Events Surrounding Rockefeller, AT&T Recall Story of Hydra

John D. Rockefeller at his desk, 1930s.

By Jim O’Neal

Few people who were alive when Martin Van Buren was president (1837-41) were still alive when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated for his second term (1937). John Davison Rockefeller was, and he took advantage of every single day, even preferring to work on his many birthdays.

Were he still alive, it’s almost certain he would be mildly amused to see a modern company – AT&T – seeking approval from a government department for an $85.4 billion acquisition of media giant Time Warner. In 1974, this same agency – the U.S. Department of Justice – filed an anti-trust lawsuit against AT&T. Eight years later, “Ma Bell” was forced to break up by spinning off seven “Baby Bells.”

Perversely, one of these spinoffs, SBC Communications (named Southwestern Bell Corporation until 1995) started methodically reconsolidating and eventually bought the original AT&T and assumed its name. Next, they acquired BellSouth for $85.5 billion, with full FCC approval.

Big ’ins always eat little ’ins (old Texas maxim).

John D. Rockefeller became the world’s richest person (ever) in a similar fashion: consolidating an industry to avoid competition.

The great industrial revolution that transformed America after the Civil War sparked an inflationary boom that resulted in an oversupply of goods. Naturally, this led to price declines that caused a deflationary spiral. The balance of the 19th century was plagued by these boom-bust cycles. As new markets developed, inexperienced businessmen failed to recognize the dangers of supply-demand imbalances as they rushed to make their fortunes.

Crude oil was a classic example, since there was no way to predict increases in supply, and oil refiners proliferated due to low barriers to entry. “So many wells were flowing, the price of oil kept falling, yet they went right on drilling.” Rockefeller was one of the first to recognize there was a need for a systemic solution. He cited the years of 1869-1870 as the start of his campaign to replace competition with “cooperation.”

A Standard Oil Trust stock certificate with two John D. Rockefeller signatures, dated April 5, 1882, sold for $7,500 at an April 2014 auction.

By the early 1880s, his Standard Oil Company controlled 90 percent of U.S. refineries and pipelines. In 1882, his clever lawyers created an innovative new kind of corporation that controlled all of the holdings in a “trust.” The trust controlled over 40 companies and it became easy to control production, distribution and refining (and, obviously, prices).

In 1911, the Supreme Court ruled these were illegal monopoly practices and ordered that it be broken up into 34 new companies. In a twist, John D. Rockefeller ended up with stock in all 34 companies, and over the next 10 years their combined net worth increased fivefold, as did Rockefeller’s personal fortune. Today, ExxonMobil Corporation is the largest of the world’s Big Oil companies and is consistently among the top five companies in revenue and profits.

The Greeks had a myth about Hydra, a multi-headed monster that grew two heads every time one was cut off. You can draw your own parallels.

Intelligent 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].

McCarthy Exploited Vulnerabilities of Frightened Public by Simplifying Complex Issues

A copy of Joseph McCarthy’s McCarthyism: The Fight for America, 1952, signed by the senator, sold for $206.25 at an October 2013 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

It’s rather interesting to compare the 1930s with the late 1940s and the transition from the era of the New Deal – when liberal ideas were ascendant, and communism, while not popular, was hardly the abhorrent demon it would become.

To Whittaker Chambers (whose 1952 book Witness became a bestseller) and many other Americans, communism was more than a system of government. It had morphed into a campaign for control of the mind and the masses.

Too many Americans seemed to have fallen victim to the “Soviet Experiment” and were infatuated by its promise of egalitarianism, while ignoring the crimes of its authoritarian leadership. Chambers was a gifted intellectual writer, but the anti-communists were to find their most vocal champion by accident. And he was a buffoon.

Joseph McCarthy

Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was a hard-drinking, coarse man who later said he knew so little about his crusade that he would find it hard to distinguish Karl Marx from Groucho Marx. In a May 1950 speech to Republicans in West Virginia, he claimed to have a list of 205 communists working in the State Department. He had no list, but in subsequent speeches the number grew to thousands and then four.

But, with self-aggrandizement being his real personal goal, he soon realized he was onto something big when reporters started asking for more information. He played along and became anti-communism’s most captivating spokesman. By suggestion, innuendo and diversion, McCarthy pointed his finger at labor and liberals, at America’s elite, its prominent educational institutions, and at FDR and the New Deal.

Soon, he was not the only one ruining careers and smearing reputations. Around the country, untold numbers of civil servants, schoolteachers and scientists were driven from their jobs by witch-hunts just as vicious as the Wisconsin senator’s. The hysteria included schools banning the tale of Robin Hood for its communist themes; the Cincinnati Reds changing their name to the Redlegs; and Mickey Spillane having his tough private eye going after communist subversives instead of gangsters. Jackie Robinson was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to testify about communism’s influence in the black community. Even Hollywood had its own “blacklist” of writers, directors and actors.

Only when McCarthy challenged the character of President Truman’s Secretary of Defense George Marshall did his public opinion begin to sour.

There were plenty of communist agents or sympathizers in America, but it is unlikely that McCarthy or his followers ever found any. What they did was exploit the vulnerability of frightened or insecure people by simplifying complex international developments into language that tapped into cultural divisions. McCarthy helped them find someone to blame.

Fortunately, it didn’t last long after the Senate censored him … twice. He died a hopeless alcoholic at age 48.

The 2005 movie Good Night, and Good Luck with David Strathairn and George Clooney does a terrific job of capturing the era of McCarthyism through the lens of TV journalist Edward R. Murrow’s experience. It’s among my top 20 favorite movies.

Intelligent 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].

Luftwaffe’s Incendiary Bombs Devastated British Treasures

A first edition of John Dalton’s A New System of Chemical Philosophy (Manchester: S. Russell, 1808-10) sold for $7,812.50 at an October 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“Peace for our time” was proudly announced by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after signing the Munich Pact in 1938. This agreement effectively conceded the annexation of the Sudetenland regions of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany in the hope it would quell Adolf Hitler’s appetite for European expansion. Today, it is universally regarded as a naive act of appeasement as Germany promptly invaded Poland.

A full year before, the British Museum had located a deserted, remote mine to store their priceless treasures in anticipation of war. Other institutions like the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Gallery joined in by relocating historic records, manuscripts and artwork. Steel racks were constructed to store boxes and other containers, while shelves were hollowed out of solid rock walls. Special consideration was given to maintaining proper humidity, temperature and delicate atmospheric pressure. It turned out to be a prudent strategy.

However, despite all the frenzied planning, once the bombing started, there were simply too many British libraries to protect and the Germans were using special incendiary bombs designed to ignite buildings rather than destroy them. The effect was devastating and before the war ended more than one million rare volumes were destroyed.

One particularly perplexing example was the remarkable library of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society (the famous “Lit & Phil”), England’s oldest scientific society. Alas, this included one of the most fascinating and least-known scientists, John Dalton.

Dalton

Dalton was born in 1766 and was so exceptionally bright he was put in charge of his Quaker school at the improbable age of 12. He was already reading one of the most difficult books to comprehend – Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia – in the original Latin! Later, at Manchester, he was an intellectual whirlwind, producing books and papers ranging from meteorology to grammar. But it was a thick tome titled A New System of Chemical Philosophy that established his lasting reputation. In a short chapter of just five pages (out of 900), people of learning first encountered something approaching modern conception. His astounding insight was that at the root of all matter are exceedingly tiny, irreducible particles. Today, we call them atoms.

The great physicist Richard Feynman famously observed that the most important scientific knowledge is the simple fact that all things are made of atoms. They are everywhere and they constitute everything. Look around you. It is all atoms … and they are in numbers you really can’t conceive.

When Dalton died in 1844, about 40,000 people viewed the coffin and the funeral cortège stretched for two miles. His entry in the Dictionary of National Biography is one of the longest, rivalled by only Charles Darwin and a few others.

Shame on the Luftwaffe for destroying so much of his original work. It is somehow comforting to know they weren’t bombed out of existence since their atoms are now merely part of something else … somewhere in our universe.

Intelligent 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].

In Wartime, Leaders Made Sure Nation’s Treasures Remained Safe

An exact copy of the Declaration of Independence, commissioned by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in 1820, sold for $597,500 at an April 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Dwight Eisenhower was a five-star general in the U.S. Army and was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. On June 6, 1944, he directed the largest amphibious invasion in history by establishing a beachhead on Normandy on the northern coast of France.

Operation Overlord started with overnight parachute and glider landings, massive naval bombardments and air attacks … followed by amphibious landings on five beaches. They were code named Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword. Then, the remaining elements of the airborne divisions landed.

The successful operation is now commonly called D-Day.

There was an elaborate plan formulated to convince the Germans that Normandy was not the focal point of the invasion and, despite several unfortunate leaks, it was generally successful. The use of code names helped to disguise the actual location and even extended to officers who had knowledge of real D-Day plans. None of them were to be deployed to areas where there was the slightest chance of being captured. They were given the security classification code name of BIGOTs, and if any were unaccounted for or captured, the invasion was to be canceled. In a little-known incident on April 27, 10 BIGOTs were missing after German E-boats attacked several American LSTs. But all 10 bodies were recovered and no changes had to be made.

Three months later, on Sept. 19 at 3:35 p.m., the Provost Marshall of Fort Knox, Ky. – Major W.C. Hatfield – ordered a heavily armed convoy to “move out” from the U.S. Bullion Depository. As the vehicles started rolling, there was a large truck in the middle. Inside were containers holding the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Gettysburg Address. They were going home!

Archibald MacLeish

President Roosevelt, the Joint Chiefs and the War Department had decided that bombings or sabotage on the U.S. mainland were now unlikely. It was time for these most precious documents to return to Washington. The Librarian of Congress – Archibald MacLeish – wrote, “They see no need to keep materials of this kind in the woods and hills any longer.”

The convoy headed to Louisville, Ky., and agents placed the cases aboard a Pullman sleeper car – No. 42 – on the 5:30 p.m. B&O train to Washington, D.C. When they arrived at the Library of Congress via armored truck (with extra guards), MacLeish personally supervised their transfer to the vault. Safe at last!

MacLeish resigned shortly after an ailing President Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented fourth term in 1944, defeating Republican Thomas E. Dewey, the governor of New York. However, FDR persuaded MacLeish to stay on as assistant Secretary of State for cultural and public affairs. His first assignment was to convince the American people that a United Nations was needed to ensure a lasting peace.

He did keep our most valuable treasures safe during the war, but lasting peace was more elusive. He died in 1982, just shy of his 90th birthday.

Intelligent 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].

Even with United Nations, War and Terrorism Persist

charter-of-the-united-nations-and-statute-of-the-international-court-of-justice
This 1945 copy of Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of Justice, signed by John F. Kennedy, Henry Cabot Lodge and Adlai E. Stevenson, sold for $2,375 at an April 2014 auction.

“… To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war …” — From the United Nations Charter

By Jim O’Neal

Edward Stettinius, chair of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations conference in San Francisco, signed the U.N. Charter in 1945. President Harry Truman was in attendance and later signed the document by which he ratified the charter of the United Nations.

The charter established the structure of the United Nations and outlined its guiding principles to prevent war, affirm fundamental human rights, facilitate international peace and security, promote improved living standards, and support social progress and economic advancements (whew!).

The United States, Britain and the USSR were the primary designers of the decision-making structure. The General Assembly consisted of all member countries. The Security Council, which was responsible for international peace and security, originally had 11 members, six of which were elected to two-year terms. Five – the United States, Britain, USSR, France and China – were permanent members, and each had veto power on Security Council resolutions.

Disagreements based on national interests plagued the discussions at the April conference, but they did not prevent the formal U.N. formation. There was also considerable debate about the voting process and veto provisions. Finally, on June 25, the delegates unanimously adopted the charter and the next day they all signed the document.

After the permanent members of the Security Council and most other members ratified the charter, the United Nations was officially established on Oct. 24, 1945. The world had entered a new period of international collaboration determined to avoid a repeat of the two wars that had caused so much devastation in the first half of the 20th century.

Alas, these lofty aims did not last long as the Cold War soon started, followed by major conflicts in Korea, Vietnam (twice), Afghanistan, etc. When we look around the world today, it’s estimated that the United States has Special Forces in over 70 countries (at least) and ad hoc terrorism is a routine, daily occurrence in many places. A new Cold War is gradually taking shape and even nuclear proliferation is back in the news.

Maybe conflict is in our DNA.

One thing is certain. Assuming the United Nations survives, they will have plenty to do for a long 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].

Looking Back, President Ford’s Pardon was the Right Thing to Do

lf
A first edition copy of Gerald Ford’s 1979 autobiography A Time to Heal, inscribed to Caspar Weinberger, sold for nearly $900 at a February 2010 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973, accepting conviction for income tax violations in lieu of facing trial on bribery charges, the door to the White House swung open to Gerald R. Ford.

The Constitution’s 25th Amendment, adopted in 1967, came into use for the first time. It provided that a vacancy in the office of vice president could be filled by nomination by the president and confirmation by both houses of Congress. President Richard Nixon, reeling from the twin blows of the Watergate scandals and the Agnew bribery charges, began a frantic scramble to fill the vacancy with someone acceptable to the public and whom Congress would quickly approve. He also needed someone he could trust as unquestionably loyal.

Ford’s nomination was announced by Nixon on Oct. 12, 1973, barely two weeks before the House Judiciary Committee began formal proceedings to determine whether Nixon should be impeached. Nobody in Congress could dig up a smidgen of impropriety regarding Ford and the House approved his nomination 387-35 on Dec. 6 after a Senate vote of 92-3 on Nov. 27. During the hearings, Ford was asked if he would pardon Nixon should he resign and GRF replied, “I do not think the public would stand for it.”

A short but tumultuous eight months later, Ford became the 38th president of the United States in a moment of high drama at noon on Aug. 9, 1974. Shortly before, the nation had been glued to the TV as Nixon became the first president in history to resign. He departed the White House after a tearful farewell to his staff. A few minutes later, the cameras turned to Ford, the first vice president to ascend to the presidency by appointment.

Ford was sworn in on the same East Room platform where Nixon had stood moments earlier, although the White House was not the usual place for a swearing-in ceremony. Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in before the fireplace in the Red Room, FDR’s fourth term began on the South Portico, and Harry S. Truman had taken the oath in the Cabinet Room. By then, the Nixons were on Air Force One headed for San Clemente. When the clock struck noon, the designation of the plane was dropped.

Within a week of Ford’s swearing in, documents were being hauled out by Nixon staffers in “suitcases and boxes” every day. Working late on Aug. 16, Benton Becker, Ford’s legal counsel, observed a number of military trucks lined up on West Executive Avenue, between the West Wing and the Executive Office Building. Upon inquiry, he was told they were there “to load material that was to be airlifted from Andrews Air Force Base to San Clemente.” Sensing something was wrong, Becker got the Secret Service to intervene and the trucks were unloaded and the material returned to the EOB. Soon, an armed guard was stationed there to protect them.

Perhaps one last ploy by Tricky Dick, à la the 17 minutes of recording “accidentally” erased. We will never know. But we do know that the Ford-Nixon pardon that caused such a national outrage has finally been judged the prudent thing to do … finally.

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].

Concerns Over Harry Truman Vanished as New President Exerted His Leadership

1945-white-house-press-release
A 1945 White House press release signed by Harry S. Truman as president announcing the bombing of Hiroshima realized $77,675 at an October 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In February 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt traveled to Yalta in southeastern Russia to discuss plans for peace with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. He reported to Congress that plans had been arranged for an organization meeting of the United Nations on April 25, 1945. He said, “There, we all hope, and confidently expect, to execute a definite charter of organization under which the peace of the world will be preserved and the forces of aggression permanently outlawed.”

Upon his return, he looked tired and older than his 63 years. Late in March, he went to Warm Springs, Ga., for an overdue rest. On April 12, 1945, he was working at his desk as an artist painted his portrait when he suddenly complained of “a terrible headache.” A few hours later, at 4:45 p.m., he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The last words he had written were “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”

harry-s-truman
Truman

His successor, the first president to take office in the midst of a war, Harry S. Truman, said he felt “like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.” The nation and world wondered if he was capable of taking Roosevelt’s place. His background and even his appearance added to the nervous uncertainty. He was the first president in 50 years without a college education. He spoke the language of a Missouri dirt farmer and World War I artilleryman – both of which he had been. Instead of talking like a statesman, he looked like a bank clerk or haberdasher – both of which he had been. And worst of all, everyone knew that for more than 20 years he had been a lieutenant of Tom Pendergast, one of the most corrupt political bosses in the country.

What most people didn’t know was that he was scrupulously honest, knew his own mind and was one of the most knowledgeable students of history ever to enter the White House. Importantly, he understood the powers of the president, and knew why some men had been strong chief executives and others had been weak leaders.

When he learned about the atomic bomb, there was no soul-searching or handwringing debates. He ordered it dropped on Japan because he was sure it would save American lives and quickly end World War II. It did not bother him in the least that years later, intellectuals would question whether one man should have made such an awesome decision alone. He knew in his heart that he was right … period.

Two of his well-known sayings capture the essence of Give’m Hell Harry Truman: The Buck Stops Here (a sign on his desk) and my favorite … If you can’t stand the heat, stay the hell out of the kitchen!

Leaders get paid to make tough decisions.

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].

Historian Understood How Frontier Shaped Character of Americans

frederick-jackson-turner-the-significance-of-the-frontier
Frederick Jackson Turner’s address “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” had its first print appearance in “Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin at its Forty-First Annual Meeting.” A copy of the 1894 book, original spine perished, realized $3,250 at a September 2016 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

turner-copy
Turner

Frederick Jackson Turner was a young, undistinguished American historian at the University of Wisconsin in 1893, yet he was invited to join a list of speakers at a conference of the American Historical Association being held at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The odd location had prompted many of the nation’s best scholars to decline to attend, primarily because of concern they would be reading their latest papers over the din of an outsized carnival.

Of course, the entire decade of the 1890s was viewed as unusual by many, with a pervasive sense that something important was ending. It was also a tumultuous time. The Massacre at Wounded Knee (1890) had resulted in the deaths of several hundred Lakota Sioux – the last major armed conflict between American Indians and the U.S. Army. Ellis Island had opened as a U.S. immigration depot and over the next 20 years, 13 million immigrants would enter via the island. Wyoming became the 44th state to enter the union, the first with women’s suffrage. There was the Panic of 1893, when the government almost ran out of gold and had to get help from J.P. Morgan.

More importantly, the census of 1890 reported that the frontier had vanished! Many Americans had a powerful sense that they were running up against the end of their history and were on the verge of something new, but unknown.

For Turner, this was a totally unexpected opportunity – a career breakthrough – to expound on his pet theology, developed over years of study. An avid fisherman, hiker and proponent of the American West, he had concluded that American life and character owed a debt to the pursuit of the frontier. And now, the 1890 census declared it closed – all of the land explored, claimed and settled. The young Turner saw a nation facing a crisis of the unknown.

However, Turner’s thesis was elementary and appealing. He declared that American pioneers were not simply transplanted Europeans, but a people unto themselves and shaped by their environment, as opposed to their history or institutions. The frontier hardship made them self-reliant and individualist. Free land made them generous and optimistic. Frontier challenges required them to adapt, innovate and even cooperate democratically.

Frederick Jackson Turner on the significance of the frontier in American history:

“American democracy was born of no theorist’s dream. It came out of the American forest and gained new strength each time it touched a new frontier.

“The wilderness masters the colonist. … It takes from him the railroad car and puts him in a birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and moccasin. … Little by little he transforms the wilderness, but the outcome is not the old Europe. … Here is a new product that is American.”

Teddy Roosevelt and I both wholeheartedly agree with Turner’s thesis about the role of the frontier in shaping the character of Americans.

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].

Principles Articulated by Founders Transcend Time and Technology

the-federalist
An edition of The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, as Agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787, in two volumes, by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, sold for $175,000 at a September 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1776, while Thomas Jefferson was putting the finishing touches on the Declaration of Independence, a committee headed by John Dickerson began meeting to draft the Articles of Confederation, a document designed to specify how this new government would work. Due to lots of internal debates (and the Revolutionary War), the Articles were not ratified until 1781, two years before the war ended.

Then a formal constitutional convention met in Independence Hall in May 1787. They abandoned the Articles and wrote a new document, “The Constitution of the United States of America.” Fifty-five delegates attended, but Vermont was not part of the Union and Rhode Island was absent since it was anti-federal, anti-union and didn’t bother to send a delegation to Philadelphia. Ten amendments were then ratified on Dec. 15, 1791, and we call them the Bill of Rights.

James Madison, “The Father of the Constitution,” played a crucial role at each stage in the entire process … calling the convention, framing the Constitution and carefully deciding how the Bill of Rights would work in a practical sense. To an extraordinary degree, we rely on Madison for our basic insight into the original theories and the ambitions of the Constitution, per se.

Madison had come to the convention totally prepared to control the agenda in a very characteristic way – carefully and deeply. He had studied the fundamental problems of the Articles, the state constitutions and the lessons of history, including his personal experience in the Continental Congress and in Virginia.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution combine to address mankind’s most basic political questions and the principles of organization for a government. Thus, they were meant to serve not simply the 18th century, but succeeding generations, whatever their circumstances or the state of their social progress. Because the principles the Founders articulated transcend both time and technology, they will serve us well through the 21st century, but only if we understand them correctly and apply them consistently.

Government officials must respect their oaths to uphold the Constitution and we the people must be vigilant in seeing that they do. The Constitution will live only if it is alive in the hearts and minds of the American people. That perhaps is the most enduring lesson of our experiment in ordered liberty.

It doesn’t seem like too much to expect.

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].

Eisenhower Crucial to ‘Greatest Engineering Project in World History’

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A photograph of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 1953 – autographed by Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover – realized $8,365 at an October 2006 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

As federal war-game planners considered their objectives in mobilizing a West Coast battle response, railroads were quickly ruled out because they could not carry the amount of equipment involved and some of the weapons, especially tanks, were too heavy for trains and tracks.

Since the Army already had plenty of wheeled and tracked vehicles, dispatching a test expedition by road and having a Motor Transport Corps drive the convoy could prove, once and for all, the superiority of wheels over hoofs or railways. Inexplicably, they failed to include any assumptions about the condition of the roads en route.

At the appointed time in 1919, the convoy gathered at a monument by the South Lawn of the White House. The column was three miles long and consisted of 79 vehicles, including 34 heavy trucks, oil and water pumpers, a mobile blacksmith shop, a tractor, staff observation cars, searchlight carriers, a mobile hospital and other wheeled necessities to support the actual war machines.

Nine vehicles were wrecked en route and 21 men injured – leaving 237 soldiers, 24 officers and 15 observers – including then-Brevet Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower (who kept a concise daily diary). When they arrived in Lincoln Park in San Francisco 62 days later, it was undisputed that the conditions of the roads – essentially non-existent west of the Missouri River – would preclude any timely defense of the West Coast and that any Asian enemy would have been victorious in any battles along the way.

The journey left an indelible impression on the young officer from West Point, who would later be Commander-in-Chief of the nation. The Army and Eisenhower had indisputably proved what many in the capital had suspected. The American West had few, if any, roads that were even remotely usable for military or civilian use.

Only when they reached California and beyond the state capital of Sacramento did the roads become great – with macadamized surfaces, proper drainage, road rules, gas stations and tire-repair depots … all in sufficient quantity to service existing needs.

But this did not appease Eisenhower in the slightest. This great convoy, called into action to deal with a hypothetical threat to the country’s vital West Coast, had crossed 3,251 miles of the country at an average speed of 5.6 mph, making any potential response virtually useless. The vehicles were in fine shape and the men brave and intelligent, but the roads were deplorable. If nothing else, Eisenhower wrote, the experience of this expedition should spur the building – as a national effort – of a fast, safe and properly designed system of transcontinental highways.

This led to the creation of America’s Interstate Highway System – the greatest engineering project in world history … an intrinsic network of high-speed roads built with the sole purpose of uniting the corners, edges and center of this vast nation.

Fittingly, “The Dwight D. Eisenhower National Interstate and Defense Highways Act” was authorized by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 during the second term of the 34th president of the United States. “I LIKE IKE!”

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].