The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/American Commerce with Czechoslovakia

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The Bohemian Review, volume 3, no. 2 (1919)
American Commerce with Czechoslovakia
3114561The Bohemian Review, volume 3, no. 2 — American Commerce with Czechoslovakia1919

American Commerce with Czechoslovakia

One of the most urgent duties laid at the present time upon American citizens of Czechoslovak birth and descent is to help in the creation of business ties between the United States and the newly born Czechoslovak Republic, relations that will be beneficial to both parties. There are many difficulties in the way, for the republic with which commercial relations are to be established has been in existence as an independent country for only three months.

It is situated in the very center of Europe without an outlet to the sea, and what is more important just at the present time, it is surrounded on three sides by countries that are still enemy countries, namely Germany and German Austria. Access to Czechoslovakia is as yet very difficult, for on the west, north and south are the Germans, and in the east is the seething zone of small nations recently liberated and disturbed by Bolshevistic disorders. Only a few days ago President Masaryk complained in an interview that the Allies have done little to establish communications with their advance post in the east, namely Prague; he suggested that there should be at least one airship a day flying between Strassburg and Prague, as long as regular train communication is lacking.

Of course most of these troubles will be soon remedied and in a few months, if not weeks, it will be possible for mails, passengers and freight to reach the Czechoslovak Republic. But so far even news papers from Prague reach America months after the date of their appearance and no one has as yet crossed to this side of the Atlantic who is competent to act as adviser on the problems of Czechoslovak commerce in America. To begin on the firm ground we must go back as for as 1914 and take our departure from the figures supplied by American consular reports and the publications of the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce. Some of the figures available relate to Bohemia directly, but most of them deal only with the defunct Austro-Hungarian empire.

Owing to the backwardness of large elements of its population the former empire was never as important a customer of America as one would expect judging by its population. In the fiscal year ending June 20, 1914 all of Austria-Hungary with its 51,000,000 people bought merchondise from the United States to the value of $22,718,258. That was a mere drop in the bucket compared to American exports to Germany which totaled $331,794,276. Of course much of the business done with Germany should really go to the credit of Austria-Hungary, because the goods were consumed there. Russia was in somewhat similar condition, for the 150,000,000 people of European Russia took only $30,088 ,643 worth of American merchandise. Compare with that the amount sold to Norway whose population of only 2,300,000 took over $9,000,000 worth of American goods, while Switzerland with 3,500,000 took nearly $15,000,000 worth and Belgium with 7,500,000 bought $61,000,000 worth. The figures for imports into the United States are similar. Austria-Hungary sent to this country in the same year merchandise valued at $21,110,834, almost the same amount as Russia ($20,831,184), but less than little Switzerland which sold to America more than $25,000,000 worth of goods, while Belgium sold more than $41,000,000.

Of this disappointingly small trade between the United Stales and what used to be Austria-Hungary the share of the new Czechoslovak Republic may only be guessed at. The new republic contains within its boundaries three lands that formerly were known as crown lands of the Austrian half of the empire, namely Bohemia, Moravia and Austrian Silesia; it also contains the northern part of Hungary known as Slovakia. Before its break-up the empire measured approximately 250,000 square miles, while the new republic will have just about 50,000 square miles. Out of the for mer population of 51,000,000 between 12 and 13,000,000 are now Czechoslovak citizens. In other words Czechoslovakia contains one-fifth of the area and one-fourth of the population of the old empire. But it would be a great mistake to imagine that only one-fifth or one-fourth of the business formerly done with the dual monarchy will now be taken over by the Slav republic. For it is a fact that with the exception of Vienna and its neighborhood nearly all the manufacturing districts of the empire were located in the Bohemian lands. Before the war United States had five consulates in the Austrian half of the empire, in Triest, Vienna, Prague, Karlsbad and Reichenberg, or as we should say now Liberec. The last three were all located in the old Kingdom of Bohemia, and that gives some indication of the industrial importance of Bohemia proper. The other two Bohemian provinces, Moravia and Silesia, belonged under the jurisdiction of the Viennese consul, while the Slovak districts of Hungary came under the jurisdiction of the Budapest consul. Thus it happens that we have exact figures of at least the import end of the business transacted between the United States and Bohemia proper. A few figures compiled from the reports of American consuls in Karlsbad, Prague and Liberec may be of interest. These figures are for the calendar year of 1913, the last year before the changes produced by war. In that year the total exports from the Kingdom of Bohemia to the United States amounted to $8,704,760, that is to say nearly one-half of the total exports of Austria-Hungary, although the population of Bohemia proper was only one-eighth of that in the Austrian empire. It is very unfortunate that the two principal items of Bohemian export for which there was a great demand in the United States before will now have to find markets elsewhere. These two articles of commerce are beer, the export of which from Bohemia to the United States amounted to $1,021,291; no more Pilsen beer for the thirsty throats of the epicures of America. And the second item is equally affected by the prohibition policy of the United States; that is hops of which as everybody knows Bohemia grows the finest grade. In 1913 there was shipped to America $1,436,559 worth of hops. That will make quite a hole in the former trade; perhaps this will be made up by the export of sugar of which Bohemia grows ten times as much as it consumes.

Next in importance in the export trade from Bohemia to the United States before the war were buttons—glass, ivory and metal. The 1913 figures state that American dealers purchased buttons in Bohemia to the amount of $705,111. Close to this item is the trade in chinaware of which Bohemia sold to America $701,495. In addition it sold also $523,415 worth of glassware and $44,058 of earthenware. The reputation of Bohemian glass is worldwide, especially for the more artistic kinds, and although the glass industry has been strongly developed in the United States, the best kinds of Bohemian glassware are articles of luxury and always find a profitable market in this country. Related to this trade is the sale of imitation jewelry for which northern Bohemia is famous; in one district over 40,000 people are engaged in the manufacture of highly artistic jewelry. This industry dates back to the Middle Ages and finds market in nearly every country on the globe. It includes every conceivable variety of jewelry and novelties, such as brooches, pendants, belt buckles, hatpins, ear rings, rings and imitation diamonds. United States bought in 1906 $795,667 and to this might be added $330,481 worth of beads and $138,213 dress fasteners. A related industry is the making of lamps and chandeliers of which the United States bought $109,687 worth.

An important item of trade between Bohemia and America, and one which has an excellent change of growing, is that of linen goods; figures for 1913 are $518,065. Bohemian linen, laces and embroidery are found sold in this country as Irish linen and French or Belgian laces, because they are not so well known, but their quality is equal to anything produced in western Europe. Another important object of trade which could easily be increased is in ladies gloves, produced principally in Prague itself. The amount sold in 1913 was $274,521. Vienna also manufactures gloves and Prague has the opportunity now of capturing the business of its rival. A very promissing item of trade also is the export of musical instruments, principally violins, but also brass and reed instruments; the last figures are $200,116. Bohemia has the opportunity now to get the big American market which was before the war supplied principally from Germany and during the war by not very satisfactory instruments manufactured in Japan. And Czechoslovakia will also compete now with the Germans and Japanese for the American toy market. Musical toys especially have been exported from northern Bohemia to the United States, the value for 1913 being $85,841.

The woolen and cotton industry of Bohemia is highly developed, practically all the cotton mills of former Austria being located in Bohemia. But it would be too much to expect a great market for cotton and woolen goods in this country which is so well equipped in this industry. The principal market of the Czechoslovaks will be in the Balkans and in Russia. In 1913 the exports of woolen goods to America from Bohemia amounted to $131,096 and of cotton goods to $111,591. Carpets and rugs, mostly woolen, were sold to the United States to the value of $88,026.

In the statistical figures one finds an interesting item of $131,906 of books; no doubt mostly Czech books for our people in this country. Among similar items that seem to ofer a promise of bigger market in the United States are found chemicals to the value of $173,459. The Czechs have splendid chemists, fully equal to the best men in Germany, but it would take experts acquainted with present conditions in Bohemia and Germany to speak with more assurance about the growth of trade in this line between the two countries. Two other small items in the list of articles exported to the United States from Bohemia give promise of much growth—artificial flowers which the people in the old country are extremely skilled to produce and of which America bought $70,318 worth; and bent wood furniture, chairs with cane seats of which great quantities were manufactured before the war in Vienna, and also in Moravia. The Czechs ought to be able to compete in America with the Vienna manufacturers. An article of commerce the sale of which the Czechoslovak Government will hardly care to push is the export of human hair of which America bought $123,114. But it would seem that it would be possible to increase the sale in America of clover seed and sugar beet seed; of the former American bought $98,840 and of the latter $92,680 worth.

It is unfortunate that we do not know more of the present status of the industry and supplies of manufactured goods in Czechoslovakia. The new republic must buy tremendous amounts of food, clothing, raw materials for its factories and manu factured goods, and in return for them it must try to sell as much of its products as possible so as to avoid borrowing too freely. We know that the country has large supplies on hand of sugar and hops, and we know also that smaller items of Bohemian manufacture, like glassware, can find purchasers in this country immediately at an advance of several hundred percent over pre-war prices.

As to what America can sell to Czechoslovakia, a distinction must be drawn between immediate needs and the normal trade of the future. Like all the European countries, Bohemia needs urgently large quantities of food, lard and butter above all, flour, rice, coffee, meat, etc. Even more urgent seems to be the lack of shoes and clothing, for Prague newspapers complain that while the food ration has been increased, since the country rid itself of the Austrian yoke, no improvement is as yet to be perceived in the matter of getting shoes and clothing. And as to other immediate needs, one can only guess at the real lack of horses and cattle, copper, machinery, oils and innumerable other things. We feel very badly our lack of detailed information of the present economic and industrial conditions in the old lands; and if it is impracticable to send experienced Bohemian business men over here, then some of our own financial and business leading men must go to Prague.

Going back to the American consular reports from before the war, we get some idea of the ordinary exports from the United States to Bohemia. Exact figures are lacking, since the American consul had no official duty to perform in connection with American goods imported into or consumed in his district. But we get sufficient information to show us in general what Bohemia bought of the United States before war.

The greatest single item of commerce bought of America by Bohemia was raw cotton. While much was also bought from India and Egypt, United States was after all the main supply of the flourishing Bohemian textile industry. People in this country do not understand that nearly all the cotton mills of Austria were located in Bohemia, that in these Bohemian mills there were over 4,000,000 spindles and that Bohemian cotton goods almost monopolized the Balkan markets and large parts of Asia. There is no doubt that these markets will increase and that Bohemia will be a still greater consumer of American cotton.

Machinery is perhaps second in importance. While Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia have important machine shops, and while steel mills in Bohemian and Silesian coal centers produced rails, structural steel, etc. for export, much American machinery was bought by Bohemia before the war, such as agricultural machinery and especially gas oline motors and tractors, sewing machines, typewriters, adding machines, cash registers, shoemaking machinery, printing machines, hardware, steam radiators. Tools of American manufacture enjoy the highest reputation and have been generally on sale in Prague. American machinery was used in many manufacturing establishments, and the Czechoslovak republic is a promising field for the American machinery exporter. A sales depot should be organized in Prague where the machinery may be inspected, seen in operation and repaired. There is sure to be also a great market in Bohemia for American automobiles, especially the cheaper makes. There has always been a great demand for various American novelties, such as safety razors, fountain pens and photographic aparatus, stationery, carbon paper, office furniture, etc. American canned fruits and vegetables were known in Prague very favorably and large market may be gained for them.

Formerly most of these goods were sold in Bohemia through commission houses in Vienna, Hamburg and Berlin. Today the American exporter should realize that Prague will be the principal city in Central Europe and should be the sales depot of his wares, both for the Czechoslovak Republic and the new countries to the south and east of it. He should also remember that labels on his goods should not be in German, but in English and Czech.

Taking our departure from the pre-war figures, we may say that the territory included in the new Czechoslovak Republic bought before the war about $10,000 ,000 worth of American goods. As the prices of these goods have more than doubled, we would have an export trade of some $20,000,000, but both the present needs of the Czechoslovak lands and their increased consuming capacity in the future make of them a still more promising field for the American manufacturer and exporter. If Belgium could take more than $60,000,000 worth of American products in a year, why should not Czechoslovakia, which has twice the population of Belgium, with good will on both sides and the desire for close business relations, increase its national consumption of the products of the United States, until American exports reacli the great sum of one hundred million dollars?

This work was published before January 1, 1929 and is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 95 years or less since publication.

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