By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun
5:59 PM EDT, August 10, 2012
Albert C. Haeger, a veteran customhouse broker and freight forwarder who owned and operated the old William H. Masson Inc. brokerage, died Aug. 3 of pancreatic cancer at his Bel Air home. He was 85.
The son of a merchant marine engineer and a homemaker, Albert Charles Haeger was born and raised on Staten Island, N.Y., where he graduated in 1945 from St. Peter's High School.
When he was 18 and fresh out of high school, Mr. Haeger began answering newspaper ads for jobs at custom brokerage firms and received only one reply.
He began his career as a messenger for F.L. Kraemer & Co. in Manhattan.
He told The Baltimore Sun in a 1974 interview that had his father not been associated with such a business, he would not know what a customhouse broker did. Customs brokers are required to have a practical understanding of U.S. and foreign export laws in order to receive a license from the Federal Maritime Commission.
Mr. Haeger earned his customhouse broker's license in 1953, and left F.L. Kraemer in 1961 when he joined Penson & Co., customhouse brokers and freight forwarders, in New York City.
In 1963, he came to Baltimore and went to work for William H. Masson Inc., steamship agents, customhouse brokers and foreign freight forwarders. Founded in 1807, it was Baltimore's — and the nation's — oldest customhouse.
Mr. Haeger explained in a 1983 interview with The Baltimore Sun that to the general public his work was "the unknown profession," and it seldom required him to appear on steamship piers.
A customhouse broker's job, Mr. Haeger explained, is gaining release of a cargo that landed by ship or airplane, clearing it through customs and arranging for shipment to its consignee. He also arranged for the insurance and repacking of cargo before leaving a port or other gateway.
Customhouse brokers also function as international freight forwarders, assisting exporters by receiving and taking control of cargo shipped from the continent by preparing all export documents and bills of lading, which describe the contents of the shipment.
"Our business is totally pressure," Mr. Haeger told the newspaper. "Nobody brings anything in or sends anything out that shouldn't have been delivered yesterday."
Mr. Haeger had a diverse list of clients that ranged from General Foods Inc., Westinghouse Electric Corp., Witco Chemical Co. and Toyota Motor Co.
He explained that even though recessions, depressions, world wars and other events can affect shipping, the business of customhouse brokers survives.
"There's always that much coming and going that companies are always able to survive," he said in the interview. "It's not like the manufacture of buggy whips."
Mr. Haeger eventually purchased the business, located on South Frederick Street, in 1974 and continued operating it until retiring in 1990. It went out of business in the late 1990s.
One of the more interesting assignments during his career, family members said, was accompanying James A. McNeill Whistler's "Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1," popularly known as "Whistler's Mother," on its 1963 journey from New York City to Washington's National Gallery and then to Atlanta.
"I met Al many, many years ago when he was teaching a course at Baltimore Community College," said Jay Black, who later worked at Mr. Haeger's company.
"He was a great guy, extremely intelligent and well-spoken," said Mr. Black, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla. "He was a good friend and mentor and was well respected in the industry."
Mr. Haeger was a former member of the Baltimore Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association.
He enjoyed riding his Harley-Davidson, sailing, flying model airplanes and building Lionel O-gauge model railroad layouts. He also was an accomplished cook who liked entertaining friends at a once-a-month dinner party.
He also enjoyed sitting on his deck, quietly puffing a cigar while completing crossword puzzles, family members said.
Mr. Haeger, a former Timonium resident, was a communicant of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Cockeysville. He had been a member of the Knights of Columbus.
A Mass of Christian burial for Mr. Haeger will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, 533 E. Jarrettsville Road, Hickory.
Surviving are five sons, Albert L. Haeger and Richard Haeger, both of Bel Air, Robert Haeger of Germantown, Jeffrey Haeger of Parkville and John "Jack" Haeger of New Freedom, Pa.; a daughter, Joanne Bauer of Cockeysville; two sisters, Kay O'Toole of Sun City, Ariz., and Joan Fitzgerald of Parsippany, N.J.; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His marriage to the former Marie Theresa Honan ended in divorce.
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