PETROLEUM: i Royal Dutch Knight

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Like Mark Twain, Sir Henri Deterding once read a report of his death. Unlike Mark Twain, Sir Henri was shocked—not by the report but by the meagreness of his obituary notices, the fact that he was confused with an obscure brother. That was in 1924, and since then Sir Henri has had plenty of publicity, some of it furnished by himself, some by critics who called him "the most powerful man in the world."

Scheming, ambitious third son of a Dutch sailor, Hendrik August Wilhelm Deterding quit his job in an Amsterdam bank at 22 to seek his fortune with The Netherlands Trading Society in the East Indies. He quit the Society to seek his fortune with a man named J. B. A. Kessler, who was director of a little company with a big name: The Royal Dutch Company for the Working of Petroleum Wells in the Dutch East Indies. When Kessler died in 1900, Royal Dutch had wells all over the Dutch East Indies and markets all over the East. Deterding succeeded him.

Then he teamed up with the Rothschilds and Sir Marcus Samuel, who had made Shell Transport & Trading Co. the most powerful oil company in England. They fought Standard Oil for a market in China, won it in spite of the millions of kerosene lamps Standard gave away. By this time Deterding was director of the combined companies, now known as the Royal Dutch-Shell group. For the next decade he busied himself grabbing up oil properties in Venezuela, Mexico, California.

Sir Marcus' original Shell company had guaranteed the British navy oil in peace or war. Deterding won his knighthood by transporting that oil, not in tankers, but as ballast instead of water in ordinary ships —thereby fooling the German submarines and keeping the guarantee to the Admiralty. His part in the post-War oil scramble was less heroic. When the U. S. S. R. nationalized the Baku oil fields he began to fulminate against the Bolsheviki and later, they charged, to plot. He backed Hitler in Germany, added a German residence to his English, Dutch and Swiss homes.

His first wife was Dutch, his second White Russian, his third a pro-Nazi German. In 1937, after his third marriage, he retired from the directorship of Royal Dutch-Shell. At 70, worth $200,000,000, he was still ruddy, still sharp-eyed, still apoplectic in his hates, still pulling strings behind the European scene.

Last week in St. Moritz he had a slight heart attack, apologetically told his doctor: "There's nothing much the matter with me." The doctor agreed and left. Before he reached the gate Sir Henri's wife came running after him, crying: "Doctor, Doctor, come back!" This time Sir Henri Deterding was really dead.