I took my first business trip with Olcott International in 1969. Of course, it wasn’t really a business trip as I was only a kid, 11 years old. But it was for my Dad. I tagged along and was on the periphery of a proposed merger of his operation with the patent renewal portfolio of one of Europe’s (and the world’s) largest law firms.
The latter part of the 1960s found me in elementary schools in Orlando, Florida during the school year and then back in New York City with Dad during the summers. Nine months of fourth grade to a kid seems to last at least 500 years with 11 months tagged on. For grades K through 4, I attended Cathedral School near Lake Eola in downtown Orlando in a building that must have looked old during the Roosevelt administration. During the interminable period between September and June every year, I was bored witless. But Dad kept my attention, even when I was far away from him.
As revealed in my posts “The New Business of Patent Annuities” and “Dad’s Real Wife,” this was the time when Dad was building his business. Any successful enterprise consists of two essential elements: paying customers on one hand and efficient operations on the other. No worries on the first – Dad had the clients – they were seeking him out! What he needed was a way to streamline the operation of paying renewals to each patent office. Nothing was cheaper than US mail as long as foreign patent offices accepted the payment schedules and bank drafts sent from his office in New York.
Europe was the logical starting point for this endeavor – a compact continent with numerous capitals, all within a few hours’ train ride one from the other. Each city housed its nation’s patent office. Perfect for Dad to fly over and do a meet and greet all over.
Just like the father in the song by The Who “Pictures of Lilly” who told his son “now here’s some little something” (to allay my boredom),” my Dad flooded the mailbox in my Florida home with postcards from his trips to London, Berlin, and Rome (as well as Madrid, Paris, Oslo, and Luxemburg). And all the others.
I used to wake up in the morning
I used to feel so bad
I got so sick of having sleepless nights
I went and told my dad
He said, “Son now here’s some little something”
And stuck them on my wall
And now my nights ain’t quite so lonely
In fact I, I don’t feel bad at all
Copyright © 1967 by Peter Townshend
Disclaimer: I know this song was really about something else but that is besides the point.
I was particularly struck by the postcard from Bern, Switzerland showing heaps of white fluffy snow piled high on top of buildings, street signs, and mountains. Memories of my New York winters years previous already seemed like ages ago and were getting dimmer by the eon. I had forgotten how cold the snow felt in your hands, and I had never seen the depths depicted in the Swiss postcard. Compared to what I could see out the windows of my Orlando apartment (a pool or a parking lot or both), the snow covered Swiss landscape was beyond exotic. I knew I had to go and see it for myself.
So back in the halls of my fourth grade classroom with the Truman-era industrial dampers on the heavy frosted-glass classroom doors, I committed maps of Europe to memory. Lisbon to Moscow, Oslo to Ankara. And all the little principalities in between like Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, and Vatican City. Naturally, I started begging my Dad to take me so I could see them for myself.
Dad’s business by the late 1960s had progressed nicely in terms of operations. His quarterly schedules as sent directly from the USA were widely accepted by most patent offices who appreciated the implicit organization of a bulk payment process. Likewise, he had developed a network of friends and colleagues across the continent, both within patent offices themselves as well as without, counting among them many prominent patent attorneys. He signed off every letter bearing an exotic foreign address with the thoroughly uplifting phrase “extending a warm handshake across the many miles of ocean.” And in the late 1960s, as mentioned before, he was negotiating a deal to join up with partners from Marks & Clerk in London to create a super patent renewal agency, one that would be linked not only to corporate patent owners but also to thousands of patent attorneys worldwide who would funnel their renewal work to the new super agency.
So in the summer of 1969, it was time for him to return to London and continue those discussions. And I was to come along for the trip! The provisional itinerary was New York – London – Channel Islands – London – Paris – Madrid – Palma de Majorca – Madrid – Lisbon – Azores – New York. I was beyond thrilled. (Switzerland would have to wait until 1979).
Readers may discern that this proposed trip included visits to various islands among the cities. This was not simply because Dad liked the water but it also due to a peculiar situation in Great Britain during the late 1960s – absurdly high income tax rates approaching 90%. Dad and his counterparties at Marks & Clerk, Norman Waddleton, Edward Stanton, and Ray Chinnery realized that their proposed super patent renewal firm, if based in London, was going to have Inland Revenue as a (very) majority partner. The preferred solution as proposed by my Dad (according to Edward Stanton and corroborated by Martin Chinnery) was to base the operation in St. Helier, Jersey in the Channel Islands. This British dependency between England and France was a known tax haven; you just had to put up with rock fever. On this trip, Dad was going to check it out as a home base for the proposed joint venture.
We flew out to London from JFK on a Pan Am day flight on Friday morning, July 11, 1969 departing at 9AM arriving at Heathrow around 8PM. It was my first flight on Pan Am and on a long-range Boeing 707. International travel on was distinctly different than the domestic flights I was used to on carriers like Eastern or National Airlines. The amenities were bountiful; I received a Pan Am shoulder bag on boarding the Boeing 707 as well as a “wings” jacket clip which I wore with pride. The lavatories were filled with small bottles of cologne and perfume for the convenience of transcontinental travelers. The cologne for Men was Onyx by Lentheric and I have worn it to this day (special occasions only).
Just like “Joey” in the film Airplane!, I was invited up to the cockpit to meet the pilot and it was pretty much like the clip below, except of course for Captain Oveur’s joke question. It was an innocent era for air travel (as compared to the nonsense we put up with today).
Speaking of movies, international flights had ’em, which was a real novelty to me. I couldn’t wait to watch it on the TV monitors interspersed every 3 or 4 rows overhead. But when they rolled the film, I was dismayed to see that it was “If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium.” Good Lord!!! When I mentioned to my Dad how disappointed I was, to my surprise, he complained to the stewardess! And they actually switched it to “Bullitt,” a car chase movie through San Francisco much more suited to the taste of an 11 year old boy! It really helped to pass the time. Steve McQueen and Dad kicking ass, over and over!
Next Week: London in 1969
Copyright © 2015 by James B. Olcott