embassy in Washington had submitted to the British Chargé d'Affaires in Monrovia a list of the company's navicert applications and that Mr. Routh had stated that he would cable his consent to the issuance of the navicerts on condition that the Bank of Monrovia would agree to the con


"Not printed.

G. H. Seybold, General Manager of the Firestone Plantations Company in Liberia.

ditions stated in the letter quoted above. The telegram further added that Mr. Routh had also submitted as conditions an undertaking involving the company's responsibility for goods reaching German firms through intermediaries.

Mr. Firestone said that he could not understand why the Embassy had taken the action indicated, especially in view of the verbal assurances given to him by Mr. Helm that he would cooperate in an effort to bring about a more satisfactory situation at Monrovia. He then asked Mr. Villard's advice as to what action should be taken, if any, toward bringing this matter to the attention of the British Embassy.

Mr. Villard at this stage reviewed his conversation with Mr. Helm on May 24 and also informed Mr. Firestone of the substance of the Department's telegram of May 28 to the Embassy at London dealing with this subject. Mr. Villard then said that he thought it might be desirable for the Department, rather than Mr. Firestone, to take up with Mr. Helm the matter mentioned above. Mr. Firestone requested that he be informed by telephone at Akron as soon as that action had been taken.

740.00112 European War 1939/2888

Memorandum of Telephone Conversations, by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Villard)

[WASHINGTON,] June 10, 1941.

I telephoned to Mr. Helm in regard to the latest information we had received from Mr. Firestone, to the effect that navicert applications of the Firestone Plantations Company had been referred by the British Embassy to the British Chargé d'Affaires in Monrovia, who had indicated he would give his consent to the issuance of navicerts provided that the Bank of Monrovia would agree to the conditions set forth by the Chargé d'Affaires in a letter to the bank dated about May 16. I told Mr. Helm that the Department was at a loss to understand this report in view of the assurances which he had given in respect to the handling of Firestone navicert applications at the conference which had taken place in the Department on this subject.

Mr. Helm denied emphatically that there was any truth in this report. He suggested that a misunderstanding had arisen because of a proposal to introduce in Liberia the "inverted navicert system", which provides that navicert applications should, in the first instance, be made by the importer and permission ultimately transmitted to the country of origin. This proposal, which had not gone into effect as yet, specifically exempted the Firestone Plantations Company from any of its provisions. The position with respect to Firestone ship

ments remained the same, namely, that all applications would be treated on the basis of general automatic approval.

Mr. Helm invited the Firestone Company to submit a specific example of any navicert which had been forwarded to Monrovia for approval. He said that if any concrete evidence were offered on this subject he would be glad to have it investigated at once.

Mr. Helm went on to say that the British Government had taken steps to curb the activities of Mr. Routh, the Chargé d'Affaires at Monrovia. He read to me a copy of a telegram which London had sent to Mr. Routh, cautioning him in strong language in respect to his reported attitude toward the Firestone Company and its subsidiaries and instructing him to refer all matters on which there was the slightest misunderstanding to London for forwarding to the British Embassy in Washington. Mr. Helm said that it would be the policy of the British Government to have any such matters affecting Firestone discussed here in Washington or in Akron, rather than in Monrovia.

Mr. Helm also said that he would telegraph his Government again on the subject, at the same time mentioning the latest report to the effect that the British Chargé d'Affaires at Monrovia was intimating that navicert applications were submitted by the Embassy in Washington to him for approval.

In accordance with Mr. Firestone's request, I then telephoned to him at Akron and conveyed the above information. Mr. Firestone said that he would immediately radio his general manager in Liberia to ascertain whether there was any specific case of a navicert application being held by the British Legation for its approval. He said he would let us know as soon as a reply had been received.

740.00112 European War 1939/2889

Memorandum of Telephone Conversations, by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Villard)

[WASHINGTON,] June 12, 1941. Mr. Firestone telephoned from Akron to say that the following radiogram had been received from his resident manager in Liberia: "British Consul supplied us with copy of telegram from British Embassy in Washington which listed all our applications."

Mr. Firestone said that he took this to mean that in spite of the denial by Mr. Helm, the British Embassy had in fact cabled the list of Firestone navicert applications to Monrovia for approval by the Chargé d'Affaires.

I subsequently telephoned to Mr. Helm at the British Embassy and read him the text of the radiogram quoted above. Mr. Helm explained that this report was probably due to the fact that all navicert applications, from whatever source, were always transmitted as a matter of course by London to the British representative in the country of destination for his information. Mr. Helm said that this had probably occurred in the case of the Firestone Plantations' navicert applications, but there was no intention whatever to submit them for the approval or consent of the British Legation in Monrovia. If the Chargé d'Affaires had utilized this list of applications in order to induce the manager of the Bank of Monrovia to give him written assurances on one point or another, he was not authorized to do so.

Mr. Helm reiterated his statement of the previous day to the effect that the British Chargé d'Affaires had been instructed to discontinue his attempts to obtain undertakings of any kind from the Firestone subsidiaries in Liberia. Mr. Helm was confident that in view of these instructions no further difficulties need be anticipated.

740.00112 European War 1939/2890: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Johnson) to the Secretary of State

LONDON, June 17, 1941-11 p. m. [Received June 17-6:15 p. m.] 2511. My 2410, June 12, 7 p. m. Sir Alexander Cadogan has informed me that he has looked into the question of the relations between the British Chargé d'Affaires at Monrovia and the Firestone subsidiaries in Liberia. He says he finds that as a result of the representations made to the British Embassy at Washington by the Department of State, the Foreign Office recently telegraphed to Mr. Routh impressing on him the importance of maintaining on this as on other questions the closest relations with his American colleague. The Foreign Office also instructed Mr. Routh that if any further points arose concerning the application of British economic warfare procedure to the Firestone companies he should refer them to the Foreign Office so that they might be taken up with the head office of the Firestone Company. Sir Alexander says that from evidence available here he feels sure that Mr. Routh never intended to be obstructive to American interests and he hopes that the Foreign Office instruction will help to prevent further friction.


Not printed (740.00112 European War 1939/2853); the Chargé reported on effort requested by the Department to expedite a reply on the matter presented in Department's telegram No. 1836, May 28, 2 p. m., p. 521.

'British Permanent Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

740.00112 European War 1939/2858: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Minister in Liberia (Walton)

WASHINGTON, June 20, 1941-2 p. m.

36. Referring to your despatch no. 618 of May 20,10 please submit by mail details in support of your statement that British firms continue to do business with German firms in Monrovia and that Routh has been taking advantage of the prevailing situation to further the interests of British trade in Liberia to the detriment of American and Liberian trade.


740.00112 European War 1939/3170

The Minister in Liberia (Walton) to the Secretary of State No. 646

MONROVIA, July 10, 1941. [Received August 13.]

SIR: I have the honor to refer to Department's telegram no. 36, June 20, 2 p. m., and to enumerate instances reported to this Legation by reputable persons vis-à-vis business transactions between British and German firms in Monrovia and endeavors to promote British trade at the expense of American and Liberian trade with the acquiescence of the British Legation.


It is common knowledge that diplomatic and consular representatives of the British Government at this capital have given tacit approval to furthering the interest of British trade to the disadvantage of American and Liberian trade. For example, in 1940 the former British Chargé d'Affaires refused to grant navicerts to Liberians to export piassava which the Germans had stored in large quantities at Bassa, Cape Palmas and other sections of the country. A Syrian merchant was blacklisted for exporting a shipment of piassava to the United States bought of a German firm. But the blacklist was later lifted and he was allowed to ship piassava to England, the excuse given-it was to British interests for him to do so. While this piassava was not purchased by a British firm from the Germans, it was purchased from Germans on behalf of British trade through an intermediary.

During the first of the year the salt shortage became acute in Liberia and unobtainable in various stores including those operated by German traders. Shortly after a British vessel delivered a large consignment of salt to British firms one German store in particular replenished its stock. To verify the charge circulated that a British firm was supplying German traders with salt, an American clerk employed by the Bank of Monrovia took a picture of a truck leaving the warehouse

10 Not printed.

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