1. The Founding Days (1890-1917)

1.1 Coal Import from England

With some inherited fortune and a loan from his principal, Otto Alfred Müller, the last of 13 children of a Saxon tanner, at the age of 31 years decides to become his own master when he is still working for a sugar trading company in Hamburg . Thus, on the 1st of November 1889, he founds Otto A. Müller ("OAM").

The small company imports English coal to Germany.The coal is shipped via King's Lynn, later via Immingham and Leith to the Port of Hamburg where it is lightened with own barges and poled through the Alstercanals to the coal traders and endusers. In those days, coal is in high demand: it is used for heating houses and stoves, it fires locomobiles and engines.

 

 

 

The increase of the demand for `Bolsover coal` (named after the mine) leads OAM in 1908 to the building of the MS "GRETCHEN MÜLLER" at the Rostock Shipyards, with a loading capacity of 1.700 tons. The vessel is mainly shipping coal from England to Hamburg. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914 she is just staying in English waters, but due to the captain's skill she returns safely to Germany. Later it became known that the English Government had two destroyers follow the vessel but they were unable to find her as the captain had steered northward along the English coast crossing the North Sea far up North instead of taking the direct route to Hamburg.

At that time, the staff of Otto A. Müller consisted of seven persons: the accountantsMuus and Niehus, the trader Schwede, the messenger Diedrich, the secretary Sauerland, the head clerk Sauerland and Otto Alfred Müller being the owner. In 1917, OAM sells its stock-pile to Raab Karcher, a branch of the Thyssen Group trading with 'Ruhrkohle' as the outbreak of World War I had cut off the English coal supply.

 

1.2 First Shipownership (1918-1945)

 

Otto Alfred Müller is managing director of the company until his death in 1929. He is described by his staff as a typical member of the founder generation: thrifty and precise, always insisting on his rights,but at the same time being generous and charitable. Although the relationship between father and son is rather complicated, Otto Franz Jacob (OFJ) being sleeping partner of the company since 1920, becomes managing director in 1929. At the same time, Friedrich Sauerland being head clerk of OAM since 1910, joins the company as personally liable associated partner with a 33 % share.

 

 

 

 

The company survives the difficult period from 1918 to 1922 due to the "GRETCHEN MÜLLER" not having incurred any debts resulting from War damage or repairs. In 1921, coal is again imported from England to Germany. Losses incurred during the inflation in 1923 are avoided by strictly buying forward the corresponding currencies for the imports

 

 

 

 

 

In 1923 OAM moves into its own headquarters at Speersort 17 calling it "Bolsoverhaus". In 1926, OAM takes part in delivering coal to England over a nine months period during the British miners' strike but retreats from this business just in time before the end of the strike, thereby avoiding the big losses being suffered by some of its competitors. In 1930, OAM purchases a 2300 tdw supply-ship from the Navy which is then renamed "ELSE MÜLLER" and used for shipping coal. With a maximum speed of 12 kn/h she is one of the fastest freighters in those days, making three voyages from Immingham to Hamburg within two weeks. With 72 voyages over the year, she is holding the "blue ribbon" of the Hamburg coal shipping vessels. A liner route between the Ports of Hamburg, King's Lynn and Boston is suspended after a short time due to hard competition from British shipowners.

 

 

 

During the economic depression in 1930/32, OAM is forced to lay up ships. Some customers stop their payments but OAM manages to survive the crisis relying on the minimum sales prices imposed by the German Government. On expiration of the agreement with Raab Karcher not allowing OAM to have its own coalstock for a 10 years' period, OAM buys in 1928 the port facility from O. Vidal located at the Grosse Elbstrasse.

With considerable technical improvements in the screening plant and loading facilities for lorries along with a good working moral "Altona", as this place is called, attains to the top of the coal screening and handling sites in Hamburg. During the first shift the employees screen 1200 t of sized coal loading it into lorries of 3 - 7 t while the second shift loads another 1000 t for industrial use into barges. This enables the vessels which have arrived early in the morning to sail back to Immingham by midnight.

 

 

 

 

 

Part of the coal is distributed by 5 Kaelble-engines with more than 20 trailers owned by OAM. The "Bolsover Nuts" are delivered to Marne/Holst. and to Itzehoe. Success in trade - the Pound Sterling is falling while the prices for coal remain stable - as well as Governmental subsidies for new shipbuildings give OAM the opportunity to place an order in 1934 with the Flensburger Shipyards for the first newbuildings after the economic crisis, together with another Hamburg shipowner.

With the MS "OTTO ALFRED MÜLLER" and MS "MARIA S. MÜLLER", both of 2500 tdw and built in 1934 and 1935, OAM continues its shipping activities. In 1936 OAM takes over the coaltrading company C. Carstens and its premises at Mittelweg and in 1937 O. Vidal with premises at Sierichstrasse right along the canal. In 1938 F. E. Rosenberg sells its company and premises at Gertigstrasse to OAM.

In 1937 OAM sells the MS "GRETCHEN MÜLLER" and buys shares of the trawlers "OTTO N. ANDERSEN", "NEPTUN" and "DR. EICHELBAUM" in order to secure the value of money and to pay the so-called reimbursement debts (i.e. invoices for coal deliveries from England could only be settled three months upon delivery as per governmental decree).

 

 

 

 

 

A steamer of 3500 tdw is ordered by OAM in 1938 but not built due to the outbreak of World War II.

As a consequence, on September 1st, 1939 coal imports from England come to a standstill. Transport and transshipment of coal from Upper Silesia, as well as of brown coal from Midgermany and of sand for the construction of bunkers soon deteriorate to half of its former volume. The MS "MARIA S. MÜLLER" runs on a mine and sinks near Hoek van Holland in 1942; "OTTO ALFRED MÜLLER" burns out near Stettin in 1944 and the trawlers also get lost as war-ships.

The "ELSE MÜLLER" survives the war in spite of repeated damages suffered but has to be given to Norway in autumn 1945.

 

 

 

 

While the houses and properties at Mittelweg and Sierichstrasse remain undamaged and machines and lorries from F. E. Rosenberg can be saved in the great air raids, one of the cranes at the "Altona" plant is destroyed by a bomb in 1945. In spite of the massive bombings and the great fire in July 1943, the "Bolsover-Haus" is only lightly damaged

 

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