Greatest Generation was Led by Roosevelt, Churchill and Superman

Superman got his own title in 1939. This copy sold for $358,500 at a November 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Popular journalist Tom Brokaw in 1998 wrote a book about Americans who lived through the Great Depression and fought in World War II. Millions of others stayed home to support the war effort. Brokaw wrote, “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced,” and went on to argue they did it because “it was the right thing to do,” as opposed to doing it for fame or fortune.

The Greatest Generation became a bestselling book and a term to describe a large group of people who sacrificed in many ways, ended a war, and then came home, went to college on the G.I. Bill, and helped rebuild the world. They certainly preserved our way of life and redirected the domestic economic engine that provided jobs, automobiles, and new homes to a broad swath of our citizens.

However, it seems clear that few Americans alive in 1939 had a hint of this remarkable outcome. All the polls indicated that most were leery of another entanglement in “foreign” wars. They were still acutely aware of the tremendous suffering and loss of life in the last “war to end all wars” – WWI, an “accidental” war that is still a puzzlement today. Historians struggle to explain how or even why it started and, amazingly, how four major empires – German, Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian – were toppled in four short years. Approximately no one would have been able to predict such a remarkable situation.

Besides, by 1939, the United States was still mired in a severe economic depression with 17 percent of the workforce unemployed and the most needy and least organized (domestic workers, sharecroppers, new immigrants, blacks, and unmarried women) unable to reap any of the New Deal benefits. On April 14 of that year, John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath was published and it captured the plight of many by focusing on the economic hardships of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma land by drought, the Dust Bowl, and bank foreclosures. The book won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and was cited prominently in 1962 when Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize.

My family was among the many “Okies” that escaped to California in quest of the milk and honey (no, we didn’t pick any fruit).

Then on Friday, Sept. 1, Germany invaded Poland and democracy around the world was at risk. Economies were in collapse and suddenly communism and totalitarianism seemed to have appeal. There was even talk about revolution in America. When the great British economist John Maynard Keynes was asked if there had ever been anything like the Great Depression, he said, “Yes. It was called the Dark Ages and it lasted 400 years.”

Fortunately, what would become “The Greatest Generation” was led by the greatest leaders: Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. As an insurance policy, Superman #1 debuted that summer, just in time. Between the three of them, the world was saved!

Alas, only one of them is still around and all the other superheroes are untested rookies. (Sigh.)

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].

As War Loomed, Hospitals Lacked Drugs to Treat Wounds, Infections

This 1939 original newspaper political cartoon by Joe Parrish (1905-1989), depicting Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini about to plunge into war, went to auction in November 2014.

By Jim O’Neal

In September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich and infamously declared he had an assurance for “Peace for our time.” The phrase was an optimistic borrowing from a versicle in the Anglican service of evensong: “Give peace in our time, O Lord, because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only Thou, O God.”

Chamberlain was wrong on several levels since Germany (Adolf Hitler) had no intention of granting peace to Britain and its European neighbors. Secondly, Britain had a true leader-fighter in Winston Churchill, who had warned the British Parliament in 1935 of “Germany arming at breakneck speed, England lost in a pacifist dream, France corrupt and torn by dissension, America remote and indifferent.” A year later, this was no longer a rhetorical flourish, but a dangerous fact as Britain would soon be at war.

From the largest cities to the smallest villages, citizens prepared their civil defenses: air-raid shelters designated, blackout curtains for homes sewn, gas masks delivered, and fire marshals named. Trading cards in cigarette packs showing film stars and athletes were replaced with a series of 48 “Air-Raid Precautions.” Plans were made to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from large cities to remote rural areas.

Major hospitals were organized into emergency medical facilities. A blood transfusion system was set-up, with widespread training under the Red Cross First Aid course. Prominently missing in all this was the critical supply of penicillin … for one simple reason: It did not exist. Neither did any other vital drug to treat wounds and other infectious diseases common to war casualties.

History credits the discovery of penicillin many years earlier (1928) to Sir Alexander Fleming at St. Mary’s Hospital in London after a serendipitous encounter with a mold growing in an untended Petri dish. However, he was such a poor communicator and orator that his work was largely ignored. Plus, he found the substance “too frustrating and difficult to work with” and abandoned it.

Fortunately, a small group at Oxford recognized the substance’s potential as a “miracle drug,” although they did not have the resources to manufacture commercial quantities until grants from the Rockefeller Foundation spurred the installation of small production sites.

Even more astonishing was that the first major application occurred in November 1942 when a fire at Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub killed 492 people. Several hundred people survived life-threatening burns after treatment with a penicillin variant. The fire started after a club employee changed a light bulb in a darkened area, lighting a match to see what he was doing. With Freon in short supply due to the war, a highly flammable gas (methyl chloride) was being used as a substitute. Boom … the fire engulfed the entire building.

Of course, tens of millions of people were subsequently saved on many battlefields and in hospitals and emergency rooms all over the world. The worry now is that that through overuse, bacteria have developed resistance strategies, leading to new “super bugs.” Survival of the fittest seems to be an immutable law of nature.

Remember to eat your spinach and wash your hands!

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].

Spanish Flu Actually Has Its Origins at a U.S. Army Base

Kafka for Beginners (also known as R. Crumb’s Kafka), an illustrated biography of the novelist and short story writer, includes a vignette about the Spanish Flu. This page of Robert Crumb’s original art for the book sold for $5,377.50 at a February 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 most likely got started at Fort Riley, an Army installation in North Central Kansas.

At least according to John Barry, the author and historian who spent seven years researching the topic. His 2004 bestselling book The Great Influenza describes how the plague began in Kansas, moved east as World War I troops were shipping out, and in the process killed tens of thousands of Americans.

The armistice ending WWI was signed in 1919 and the year before saw a high number of casualties. Then there was this influenza pandemic, which became the worst infectious disease in recorded history. It struck some 500 million people across the globe, with updated estimates of between 50 million and 100 million deaths … up to 5 percent of the world’s population at the time.

Influenza is really a simple virus … usually.

We get the flu when somebody around us has it and coughs or sneezes. This makes it airborne and we typically just breathe it in. Or, you get the virus on your hands and then touch your nose, eyes or mouth.

The virus has to get into your lungs since it only has eight genes and needs to live off human cells. While in the lungs, its only job is to turn a cell into a virus factory. The virus takes over the cell’s machinery and forces it to make new viruses. Then the cell dies, the virus escapes, and infects new cells.

It is a simple little plan.

With the unusually deadly 1918 flu strain, people died quickly, sometimes overnight, as their lungs filled with liquid. The still-gasping-for-breath people died as their skin turned dark (black) due to a lack of oxygen.

Every year, the flu makes its way through a population, affects everyone exposed to it and then burns itself out. After it mutates, the new version spreads around all over again. That’s what it’s programmed to do.

The 1918 strain did that, too. It was just an unusually deadly version of the H1N1 virus and more virulent than the previous wave.

Practice, practice, practice.

The next time a particularly serious strain returns (everyone agrees it will be back), we will have vaccines and antibiotics to help combat it. Plus, we’ll be more educated about how to avoid its spread (hopefully).

That is about the extent of our protection.

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].

President Eisenhower’s Wisdom was Crucial to Ending Korean Conflict

Korean War tales were popular in American comic books. This copy of Frontline Combat #1, 1951, a William Gaines file pedigree, sold for $6,612.50 at a March 2002 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On the last weekend of June 1950, the United States was sweltering in that summer’s first heat wave. Those who could, left their small-screen TVs for air-conditioned movie theaters (that was the month my family acquired our first TV). Treasure Island, starring Robert Newton as Long John Silver, was Walt Disney’s first completely live-action movie and The Maverick Queen, Zane Grey’s 51st novel, was published posthumously. I missed both of them.

Half a world away, heavy rains from the first monsoon were falling on the rice paddies when the North Korean artillery – 40 miles of big guns, side-by-side – opened fire. The shelling was sporadic at first, but soon all artillery was erupting as officers corrected their range. Overhead, Yaks and Sturmoviks were headed toward Seoul, less than 50 miles away. North Korean People’s Army generals put 90,000 troops into South Korea smoothly with no congestion as junks/saipans were unloading amphibious troops behind Republic of Korea lines to the south.

It was early afternoon in New York, noon in Independence, where President Harry S. Truman was, and 4 a.m. on the faraway 38th parallel when, as General Douglas MacArthur later put it, “North Korea struck like a cobra.”

In a larger sense, it represented the inevitable collision of the Sino-Soviet push to extend communism and the U.S policy of containment. Truman secured a mandate from the United Nations to expel North Korea from the south, euphemistically called a “police action.” A U.N. force comprised of 90 percent Americans and South Koreans under MacArthur launched a counteroffensive with a daring amphibious landing in September 1950. By seizing the initiative, they drove the communists north, back across the 38th parallel. For the first time in history, an international organization had met aggression with force and when it was announced, Congress rose in a standing ovation. The Chicago Tribune congratulated the president, noting the approval of the action was unanimous.

However, as MacArthur was busy planning the next steps of the campaign, he tragically misread the intentions of Communist China. As U.N. forces approached the Yalu River, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops poured across the border in January 1951 and drove MacArthur back south. These setbacks prompted him to consider using nuclear weapons against China or North Korea. When Truman refused to extend the conflict and a possible nuclear exchange, MacArthur criticized public policy. Unwilling to accept this insubordination, on April 11, 1951, Commander-in-Chief Truman relieved the popular general and replaced him with General Matthew Ridgway.

Although peace negotiations dragged on for months, as soon as Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president, he made a special point to conclude all discussions. As the only general to serve as president in the 20th century, he was acutely aware of the ravages of war and was not about to let diplomats or the United Nations muddle along.

We miss him and his wisdom as we face an even more dangerous, nuclear-armed North Korea that grows more aggressive each day with solutions that are more limited and risky.

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].

Americans Have Turned Inward Before, in the Days of Richard Nixon

Chicago Sun-Times political cartoonist Bill Mauldin drew this piece shortly before President Nixon resigned in 1974. The original art sold for $2,748.50 at a November 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 20, 1973, surrounded by happy perjurers, Richard M. Nixon celebrated his second inauguration in a three-day, $4 million extravaganza, organized by political operative Jeb Stuart Magruder. Named by his Civil War-buff father after Southern General J.E.B. Stuart, Magruder would later serve seven months in prison for perjury involving Watergate.

The rhetoric of the inaugural address was less a promise of what the government would do than what it wouldn’t. Twelve years earlier, another president of the same generation had vowed that “We’ll pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival of liberty.”

Now, Nixon declared that, “The time has passed when America will make every other nation’s conflict our own … or presume to tell the people of other nations how to manage their own affairs.” At the same time, he prepared to liquidate the domestic programs of liberal administrations. Paraphrasing President Kennedy’s most memorable line, Nixon said, “Let each of us ask — not just what will government do for me, but what can I do for myself?” (Lyndon B. Johnson would die two days later, but presumably from other causes).

As Nixon paused for effect, a faint sound could be heard from several blocks away. A group of youths was chanting “Murderer,” “Out now,” and “End racism.” A woman from Iowa told a New York Times reporter, “Just disgusting. Why can’t they do something about those kids!”

It was certainly indecorous, yet these demonstrations, like the counterculture of the time, were an expression of the deep divisions in America and they had to be endured. There is no practical way to stifle dissent in an open society; if there was, I suspect Magruder and his allies would have tried to use it.

The chanters – about 500 to 1,000 that included yippies, militants and Maoist activists – were the smallest and rudest protestors in the multitude of demonstrators.

So it was – after intervening in foreign conflicts for a third of a century – that the people of the United States turned inward once more, seeking comfort and renewal in isolation. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (Last line from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

Maybe someday.

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].

Europe Once Trembled in Fear of Marauding, Pillaging Viking Warriors

hal-foster-prince-valiant-sunday-comic-strip-featuring-boltar-original-art-dated-8-23-42-king-features-syndicate
Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant comic strip included characters such as Boltar the Viking, as seen in this panel from an Aug. 23, 1942, strip. The original art for this Sunday comic sold for $17,925 at a May 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On a calm day in June 793, a group of men landed on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in northern England and mounted a ferocious attack on the monastery. The invaders murdered some of the monks, dragged others into slavery and plundered the church’s treasure.

This surprise assault is the first recorded raid by Vikings – pagan, seafaring warriors from Denmark, Norway and Sweden – and it sent waves of horror and fear across Christian Europe. Vikings would go on to ravage and loot large parts of the continent, however, they were also traders and colonists with a sophisticated artistic culture.

Within six years of the attack on Lindisfarne, bands of Vikings – or “Danes,” as they were known in Anglo-Saxon England – were targeting the wealth of other Christian sites in England, Scotland, Ireland and France. They had a significant advantage on these missions: the Viking longship. This was a slender vessel with a shallow bottom that enabled them to sail far up the waterways and surprise their prey.

Each ship could carry 80 warriors, recruited by warlords whose authority flowed from their prowess and reputation for capturing booty for their followers. They were the most skilled shipbuilders, sailors and navigators in the Western world.

Around 800, they colonized the Faroe Islands and used them as a stepping stone to explore the entire North Atlantic region. Eventually, they reached Iceland, where settlers founded a colony that became politically independent. They exiled Eric the Red and he stumbled upon Greenland and established yet another new colony.

A Norse saga describes how Eric the Red’s son, Leif Erikson, was driven off course and landed in a region, teeming with hardwood forests and wild grapes, that he named Vinland (Land of Wine). However, subsequent expeditions were thwarted by indigenous people in an area now identified as Newfoundland in eastern Canada. Leif and his crew get credit for being the first Europeans to set foot on North American soil.

By the 11th century, the Scandinavian kingdoms had adopted Christianity and turned from raiding and pillaging to organized settlement. Cnut the Great of Denmark created a North Sea Empire that included Denmark, Norway and England, but it did not survive his death. In 1066, an unsuccessful attempt to claim the English throne by the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada was the final flourish of the Viking Age.

From the narrow view of history, it is fascinating to contrast the “marauding, pillaging, warrior tribes of Viking raiders” to the serene, peaceful land of Scandinavia, with its breathtaking fjords and unique form of European socialism that the people seem to thrive on. Our world has rarely seen such a silent transition and it makes one wonder which direction we are headed.

Today, we certainly see remnants of Viking culture all around, with comics (Hagar the Horrible), the superhero Thor (thanks to Stan Lee and Marvel Comics), the 1958 Kirk Douglas movie “The Vikings,” and, of course, the unforgettable Purple People Eaters of the Minnesota Vikings, who’ve played in four Super Bowls.

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

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.

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].

Hitler Used Unrest to Decimate Rivals, Set Europe On Path to War

By 1941, Adolf Hitler (“The Mad Merchant of Hate”) and his Axis allies occupied most of Europe and North Africa. This copy of Daredevil Comics #1 (Lev Gleason, 1941) sold for $41,825 at an August 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On June 28, 1919 – exactly five years after Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand – Germany reluctantly signed the Treaty of Versailles that ended their participation in World War I. The terms of the treaty were so punitive that the German people were stunned. After all, the treaty had been signed without any of their borders being crossed and many believed the army had been betrayed by politicians. There was even talk of restarting the war as crowds demonstrated in the streets.

The treaty was a long, extensive document that included extraordinarily high reparations (the “War Guilt” clause) covering everything from lost farmland to veteran pensions and anything in between. The French were especially eager to punish the Germans since over 1 million Frenchmen had been killed, mostly within their country. However, the Allies were also vindictive and determined to render Germany incapable of ever starting another war.

The German delegation had attempted to mitigate the harsh terms with a 400-plus page counter-proposal, but it was a futile effort and they were forced to accept the Allies’ conditions verbatim. What had been intended to cease all hostilities, ironically, merely extended them by the crushing burden imposed on the German people.

The implications turned out to be significant.

For the next two to three decades, Germans harbored deep resentment over such an unfair agreement and were susceptible to radical ideas for revenge. Further, the slowing European economies made everyday life difficult for broad swaths of people everywhere. Extremist fascist and communist ideologies seemed to offer solutions to national problems in Spain, Italy and Russia.

The National Socialist (or Nazi) Party was founded in Germany with racism as a formal guiding principle. The gradual disintegration of formal government structures cleared the way for Adolf Hitler to become chancellor. In 1933, when fire broke out at the Reichstag – the German parliament building – Hitler claimed it was a communist plot. This was all he needed as an excuse to decimate his rivals, assume an absolute dictatorship and set Europe back on the path to war.

However, it was the seeds that were planted in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles that sprouted into the conflagration that would become another war. Sadly, the whole world again would join the war, and we still bear the scars of our involvement.

William Tecumseh Sherman was right when he declared that war is hell, a lesson that every generation seems to need to learn for themselves.

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].

For a Moment, It Seemed Warfare as We Know it Was in Its Final Days

An original 1991 Desert Storm editorial cartoon by Bill Mauldin for the Chicago Sun Times realized $418.25 in a November 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When it comes to naming military campaigns, few compare with “Desert Storm.” Besides its obvious evocations of sand-blown landscapes, the name could also work as the title of a pulp novel or B movie, even a video game. In early 1991, more than two dozen allied nations began an assault on Iraq in an attempt to drive its forces from neighboring Kuwait.

It was a classic military rout.

In just over 40 days of American air attacks, followed by fewer than 100 hours of ground fighting, thousands of high-tech bombs (precision-guided munitions) rained down on Iraqi positions. Enemy troops were driven back to Baghdad and into international humiliation.

For the United States, the war was the first since the debacle in Vietnam, and the American public entered into an anguished debate as President George H.W. Bush had pushed for congressional approval. Who could know if Iraq would become to the ’90s what Vietnam had been to the ’60s and ’70s?

Still, there was no denying these were different times. Among the allies standing with the U.S. against Saddam Hussein’s seizure of oil-rich Kuwaiti sands was the Soviet Union, the first instance since World War II in which Americans and Soviets fought on the same side. It also positioned the allied nations as a quasi-international police force stopping acts of raw aggression.

World War I had advanced combat into the sphere of mechanized warfare. World War II had taken technology even further and made civilians targets. Now, in Iraq, computer technology advanced both the tools and the strategy until it resembled science fiction. Beginning with the launch of a Tomahawk missile from the deck of the USS Wisconsin on Jan. 17, 1991, Baghdad became the site of one of the most devastating air raids in history.

There was now no doubt that warfare had entered a new epoch. With satellites mapping the globe it seemed possible war would soon become as simple as deleting a computer file – scanning a battlefield, identifying a target and systematically destroying it.

It was a clean war, precise and efficient, fought so fast it hardly demanded attention. There were few American losses (148 dead vs. 200,000 Iraqis) and undeniable results … Iraq out of Kuwait. Plus, we could tune in to CNN to get the latest update during an occasional coffee break.

The world was finally coming to its senses and if someone committed an act of aggression, it would only take a few coordinated responses to restore harmony. Finally, we could channel our energy and resources to eliminating disease, world hunger and a thorough cleansing of the air and oceans.

War was such a dumb idea. Why did it take us so long to recognize what a waste it was? The new millennium was impatiently waiting for us to get a fresh start.

Sigh.

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].

Hearst Built an Empire that Included Newspapers, Magazines, Comics

A rare nine-issue, complete run of Richard Outcault’s The Yellow Kid humor magazine, 1897, sold for $20,315 at an August 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The first multi-page newspaper published in the British North American colonies was Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, printed on Sept. 25, 1690 in Boston. After a single issue, it was suppressed because it was unlicensed and criticized public policy. The British tried to find and destroy every copy, but one is believed to be in the British Library.

Two centuries later, the newspaper industry was thriving. The 1880 census recorded 11,314 different papers and soon, the first circulations of a million copies were recorded. One of them was the New York Journal, which William Randolph Hearst purchased to have a presence in this important market. His first newspaper was The San Francisco Examiner, courtesy of his wealthy father.

William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) became a powerful figure as he built a communications empire that included newspapers, magazines, radio stations and motion picture syndicates. He influenced both domestic and foreign policy and believed he had pressured the United States to free the Cuban people from Spanish colonization via the Spanish-American War. At one point, he owned eight newspapers in five of the largest cities, with a combined circulation of 3 million. Ultimately, this would grow to 28 newspapers.

In New York City, he enticed cartoonist Richard Outcault to join the New York Journal and this triggered a war with Joseph Pulitzer and his New York World. Outcault’s The Yellow Kid comic fueled a daily war of words as both newspapers featured bold headlines, fake stories and salacious comments about prominent individuals. Perhaps if the strip had been printed using purple ink, we may have adopted “purple journalism” as the pejorative for sleazy stories.

Hearst’s political career included two stints in the House of Representatives and failed bids for both senator and governor of New York. No doubt a run for the White House would have followed if he had been successful.

Hearst was elected to Congress in 1902 and 1904.

WRH also had an insatiable appetite to acquire. It extended to art objects, mansions and women. He owned at least eight houses, each stocked with priceless antiques and works of art. There were also warehouses filled with acquisitions from Europe. His favorite was Hearst Castle in San Simeon, just north of Santa Barbara, where he hosted parties with Hollywood stars and other important people. It is now an official U.S. National Historic Landmark.

Orson Welles’ movie Citizen Kane is a thinly veiled parody/drama of Hearst, his castle and other aspects of his life. Hearst had so much power he was able to drive it into a box-office failure and relative obscurity for over 20 years. However, by 1998, the American Film Institute ranked it No. 1 on the list of greatest movies … ever.

Hearst Castle is now a popular tourist attraction and open for paid tours all year. George Bernard Shaw once commented, “San Simeon was the place God would have built … if he had the money.”

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].