Darwin Asked Basic Questions and Changed How We Look at Life

First edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species
A first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species realized $83,500 at an April 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Charles Darwin is a rich source of interesting facts and one finds him in the most unusual of places. As the most versatile scientist of the 19th century, he originally intended to follow his father into medicine and was subsequently sent to Cambridge to train as an Anglican cleric. Endlessly curious, he was interested in almost any scientific question.

The publication of his book, On The Origin of Species (1859), introduced a new understanding of what gradually came to be known as evolution. In it, he asked fundamental questions. The world teems with plant and animal life. Where and what had it come from? How had it been created?

Darwin was far from the first to propose that a process of change over vast periods had produced this diversity, but he was the first to suggest an explanatory theme, which he called “natural selection.” At the core of Darwin’s idea was that all animal life was derived from a single, common ancestor – that the ancestors for all mammals, humans included, for example, were fish. And in a natural world that was relentlessly violent, only those able to adapt would survive, in the process evolving into new species.

Charles Darwin 2
Charles Darwin

Darwin was honored many times in his lifetime, but never for On The Origin of Species or for The Descent of Man. When the Royal Society bestowed on him the prestigious Copley Medal, it was for his geology, zoology and botany work – not for evolutionary theories. And the Linnean Society was also pleased to honor him, without a mention of his radical scientific work on evolutionary themes. His theories didn’t really gain widespread acceptance until the 1930s and 1940s with the advance of a refined theory called the Modern Synthesis, which combined his work with others.

He was never knighted, although he was buried in 1882 in Westminster Abbey  – next to Sir Isaac Newton.

This seems exceptionally fitting given the combined versatility of these two remarkably gifted men with voracious appetites for knowledge. Surely, they must have found a way to communicate with each other after all this time. What a conversation to eavesdrop on!

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Trade Has Created Economic Opportunities for More than 100 Years

1915-S Panama-Pacific Octagonal Fifty
To celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, the U.S. Mint produced this 1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific Octagonal. This example, graded MS67 NGC, realized $282,000 at an April 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The ceremonial opening on Nov. 17, 1869, of the Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean and Red seas, was an emphatic declaration of European – specifically French – technological and financial means. It was also a significant illustration of a rapidly emerging and increasingly global economy and, simultaneously, a further boost to Europe’s imperial ambitions.

The Suez Canal reduced the sailing time between London and Bombay by 41 percent and the route to Hong Kong by 26 percent. The impact on trade was obvious, as it greatly simplified the defense of India and its critical markets, Britain’s key imperial goal. Trade in the Indian Ocean was now protected by 21 Royal Naval bases, making it a virtual monopoly.

An even more challenging project was the construction, begun in 1881, of the Panama Canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It was a French initiative, but plagued by controversy and a consistently hostile climate that cost the lives of 22,000 laborers. The United States eventually completed the project in August 1914 after the French finally conceded defeat.

It was the largest and most expensive engineering project in the world.

It, too, dramatically reduced sailing times, shortening the Liverpool to San Francisco route by 42 percent and the San Francisco to New York time by 60 percent. The project assumption by the United States marked a crucial shift in attitudes in both trading and advancing U.S. interests in foreign affairs. This started in 1898 when the United States itself became a colonial power by taking over the Philippines from Spain.

It then accelerated under President Teddy Roosevelt (1901-09), when he actively advocated American military involvement, especially in Latin America, to ensure stability as a means of advancing American interests. A major consequence was the strengthening of the U.S. Navy and its “Great White Fleet,” which completed a circumnavigation of the globe between 1907 and 1909. This was followed by President William Howard Taft’s Dollar Diplomacy, by which American commercial interests – primarily in Latin America and East Asia – were secured by the backing of the U.S. government to encourage huge investments.

A hundred years later, we are still actively pursuing a variant of this strategy by advocating two-way investment with Brazil, China and India despite being on a short hiatus until the current political season ends. This is the only rational way to create the jobs we need and keep our trading partners’ markets open.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

When Nation Faces Uncertainty, Good Leaders do What They do Best

MERRITT MAUZEY (1897-1973)
Merritt Mauzey’s Depression-era oil on masonite, Uncle Fud and Aunt Boo, realized $77,675 at a December 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In January 1931, a 46-year-old tenant farmer drew the nation’s attention to a small event in rural Arkansas. Homer C. Coney harvested corn and cotton on land he rented for $8 an acre. But a tremendous drought the previous summer meant that most farmers had no crop, no money and no way to survive the winter.

Coney tried to sell his truck for $25 … no takers. So he and his family – trapped in a one-room shack – tried to exist on a Red Cross relief ration of $12/month. Coney, his wife and five sons lived on beans mixed with lard (to “give it flavor”).

A young neighbor mother visited the family frantically seeking help because her children had not eaten for two days. Coney said, “Lady you wait here. I am a-going to get some food over at Bells – the Red Cross man that never give out nothing.” In England, Ark., Coney discovered a big crowd of people, hungry since the Red Cross office there was out of food vouchers. Soon, there was a crowd of 500 people who confronted the mayor and chief of police. “We’re not beggars and will work for 50 cents a day, but we will not let our families starve.”

All over the country, people read about the brave souls who gathered to demand food. “500 Farmers Storm Arkansas Town Demanding Food for Their Children,” read the front page of The New York Times. “You let this country get hungry and they are going to eat, no matter what happens to budgets, income taxes or Wall Street values,” wrote populist Will Rogers in his newspaper column. “Washington mustn’t forget who rules when it comes to a showdown.”

The Great Southern Drought of 1930 was a catastrophe, to be sure. But this act of desperation was only a small part of the bigger issue in the new decade. In 1930, 26,000 businesses collapsed. In 1931, 28,000 more, and by the beginning of 1932, 3,500 banks, holding billions in uninsured savings, went under. 12 million people (25 percent of the workforce) were unemployed and real earnings fell by one-third. In some cities, it was worse; 50 percent of Chicago was out of work, 80 percent of Toledo.

Soup lines stretched as far as the eye could see. America the land of possibility was the land of despair. In 1931, the people of Cameroon in West Africa sent a check to the people of New York for $3.77 to aid the “starving.” About 20,000 veterans of WWI arrived at the U.S. Capitol to demand early payment of their pensions. On July 28, 1932, General Douglas MacArthur – side by side with Major Dwight Eisenhower with a parade of infantry, cavalry and tanks – routed the squatters as ordered.

Today, it is hard to imagine the level of expectation that greeted President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he took the reins from the much-maligned Herbert Hoover. However, the Democratic platform in 1932 was much the same as Hoover’s: a balanced budget and a curb on spending. Even the term “New Deal” was a fluke line from a nomination acceptance, until it surprised everyone and became popular.

But Roosevelt had a supreme confidence, enormous energy, and a determination equal to that of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He quickly cribbed a line from Henry David Thoreau (“Nothing is so much to be feared as fear”), began fireside chats with the American people from a room with no fireplace, and started leading.

That’s what good leaders do.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Idea of a ‘United Nations’ Enthralled the Country … but Surprises Remained

Harry S. Truman Inscribed Photo Signed
A print of the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” photo dated November 1948 and inscribed by Harry S. Truman sold for $10,157.50 at an April 2013 Heritage auction.

“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

“The buck stops here!”

“Give me a one-handed economist. All my economists say, ‘On the one hand … on the other.’”

– Quotes attributed to President Harry S. Truman

By Jim O’Neal

It was during Harry S. Truman’s years that America irrevocably joined the community of nations. The phrase “United Nations” had occurred to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the middle of the night during the bleak Christmas of 1941, while Winston Churchill was a guest at the White House. In its Jan. 10, 1942, issue, Time reported that “a new phrase, the United Nations” had slipped into the world’s vocabulary.

The year before, a Fortune survey had found that barely 13 percent of the electorate wanted to see the United States in any international organization. However, by 1944, 68 percent did and college students endorsed the proposal to send a U.S. delegation to a permanent U.N. by 50 to 1. The House, on a motion by J. William Fulbright from Arkansas to support “the creation of appropriate international machinery to establish and maintain lasting peace among the nations of the world … and participation by the U.S. therein,” resolved 360 to 20 to do so.

In the Senate, the measure also had bipartisan support.

Competition was fierce between Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Chicago, San Francisco and the Black Hills of South Dakota versus New York for the honor of providing the U.N. headquarters with a tax-free location. Only tiny Greenwich, Conn., voted not to receive it, probably more about an anti-One World sentiment.

Then there was the dramatic speech by U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg making his historic pivot toward the viability of international independence that was given a standing ovation by senators of both parties. The press hailed him for delivering a speech of “unquestioned greatness” … “the most important address to come from the senate in the last 80 years” … “a courageous pledge to meet all aggression with force” … “a promise on no more Munichs.”

In the excitement, no one heard a shot fired on the other side of the world. Returning from Paris in a rage, Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of Vietnam, proclaimed himself president and took to the hills. The State Department yawned. After all, these were only natives who could be handled by a few companies of U.S. Marines and even that wouldn’t be necessary. The French Foreign Legion was on hand to suppress any issues.

Besides, we had more important work to rescue and rebuild our Allies in Europe with the new Marshall Plan. Remote places like Korea and Vietnam could wait as we established world order and focused on our domestic priorities. War was now passé and polls confirmed we would have peace for the rest of the 20th century.

As usual, the future would be laden with surprises.


Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

As America Played, Europe’s Dictators Set Stage for World War II

New York Worlds Fair Comics 1939
This 1939 edition of New York World’s Fair Comics, featuring a blond Superman on its cover and graded CGC VF/NM 9.0, sold for $25,300 at a July 2002 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Spring 1939 was a season of triumph for Europe’s trio of new dictators. Francisco Franco finished up his work in Spain at a cost of 1 million dead. Benito Mussolini seized Albania and Adolf Hitler marched unopposed into Prague and claimed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Neville Chamberlain and his Munich Pact would be enshrined in the hall of naïveté for eternity. Another diplomatic fantasy dashed.

War fever was ratcheted up a notch, but most of the world pretended not to notice.

In the United States, people sought escape in entertainment, particularly in New York, where the flashy World’s Fair offered them a glimpse into “The World of Tomorrow.” The pavilions of 33 states, 58 countries (minus Nazi Germany) and 1,300 companies filled the imaginations of visitors with modern marvels like television, nylons, robots and man-made electricity.

The popular General Motors “Futurama” exhibit drew 28,000 visitors daily and featured their vision of life in 1960, where everyone would be fit and tan, take two-month vacations and drive cars powered by “liquid air.” Visitors left with a button reading “I have seen the future” — wandering the 1,200 acres like members of a congregation that had witnessed a divine miracle.

Love Finds Andy Hardy (MGM, 1938)
The 1938 film Love Finds Andy Hardy marked the second pairing of the popular Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

In June, the King and Queen of England came to America and their parade in New York attracted over 3 million people (second only to Charles Lindbergh) and another 600,000 in Washington, D.C. Eleanor Roosevelt famously served them genuine American hot dogs when they finally made it to the White House.

Fantasy also reigned at the movies, where Walt Disney in 1937 introduced his first full-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and was hard at work on an animated paean to classical music, Fantasia. But the hottest box-office draw in 1938 was the freckle-faced teenager Mickey Rooney and his small-town exploits as Andy Hardy. Then came the most anticipated event in movie history, the premiere of Gone with the Wind and its epic romance in Civil War Georgia.

Awash in fairy tales and cartoons, science-fiction and nostalgia, people had little patience for bad news. However, when it started, there seemed to be no end. A surprise agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union and on Sept. 1, 1939, the killing began. After a faked Polish invasion of Germany, they unleashed 1½ million German soldiers in “response,” backed up by the most powerful war machine ever known to man.

Fantasy time had ended.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Martial Artists with Supernatural Powers Proved No Match for Eight-Nation Alliance

55 Days at Peking (Allied Artists, 1963)
The 1963 film 55 Days at Peking, starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner and David Niven, dramatized the siege of Peking during the Boxer Rebellion.

By Jim O’Neal

August 14 is an important date in Chinese history.

In the turmoil of the late 19th century, it was almost predictable that governmental efforts would be mounted to try and alleviate the growing dominance of the West in internal commerce policy. The Imperial government made some late-ditch efforts that all proved ineffective and the chaos came to a climax by yet another internal revolution that was dubbed the “Boxer Rebellion.”

This was an effort mounted in 1899 by a semi-secret society known as “The Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” whose singular goal was to expel foreigners. It was composed mostly of young men with martial arts skills and a remarkable belief they had supernatural powers that would make them impervious to bullets and weapons of the enemy.

The Imperial government was variously opposed and supportive, uncertain whether it represented a means of salvation or a risky provocation of the foreigners. After the Boxers’ fists proved to be vulnerable to bullets, they had their answer. The Eight-Nation Alliance (Japan, Russia, the British Empire, France, the United States, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary) was successful in crushing the rebellion – invading and occupying Peking on Aug. 14, 1900 – and proceeding to extract more trade concessions and over $300 million in reparations.

In 1963, Charlton Heston and a boozy Ava Gardner appeared in a mediocre movie, 55 Days at Peking, that did not do well, even though it still shows up occasionally on cable. One interesting tidbit is that it was filmed in Madrid and the casting called for 6,200 Asiatic-appearing actors. Oops … there were only about 2,000 in proximity so over 4,000 were recruited from Seville, Toledo and at least three cities in France. Many of them were owner-operators of Chinese restaurants and when they shut down to be in the movies, a major shortage of Chinese food quickly developed.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Fun Facts for Tarzan of the Apes, Satchel Paige and Mickey Mouse

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This Tarzan of the Apes one sheet for the 1918 film featuring Elmo Lincoln sold for $19,120 at a November 2009 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Some random tidbits for a Friday:

►The first adult actor to play Tarzan in the movies was Elmo Lincoln (1918) in Tarzan of the Apes. (Gordon Griffith played him as a child in the same movie and actually appeared first on screen). Lincoln was in two later Tarzan movies in the 1940s, both uncredited, and then died of a heart attack in 1952 at age 63.

1948 Leaf Satchel Paige 8 SGC 84 NM 7 - Pop Four, One Higher
A 1948 Leaf Gum Co. Satchel Paige #8 card realized $38,240 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

►On Sept. 25, 1965, Leroy “Satchel” Paige officially became the oldest player in MLB by pitching three innings for the Kansas City A’s. Paige pitched a one-hitter with Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox getting the only hit off the 59-year-old Satch.

Mickey Mouse Stock Poster Celebrity Productions, 1928
A Mickey Mouse stock poster (Celebrity Productions, 1928) realized $101,575 at a November 2012 Heritage auction.

►In 1929, Mickey Mouse (previously Mortimer Mouse) speaks for the first time in The Karnival Kid. Carl Stalling subbed for Walt Disney and provided the voice for that first line – “Hot dogs … hot dogs” – as Mickey played a hotdog vendor for the first and only time.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Roosevelt Eagerly Tackled the Great Depression with His New Deal

Franklin D. Roosevelt One of the Most Desirable and Colorful Posters for this Four-Time Presidential Candidate
A 1940 re-election Poster touting the benefits of Roosevelt’s New Deal sold for $4,182 at a February 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After the November 1932 election, Franklin D. Roosevelt had to wait four long months – until March 4, 1933 – before actually assuming the presidency … and he was eager to get started. This hiatus of power was eventually deemed too long for the modern world and the inauguration date would be moved to Jan. 20 before the next election.

It was almost a moot point since Roosevelt would win the next three elections.

Although FDR appeared to be patiently waiting, behind the scenes his team was busy working on a comprehensive legislative agenda. It contained the basic outline of a “New Deal” and was scheduled to be revealed right after the inauguration. FDR was excited and ready to get going.

After the new year started, with numerous banks closing, FDR continued to exude the same unflappable, confident demeanor. But he was growing increasingly impatient. By March, the bank crisis was at a fever pitch.

The Roosevelts entertained the outgoing Hoovers at the White House on the day before the inauguration. While alone, Herbert Hoover and Roosevelt had a heated argument over the latest wave of bad news. FDR flatly refused Hoover’s proposal to simply discourage more bank closings. FDR said, “If you don’t have the guts to take direct action, I’ll just wait until I am president.” (Which was the next day.)

That night, the governors in New York and Illinois closed all banks in both states. On Inauguration Day, all the nation’s banks were either closed or in the process of closing. Hoover was furious and refused to talk to Roosevelt as they rode from the White House to the Capitol.

In his inauguration speech, FDR included the famous phrase, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The very next morning, he signed the documents calling Congress into session and proclaiming a four-day national bank holiday.

This broke the fever and the panicky run on the banks to withdraw money was halted.

The New Deal was finally off and running.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Tilden Won Presidential Election Before it was Legislated Away

Samuel J. Tilden A Virtually Mint 1876 Ferrotype Badge
A Samuel Tilden 1876 campaign ferrotype badge sold for $1,875 at a February 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The 1876 presidential election fiasco involving Samuel Tilden and Rutherford Hayes was the only major example in American history that “majority rule” broke down … rather badly.

Tilden ended up with 250,000 more popular votes than Hayes. However, three states – Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana (a total of 19 electoral votes) – each sent two sets of electoral votes to Congress.

Eventually, a 15-member electoral commission – with eight Republicans and seven Democrats – awarded all 19 votes (plus 1 disputed vote from Oregon) to the Republican Hayes on a straight party-line vote, 8 to 7.

Hayes won the electoral vote 185 to 184 and became president. After several filibusters and threats that “the streets will run red with blood,” tensions eased and another quasi-Civil War was averted.

Tilden passed up the opportunity to run again in 1880 (due to his health) and died a semi-reclusive bachelor at his estate in New York.

He bequeathed the bulk of his estate to a trust to establish and maintain a free library in New York City. In 1895, John Bigelow, one of Tilden’s Estate Trust Executors, came up with the novel idea of consolidating with two other struggling libraries.

The result was the New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations … the forerunner of the New York Public Library, now second only in size to the Library of Congress.

Tilden died as another presidential also-ran, but with the unique distinction of actually winning the election before it was legislated away in plain sight of all. His tombstone bears the words: “I still trust the people.”

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Samuel Tilden Was a Brilliant Intellectual on Path to the Presidency

Engraved Portrait of Samuel J. TildenBy Jim O’Neal

Samuel J. Tilden got robbed in the 1876 presidential election.

But then again, his life was full of conflicts and ironies:

  • A brilliant intellectual with a tired, battle-worn body at age 62
  • Intense loyalty to the Democratic Party that was crushed by prosecuting the Boss Tweed gang in NYC
  • A cold, unapproachable man that tens of thousands of Americans revered for his reform efforts
  • A hypochondriac who was always searching for medicines and cures, but with the stamina to work healthy men to exhaustion

His legal practice and shrewd investments made him both rich and influential. He managed the finances for many friends, relatives and political allies … including Martin Van Buren.

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As governor of New York, Samuel J. Tilden in 1876 issued a proclamation urging district attorneys to enforce laws against “Bribery at Elections.”

In 1848, he helped ex-President Van Buren snag the Free Soil Party nomination for president (he lost), and in the process helped ensure the election of the Whig Zachary Taylor.

Tilden (1814-1886) became the 25th governor of New York in 1875 … and then immediately took on the Canal Gang that was systematically robbing the state through fraudulent construction and maintenance on the New York State Canal System.

His success earned him the 1876 Democratic nomination for president … ugh.

To be continued …

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].