HistoryAtState
Assistant Secretary of War Breckenridge Brings Gold

U.S. Ambassador to Germany James Gerard described in his memoirs the steps the Embassy was taking to care for Americans who were living in Berlin after the declaration of war in the summer of 1914. Gerard wrote that,

“Almost the instant that war was declared, I cabled to our government suggesting that a ship should be sent over with gold because, of course, with gold, no matter what the country, necessaries can always be bought. Rumours of the dispatch of the Tennessee and other ships from America, reached Berlin and a great number of the more ignorant of the Americans got to believe that these ships were being sent over to take Americans home. One morning an American woman spoke to me and said she would consent to go home on one of these ships provided she was given a state-room with a bath and Walker-Gordon milk for her children, while another woman of German extraction used to sit for hours in a corner of the ballroom, occasionally exclaiming aloud with much feeling, ‘O God, will them ships never come?’”1


Ambassador Gerard Saying Goodbye to the Americans Leaving on a Special Train, August 1914.

On August 23, 1914, Assistant Secretary of War Henry C. Breckenridge, who sailed to Europe on the Tennessee, arrived in Berlin with gold and U.S. army officers.


The USS Tennessee
Photo: Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center

Gerard reported that Breckenridge “took over our relief organisation in so far as it applied to the repatriation of Americans, housing it in rooms hired in a nearby hotel, the Kaiserhoff. This commission: was composed of Majors J. A. Ryan, J. H. Ford and G. W. Martin and Captains Miller and Fenton, but the relief committee and the banking office were still continued in the Embassy ballroom.”2


Working at the Embassy at the outbreak of the War


  1. James Gerard, My Four Years in Germany, (George H. Doran Company, New York: 1917), 148. 

  2. Ibid., 153. 

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