First 100 millionaire...BEZMALINOVICH, NICK
Adam S. Eterovich
BEZMALINOVICH, NICK Fisherman-Cannery-Airline-Goldmine
The biography of Nick Bez (Nikola Bezmalinovich), wealthy Dalmatian, Croatian fisherman of Seattle, Washington, reads like a narrative from the pen of Horatio Alger, but is a true-to-life rags-to-riches story. Until 1945 he remained relatively unknown east of the Rockies. In that year, however, he was photographed rowing a boat as the then President Harry S. Truman was fishing for salmon in Puget Sound, and suddenly he was shoved into the national limelight. He became the subject of much speculation and inquiry. He became a personal friend of President of the United States, Harry S. Truman. Who was Nick Bez?
Though this fabulous fisherman is a man of national repute and one of the most eminent Croatian immigrants in America today, only the barest details of his life are available. He was born on August 25, 1895 in Selca, on the Dalmatian Island of Brac, one of the larger Adriatic isles situated southwest of the town of Split on the mainland. As a mere boy he became acquainted with fishing, sailing, the hardships, and the adventures on the Adriatic. Like many other Dalmatians brought up on the sea, Nick learned about greater opportunities across the Atlantic, and so he early left his home and emigrated to the United States. Though he was fortunate enough to have his passage paid for him by his father, he arrived virtually penniless and friendless in New York in 1910. He was a mere boy in a strange new land. As be explained to this writer, “ I had no relatives, friends or acquaintances in the United States so I was on my own." He made his way to the West Coast, where he knew there were other Dalmatians, many of them engaged in the fisheries.
Not knowing any other life or trade but that of the sea, Nick Bez started his career in the new land by borrowing a rowboat and fishing for smelts on the Pacific. For an ordinary lad of fifteen to break into the fishing business would have been virtually impossible. But Nick seemed to have something that most of those around him lacked. He was strong, courageous, resourceful, and above everything else, determined to succeed. After six years of hard work, dogged persistence, and extraordinary thrift, he became the owner of a big salmon boat, a purse seiner.
Possession of his own equipment, however, did not mean the end of the struggle for survival but, instead, the beginning of a new phase of that fight, an exciting though a somewhat unpleasant experience. As a boat owner he became involved in a contest, with no holds barred, for control of the lucrative Alaskan salmon industry. Big Nick (who is 6 feet 2 inches -in height and weighs 225 pounds) led the purse seiners against the beach seiners (who use horses to drag flat nets up on the shore). The conflict was long, drawn-out, and bloody, but ultimately he succeeded in completely crushing the opposition.
Thenceforth Bez had comparatively smooth sailing. He expanded his holdings by buying one boat after another. In 1931 he branched out into the airlines business with the purchase of Alaska Southern Airways, which he later sold to Pan American at a large profit. He bounced back into competition, however, with the West Coast Airlines in 1946. Also in this same year he began canning fish on board a large converted freighter belonging to the United States (something he had been doing on his own ships on a limited scale for a number of years), supported by the government in Washington and financed by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The avowed purpose of this undertaking was to prove that American fishermen could replace the Japanese, who, in the years preceding World War II, caught and processed 66 per cent of the world's tuna in their floating canneries and virtually monopolized the multimillion-a-year catch of the Bering Sea's huge king crabs. The experiment ended in 1948, deemed a complete success, and Bez returned to the use of his own floating canneries.
Nick Bez is one of the wealthiest and most influential of the Croatian Americans. He owns or controls a string of fishing boats, four of the biggest salmon canneries in the Pacific Northwest, two gold mines, and an airline. His airline, Air West, was later sold to Howard Hughes for 100 million dollars.
He is married (to the former Magdalene Doratich, an American-born Croatian) and has two grown boys. He is a member of the Transportation Council of the United States Department of Commerce, the National Democratic Club, and many other organizations.
Because of his generous contributions to the Democratic party and his friendship with high government officials, Bez has been accused of using his political connections to the detriment of small fishermen. This hurts the big fellow. He confesses that processors, including himself, "cotch too damn many feesh" to maintain an adequate supply. He favors a stabilization of the industry by developing new grounds and methods. Seattle Times. “Nick Bez.” Seattle Times, 1969.