Roosevelt Used Radio to Encourage, Hitler to Fuel Rage

A Franklin D. Roosevelt photograph, signed and inscribed to Eleanor Roosevelt, sold for $10,000 at an October 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Saul Bellow was a Canadian-born writer who became a nationalized U.S. citizen when he discovered he had immigrated to the United States illegally as a child. He hit the big time in 1964 with his novel Herzog. It won the U.S. National Book Award for fiction. Time magazine named it one of the 100 best novels in the English language since “the beginning of Time” (March 3, 1923).

Along the way, Bellow (1915-2005) also managed to squeeze in a Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts. He is the only writer to win the National Book Award for Fiction three times.

Saul Bellow

Bellow loved to describe his personal experience listening to President Roosevelt, an American aristocrat (Groton and Harvard educated), hold the nation together, using only a radio and the power of his personality. “I can recall walking eastward on the Chicago Midway … drivers had pulled over, parking bumper to bumper, and turned on their radios to hear every single word. They had rolled down the windows and opened the car doors. Everywhere the same voice, its odd Eastern accent, which in anyone else would have irritated Midwesterners. You could follow without missing a single word as you strolled by. You felt joined to these unknown drivers, men and women smoking their cigarettes in silence, not so much considering the president’s words as affirming the rightness of his tone and taking assurances from it.”

The nation needed the assurance of those fireside chats, the first of which was delivered on March 12, 1933. Between a quarter and a third of the workforce was unemployed. It was the nadir of the Great Depression.

The “fireside” was figurative; most of the chats emanated from a small, cramped room in the White House basement. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins described the change that would come over the president just before the broadcasts. “His face would smile and light up as though he were actually sitting on the front porch or in the parlor with them. People felt this, and it bound them to him in affection.”

Roosevelt’s fireside chats and, indeed, all of his efforts to communicate contrasted with those of another master of the airwaves, Adolf Hitler, who fueled rage in the German people via radio and encouraged their need to blame, while FDR reasoned with and encouraged America. Hitler’s speeches were pumped through cheap plastic radios manufactured expressly to ensure complete penetration of the German consciousness. The appropriation of this new medium by FDR for reason and common sense was one of the great triumphs of American democracy.

Herr Hitler ended up committing suicide after ordering the building burned to the ground to prevent the Allies from retrieving any of his remains. So ended the grand 1,000-year Reich he had promised … poof … gone with the wind.

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 chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Early Automotive Pioneers Among America’s Top Innovators

A Lincoln Motor Company stock certificate, issued in October 1918 and signed by Henry M. Leland, sold for $500 at an October 2013 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Doctors called it a “chauffeur’s fracture,” the radial styloid or wrist fracture that occurred when a driver tried to start a horseless carriage by turning the crank at the front of the car. If the engine backfired, the crank would spin backward, often causing broken bones. Those early automobiles motoring down the streets of American cities were considered engineering marvels.

But what a challenge to start!

The two requirements were a blacksmith’s arm and a perfect sense of timing. The driver had to adjust the spark and the throttle before jumping out to turn the crank mounted on the car’s outside front grill. Once the spark caught and the motor fired, the driver dashed back to the control to adjust the spark and throttle before the engine could die. Oh, and if the car started, but was in gear, it could lurch forward and run over the cranker!

Sound farfetched?

In 1908, tragedy struck when Byron Carter (1863-1908) – inventor of the Cartercar – died after trying to start a stalled car. The crank hit him in the jaw. Complications with gangrene set in and he died of pneumonia. It was a fluke involving a stalled motorist he was trying to help. The driver forgot to retard the spark. Whamo!

The car involved was a new Cadillac, one of the premier luxury brands, and Carter was good friends with the man who ran Cadillac, Henry Leland (who also owned Lincoln). When Leland found out his friend had been killed, he vowed: “The Cadillac car will kill no more men if we can possibly help it!” Cadillac engineers finally succeeded in manufacturing an electric self-starter, but were never able to scale it for commercial use.

Enter Charles Franklin Kettering (1876-1958), a remarkable man (in the same league as Thomas Edison) whose versatile skills included engineering and savvy business management. He was a prolific inventor with 186 notable patents. One of them was a self-starter small enough to fit under the hood of a car, running off a small storage battery. A New York inventor (Clyde J. Coleman) had applied for a patent in 1899 for an electric self-starter, but it was only a theoretical solution and never marketed.

After graduating from Ohio State College of Engineering, Kettering went to work for the invention staff at National Cash Register (NCR) company. He invented a high-torque electric motor to drive a cash register, allowing a salesperson to ring up a sale without turning a hand-crank twice each time. After five years at NCR, he set up his own laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. Working with a group of engineers, mechanics and electricians, he developed the new ignition system for the Cadillac Automobile Company.

Leland sold Cadillac to General Motors in 1909 for $4.5 million and there is no record of any Cadillac ever killing another person, at least from turning a crank to start the engine! Since Cadillac had been formed from remnants of the Henry Ford Company (the second of two failed attempts by Ford), it was renamed for Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac (the founder of Detroit 200 years earlier).

Later, Leland would sell Lincoln, his other marque luxury brand, to Ford Motor Company for a healthy $10 million, while Kettering and his crew formed Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co., which became Delco, still a famous name in electronic automobile parts. Kettering went on to have a long, sterling career and was featured on the cover of Time on Jan. 9, 1933 … the week after president-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt was named the magazine’s Man of the Year (Jan. 2).

My only quibble is the work Kettering did with Thomas Midgley Jr. in developing Ethyl gasoline, which eliminated engine knock, but loaded the air we breathe with lead (a deadly neurotoxin) for the next 50 years. And he developed Freon … a much safer refrigerant, but which released CFCs, which will be destroying our atmospheric ozone for the next 100-200 years.

I don’t recall ever personally turning an engine crank. My cars went from ignition keys to keyless and I plan to skip the driverless models and wait for a Jet-Cab … unless Jeff Bezos can provide an Uber-style version using one of his drones.

Things change.

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 chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Yes, George C. Marshall Earned Title of ‘Greatest Living American’

A photograph of General George C. Marshall, signed, went to auction in October 2007.

By Jim O’Neal

In Harvard Yard, a venue carefully chosen as dignified and non-controversial, Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s 15-minute speech on June 5, 1947, painted a grim picture for the graduates. With words crafted and refined by the most brilliant minds in the State Department, Marshall outlined the “continuing hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos” in a Europe still devastated after the end of World War II.

Marshall, one of the greatest Secretaries of State the United States has ever produced, asserted unequivocally that it was time for a comprehensive recovery plan. The only caveat was that “the initiation must come from Europe.” His words were much more than typical boilerplate commencement rhetoric and Great Britain’s wily Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin heard the message loud and clear. By July 3, he and his French counterpart, Georges Bidault, had invited 22 nations to Paris to develop a European Recovery Program (ERP). Bevin had been alerted to the importance by Dean Acheson, Marshall’s Under Secretary of State. Acheson was point man for the old Eastern establishment and had already done a masterful job of laying the groundwork for Marshall’s speech. He made the public aware that European cities still looked like bombs had just started falling, ports were still blocked, and farmers were hoarding crops because they couldn’t get a decent price. Furthur, Communist parties of France and Italy (upon direct orders from the Kremlin) had launched waves of strikes, destabilizing already shaky governments.

President Harry S. Truman was adamant that any assistance plan be called the Marshall Plan, honoring the man he believed to be the “greatest living American.” Yet much of Congress still viewed it as “Operation Rat Hole,” pouring money into an untrustworthy socialist blueprint.

The Soviets and their Eastern European satellites refused an invitation to participate and in February 1948, Joseph Stalin’s vicious coup in Prague crumpled Czechoslovakia’s coalition, which inspired speedy passage of the ERP. This dramatic action marked a significant step away from the FDR-era policy of non-commitment in European matters, especially expensive aid programs. The Truman administration had pragmatically accepted a stark fact – the United States was the only Western country with any money after WWII.

Shocked by reports of starvation in most of Europe and desperate to bolster friendly governments, the administration offered huge sums of money to any democratic country in Europe able to develop a plausible recovery scheme – even those in the Soviet sphere of influence – despite the near-maniacal resistance of the powerful and increasingly paranoid Stalin.

With no trepidation, on April 14, the freighter John H. Quick steamed out of Texas’ Galveston Harbor, bound for Bordeaux with 9,000 tons of American wheat. Soon, 150 ships were busy shuttling across the Atlantic carrying food, fuel, industrial equipment and construction materials – essential to rebuilding entire countries. The Marshall Plan’s most impressive achievement was its inherent magnanimity, for its very success returned Europe to a competitive position with the United States!

Winston Churchill wrote, “Many nations have arrived at the summit of the world, but none, before the United States, on this occasion, has chosen that moment of triumph, not for aggrandizement, but for further self-sacrifices.”

Truman may have been right about this greatest living American and his brief speech that altered a ravaged world and changed history for millions of people – who may have long forgotten the debt they owe him. Scholars are still studying the brilliant tactics involved.

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 chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].