By Jared Olar
This week we shine our spotlight on a book that was added to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection last fall. The book, entitled, “The Story of Crown: The First 50 Years,” tells the history of Crown Worldwide Group, an international shipping and moving corporation that began in 1965 as a small moving company in Yokohama, Japan.
That moving company, founded by an American named James E. Thompson, was originally named Transport Services International (TSI), then became Crown Pacific in the early 1970s, and finally Crown Worldwide in the 1990s.
But what does the history of Crown Worldwide Group have to do with the history of Pekin or Tazewell County?
Turn to page 30 of “The Story of Crown” and read the chapter “Moving into Hong Kong,” and the answer will become immediately clear. There on that page is a color photograph with the caption, “The Kriegsman clan in Pekin, Illinois, early 1970s.” It is the Kriegsman connection that makes the story of Crown Worldwide a matter of our own local history – and is why a copy of this book was donated to the library by John M. Kriegsman of Kriegsman Warehouses on Koch Street in Pekin.
The chapter begins, “It’s November 1969 and Jim Thompson is sitting on the balcony of a hotel in Singapore having a drink with new friend Phil Kriegsman. It is their last night in Singapore before going home – Jim to Japan, Phil to Pekin, Illinois. They have a big decision to make. At the end of an eight-day trip to Hong Kong and Singapore, they have agreed to open a new company in Asia, specializing in the moving of household goods for expatriates. But in which of the two cities?”
Thompson and Kriegsman had met at a meeting of the Federation Internationale Demenageurs Internationaux (FIDI), an organization of independent moving companies. Kriegsman was then the head of Kriegsman Transfer Company, a moving and storage company with long roots in Pekin that reach back to 1913. Caterpillar then did business with one of Kriegsman’s competitors, but Kriegsman hoped that in teaming with Thompson to start a new company in Asia, they could woo Caterpillar away from one of his competitors. Thompson met the Kriegsman clan in Pekin, and they then opted to start the company in Hong Kong, where Caterpillar had its regional headquarters.
“The Story of Crown,” page 34, tells what happened next:
“The two men returned to their respective homes and started planning for the new venture. Phil had to convince his family and Jim had to come up with the money. They agreed to put in US$25,000 each to start up the company . . . One of the big decisions they had to make early on was who was going to run the new business. Both Phil and Jim had their own companies to look after and neither had time to focus on the day-to-day operations of a new company in another country. As there were no fewer than seven Kriegsman family members involved in the Kriegsman Transfer Company, it seemed reasonable to assume one of them would fit the bill. The position was offered first to Phil’s cousin John [NOTE: This is John M. Kriegsman of Kriegsman Warehouses], but he did not want to leave Pekin.
“However, John’s younger brother Jim was keen. A Vietnam War veteran, Jim Kriegsman was very much his own man and did not always get along with his family. As Jim Kriegsman puts it: ‘Being the most hated [in the family], they wanted me out of there in the worst way. I didn’t get on real well with my cousin Phil.’ In short, Jim was more than happy to leave Illinois. . . ‘I thought it was a great opportunity and I wanted to grasp it,’ he says.”
And the rest is (corporate) history . . .
John and Jim Kriegsman are the sons of the late John C. Kriegsman (1912-2005), who served as chairman of the board for Kriegsman Warehouses, and was very active in the community throughout his life. Their cousin Phil was the son of John C. Kriegsman’s older brother Arthur T. “Art” Kriegsman (1900-1988), who also had been chairman of the board of Kriegsman Warehouses and also a pillar of Pekin’s community life. Regular readers of this column might also remember that F. F. McNaughton mentioned his friend Art Kriegsman several times in his daily jottings about the Pekin Kiwanis Club trip to Washington, D.C., in June 1932.