When JP Morgan met Kaiser Wilhelm II

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The Independent Culture
One reason for Pierpont Morgan's European trip that summer of 1902 was to attend the coronation of his friend Edward VII.

Another was to meet Edward's nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser, Morgan knew, was a different animal entirely, from Edward and himself, whose proper public lives shielded considerable private indecorum. Kaiser Wilhelm was younger, fitter, and on the surface less inhibited, but underneath he was a straitlaced, puritanical Prussian.

Morgan's purpose for the meeting was twofold. He had in mind to add the Kaiser to the string of European princes whom he dined with, advised on monetary matters, and quietly funded when they found themselves financially embarrassed. But there was also a deal afoot. With an international marine cartel in mind, Morgan had recently bought the British White Star Line and was casting covetous glances at Germany's Hamburg-American. So in July he boarded his magnificent steam yacht Corsair Ill and set off for the annual regatta at Kiel.

Morgan understood that the Kaiser would be overseeing the races from the imperial Hohenzollern. Would he come to lunch? Wilhelm accepted. With his 69-man crew at attention, Morgan welcomed the Kaiser aboard and introduced him to his guests, including the beautiful actress Maxine Elliott, who was his mistress, although that wasn't mentioned. At table those in the royal retinue tried to avoid staring at their host's large, inflamed nose, and those in Morgan's entourage at the guest of honor's withered left hand. When afterward Wilhelm proposed a brisk turn about the quarterdeck, the portly Pierpont, who hated exercise, thought it politic to concur.

Later Morgan and his new friend dined together in private. But Wilhelm adored his navy and, by extension, his merchant marine, and the sale of the Hamburg-American was delicately sidestepped. Morgan had to return home without his deal. Still, he counted the summer a success. "I have met the Kaiser," he informed the press, "and I like him"

This is the last in the First Encounters series. From next week: The Knack, a new column offering experts' advice on improving your social skills. Socialite and model Tamara Beckwith begins with 'How to Chat Up a Girl'

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