by M. Sigmund Shapiro
August 31, 1999

Samuel Shapiro & Co. was founded in August 1915 by Samuel Shapiro who, at age 20 had 3 years experience working for a Customs broker. He opened an office with “a five dollar rolltop desk” as he used to say, and the first year made a profit of about $50.

A year or so later, he was joined by one of his brothers and the advent of World War I saw a bit of growth. (He was drafted in the fall of 1917, but the Armistice came and he didn’t need to report). After the war, the company was appointed by the government to act as forwarder for grain shipments to war-torn Europe. This traffic started the company moving toward success. The ‘20’s brought steady growth and the opening of offices in Norfolk manned by another brother, and Washington, DC.
The depression of the ‘30’s brought the company to a low point, exacerbated by a breakup among the brothers, and Sam’s undertaking to assume their debts, as he said, “for the good of the family name”.

Business grew during the latter part of the decade, but it wasn’t until World War II that there was any substantial increase. During that period, Baltimore, because of its sheltered position, was the primary port for merchant ships. They could duck into the Chesapeake Bay and avoid the U boat threat. Consequently cargoes for New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Norfolk were discharged and forwarded to destination by rail. The company, consisting of four employees, worked day and night. During that time, the company handled lend-lease cargo and a substantial amount of traffic from the Soviet Union (ores, licorice root and other raw materials) which were in part payment for armament furnished by the U.S.

The post war period brought the reopening of a D.C. office in Georgetown- soon to be moved to Dulles International Airport, and the opening of another airfreight office at Baltimore’s Friendship (now BWI) airport. The company renewed its relationships with colleagues in Europe that had been developed during the ‘20’s and ‘30’s and imports from those areas, encouraged by slashing of duty rates, brought a bounty of “department store” consumer goods shipments. M. Sigmund Shapiro succeeded his father as president, but Samuel, who survived into his 92nd year remained chairman and active in the business until his death in 1987. Sigmund is now chairman and chief executive officer.

The container age brought a new set of challenges and, as a result of changing shipping patterns, the opening of an office in Norfolk. An office in Philadelphia soon followed, and the need for automation was recognized. The company embarked on a long range plan for information exchange with Customs and its clients which, to this day is still being modified and enhanced to anticipate clients’ needs into the next century.

A quantum leap in the company’s future came about in 1995. The company had analyzed the need to offer additional services as shipping patterns and techniques continued to change, and opened offices in Atlanta, Charlotte, Charleston Savannah and New York. Concurrent with that came a rewrite of its information systems to network all of the locations and, at the same time, be able to offer to its clients, a complete logistics package for traffic management, Customs clearance and computing landed costs for both export and import movements.

The company is poised to expand further to meet the demands of its expanding client base, always however adhering to the one philosophy, more than any other, that it feels has contributed to its success to date -old fashioned personal service- employing, of course, the most modern techniques to provide it.