Look to 1935 if Goal is Infrastructure Projects That Work

Joseph Christian Leyendecker’s cover illustration for the Oct. 19, 1935, edition of The Saturday Evening Post sold for $137,000 at a May 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“The social objective is to try to do what any honest government … would do: to try to increase the security and happiness of a larger number of people in all occupations of life and in all parts of the country … to give them assurance that they are not going to starve in their old age.”

Although this could have been taken directly from any Bernie Sanders speech anytime over the past 10 years … it was actually a response from President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 7, 1935, when answering a question about the social role of government.

This was the same week that Babe Ruth announced his retirement from the Boston Braves, only six days after he hit three home runs in the last game he played. It was the end of an era and it came right in the middle of the Great Depression.

Bread lines were still long and double-digit unemployment was accepted as the new normal. People were generally depressed and hope was a rare commodity.

Technological unemployment threatened to permanently engulf huge sectors of the workforce, particularly less skilled and older workers in general. Observers suggested that deep structural changes in the economy meant that the majority of those over 45 would never get their jobs back. Lorena Hickok (Eleanor’s paramour) opined that, “It looks like we’re in this relief business for a long, long time.” The president’s advisor, Harry Hopkins, was soon speaking of workers who had passed into “an occupational oblivion from which they will never be rescued… We shall have with us large numbers of the unemployed. Intelligent people have long since left behind them.” Sound familiar?

Even FDR chipped in with his “Fireside Chat” on June 28, 1934: “For many years to come, we shall be engaged in rehabilitating hundreds of thousands of our American families … The need for relief will continue for a long time; we may as well recognize that fact.”

The Emergency Relief Appropriation Act became law on April 18, 1935. The bill approved the largest peacetime appropriation in American history. This single appropriation authorized more spending than total federal revenues in 1934; with a special $4 billion earmarked for work relief and public works construction. Roosevelt and the bill’s architects did NOT believe they were addressing a transient disruption in the labor market, but a long-term (perhaps permanent) inability of the private economy to provide employment for all who wanted to work.

Thus were born many federal agencies, with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) the largest. The WPA employed 3 million people in the first year and in eight years it put 8.5 million people to work at a cost of $11 billion. WPA workers built 500,000 miles of highways, 100,000 bridges, as many public buildings, plus 8,000 parks.

When the current administration and Congress debate “infrastructure projects,” they would be well served to study this period in American history. These folks really knew how to do it!

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].

Westward Migration Spurred by ‘Oregon Fever,’ California Gold

Dean Cornwell produced this preliminary illustration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition for New York Life Insurance Co., circa 1954.

By Jim O’Neal

In the 1700s, British fur traders in northern regions between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains came into conflict with Russian traders arriving from the north and the Spanish from the south. Then, Americans began appearing in the early 1800s after the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-06).

By this time, England had negotiated a boundary agreement with Spain, but not with the Russians. The British and Americans collaborated to gain leverage over the Russians by agreeing to joint sovereignty over a large area called Oregon Country. The agreement encompassed what is today Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia and parts of Wyoming, Montana and Alberta that were west of the Continental Divide.

By the 1840s, England and the United States were ready to formally separate their joint interests in Oregon Country, but couldn’t agree on a dividing line. The U.S. demanded it should be 54 parallel-40 degrees, however, this would have deprived GB of Vancouver, their major Pacific port. The dispute escalated into “54-40 or fight” – which became a major theme during the 1844 U.S. presidential election.

After James Knox Polk became president, he rather wisely avoided a war with England by conceding to their demand of 49 degrees. He had his eye on Mexico and decided the United States could only engage in one major skirmish at a time. After the annexation of Texas, war with Mexico seemed inevitable and it arrived right on time, eventually delivering the highly coveted areas of California, New Mexico and Arizona. The concession to England seemed prudent since westward migration had started earlier in 1836. The first migrant wagon train left Independence, Mo., along the Oregon Trail, a 2,170-mile east-west trip that connected the Missouri River to the lush valleys in Oregon.

Then on May 22, 1843, a massive wagon train with 1,000 settlers and more than 1,000 head of cattle set out for Oregon. They followed the Santa Fe Trail for 40 miles and then turned west to the Platte River to Fort Laramie, Wyo., and eventually over the Blue Mountains into Oregon territory. The Great Migration arrived in October, covering 2,000 miles in five months. The next year, four more wagon trains made the journey and in 1845, the number of emigrants exceeded 3,000. “Oregon Fever” seemed to have gripped the nation.

Then in 1848, gold was discovered in California and the flow of people headed there instead of Oregon. The population of California zoomed from 20,000 to 225,000 in four short years. The phrase that summed up America’s assertive development was coined by columnist and editor John O’Sullivan when he wrote, it was “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”

Thomas Jefferson thought it would take 1,000 years to fill up the vast emptiness of the west, but of course, he didn’t know about the California gold, the Oregon Trail, and the basic restlessness of future emigrants and the transcontinental railroad. The $15 million he spent on doubling the size of the United States turned out to be one of best real estate deals in history.

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].

We Need to Take Care of Our Cozy Home

Chesley Bonestell’s oil on board Rings of Saturn sold for $20,000 at an October 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Four gigantic planets dominate the outer solar system. Very different from the rocky inner planets, these strange worlds are huge globes of gas and liquid, with no solid surface and hundreds of moons.

After the sun formed, its heat drove gases away from the inner solar system, leaving behind heavier compounds such as rock and metals. Astronomers call the outer planets gas giants, though they consist mostly of liquid, with solid cores.

Mighty Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun and the largest in the solar system – so big that it is 2.5 times more massive than all the other planets combined! Its strong gravitational pull greatly affects the orbits of other planets, and its rate of spin stretches its surface clouds into spots (storms) and ripples swirling together.

The second-largest planet and sixth farthermost from the sun is Saturn, which shines like a bright yellow star. Even a small telescope will reveal its most famous feature: a magnificent ring system. Saturn’s main rings are 220,000 miles wide, yet they are only 30 feet thick. Beyond the main rings are hazy outer rings.

Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, was unknown to ancient astronomers, even though it is visible with the naked eye in perfectly clear and dark skies. Composer William Herschel discovered it from his back garden in Bath, England, in 1781. It is similar to Neptune and is the coldest of all the planets. A faint set of rings was discovered in 1997 and all of its 27 known moons are named after characters in works by Shakespeare or the English poet Alexander Pope.

Neptune, the eighth and farthest from the sun, was discovered in 1846. Astronomers had noticed Uranus wasn’t following its expected path – there seemed to be an unseen body, perhaps an undiscovered planet, pulling on it. Two mathematicians calculated where it might be and within days, it was spotted by an observatory in Germany. The violent weather on the surface is thought to be powered by 1,300-mph winds from internal heat, since it is too far from the sun to absorb much warmth.

Our sun belongs to a giant whirlpool of stars called the Milky Way. Like all galaxies, the Milky Way is unimaginably vast. Galaxies come in all shapes and sizes, with some containing a few million stars, and others trillions. Our little home seems to be quite cozy and we need to take good care of it since there are no known options (at least yet).

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].

American Forces Quickly Rallied to Face German Aggression

Tom Lovell’s World War I Soldiers on Horseback, painted for a magazine story illustration, sold for $8,750 at a March 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

At the start of 1917, only four months before the United States declared war on the German Empire, the U.S. army totaled 107,641 men. Sixteen other nations had larger armies. Another major weakness was the lack of recent experience in large-scale military operations. It had been a full 51 years since the armistice at Appomattox had ended the Civil War and many things had become rusty in the interim.

Also, somewhat remarkably, there was no modern military equipment heavier than medium-size machine guns!

Even the National Guard was larger (132,000 men), but this part-time militia was dispersed among the 48 states, generally poorly trained, and any federal oversight was unusually lax. One sparkling exception was the U.S. Marine Corps, over 15,000 first-class troops. However, they were scattered throughout the Western Hemisphere in America’s possessions and in Central American republics, acting as police in the aftermath of the 1898 Spanish-American War.

Despite this bleak situation, and because the Germans had committed far too many acts of war, on April 2, President Woodrow Wilson requested a joint session of Congress. On April 6, the U.S. Congress voted overwhelmingly to go to war. The vote in the Senate was 82-6 in favor (with eight abstentions) and 373-50 in the House, with Jeannette Rankin of Montana in the minority. In 1941, she would become the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor.

Yet, by June 1917, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, General John J. Pershing, had arrived in France and on July 4, American Independence Day, elements of his 1st Division paraded in the streets of Paris. Throughout the following months, fresh units of an Army designed to reach a strength of 80 divisions – nearly 3 million men – continued to arrive. By March 1918, 318,000 men had reached France, the vanguard of 1.3 million to be deployed, and not a single one had been lost to enemy action in oceanic transport.

Rare are the times in great wars when the fortunes of one side are transformed by the sudden accretion of reinforcements. Napoleon’s enemies in 1813 when the Russian army joined Britain/Austria … the North in our Civil War when the adoption of conscription added millions versus the South’s hundreds of thousands … 1941 when Adolf Hitler’s stupid declaration of war on the United States, followed by Japan’s ill-advised action, saved an isolated Britain and an almost defeated Soviet Union.

This was another of those times, when Germany had declared unrestricted war in the Atlantic in the flawed calculation that the war would be over in Europe before the United States could mobilize.

As philosopher George Santayana so wisely observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

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].

Artists Helped Establish America’s First National Park

Thomas Moran’s watercolor, pencil and gouache on paper titled From the Top of Great Fall, Yellowstone, 1871, sold for $51,500 in November 2014.

By Jim O’Neal

In March 1872, a tract of land beneath the headwaters of the Yellowstone River became a national park when the U.S. Congress passed an act to authorize it and President Ulysses S. Grant approved it.

A great deal of the credit belongs to two 19th-century artists: Thomas Moran (amazing color sketches and paintings) and William Henry Jackson (brilliant photographs). They provided the real impetus to convince Congress to set aside 2.2 million acres of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho wilderness as the first national park in the United States (and probably the world).

Because Congress had a chance to see Moran’s and Jackson’s breathtaking pictures, America got Yellowstone National Park.

Before the artists’ work became widely known, little reliable proof was available to support the fanciful reports that had been trickling back East. They had started shortly after the famous Lewis and Clark journey had ended in 1806 after an epic three-year discovery which did NOT include any of the Yellowstone area.

However, there were numerous eyewitness reports from trappers and mountain men who described a strange landscape filled with boiling springs, towering geysers and foul-spelling vapors. One prominent fur trader, Warren Angus Ferris, wrote: “The largest of these wonderful fountains projects water several feet in diameter to the height of more than 150 feet.” But without images to support these claims, they were generally considered exaggerated and only partially credible.

As an aside, there was also a plain within Yellowstone called Two-Ocean Plateau, from which creeks trickled into streams that eventually passed to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The result was that Yellowstone’s melting snow peaks watered great swaths of American land. Yet none of those passing on the Oregon Trail came close enough to see it. Neither did the hardy Mormon pioneers who were heading for the valley where they would build Salt Lake City.

Even those heading for the Montana gold fields turned away at the sight of the seemingly impenetrable-looking mountains. All of them balked at the high passes that were still choked with snow in late June. So all the contemporary maps marked Yellowstone as “unexplored” and “terra incognita” or did not bother to mention it at all.

In 1860, it was probably the final important place in all of America to be so little-known.

However, by 1870, the Montana Territory was becoming populated as gold and silver were discovered. Towns were built and unknown corners of the territory were being explored. One group even headed up the Yellowstone River and what they discovered over the next six weeks was almost beyond belief. One member, Nathaniel Langford, wrote two essays for Scribner’s Magazine. They told of truly amazing things: hundred-foot geysers, enormous waterfalls, bubbling hot springs, wild-flowered meadows and towering snowcapped volcanoes.

It was the formal crowning for Yellowstone and was followed by the Ferdinand Hayden expedition, which took along Thomas Moran, the very artist who had drawn the magnificently imagined Scribner’s pictures. What he drew and painted that year and what Hayden found on his expedition put in motion a series of activities that would have lasting consequences for America’s perception of the glories of her countryside.

The 2.2 million acres exceeded the size of both Rhode Island and Delaware, and almost 5 million visitors now visit annually to see one of our country’s true national treasures.

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].

Her Fearless Tongue Made Alice Roosevelt the Most Popular of Presidential Children

Albert Beck Wenzell (1864-1917) painted this gouache on paper, titled Theodore Roosevelt and His Daughter Alice. It went to auction in May 2006.

By Jim O’Neal

To describe Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980) as a handful would be a gross understatement. She was the only child of Teddy Roosevelt and Alice Hathaway Lee. Her mother died two days after her birth of Bright’s disease – a catch-all term for kidney diseases. Eleven hours before her death, TR’s mother, Martha “Mittie” Roosevelt, had died of typhoid fever. It was a traumatic time in the Roosevelt home and it would haunt Teddy for the rest of his life.

Young Alice never founded a school or hospital, never ran for public office, and was terrified of public speaking, but she became unquestionably the best known and most popular of presidential children.

She was 17 when William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, which vaulted her vice-president father into the White House. When she learned of the news, she reportedly let out a war whoop and danced on the front lawn. Years later in an interview with reporter Sally Quinn (third wife of Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post), Alice described her feelings as “utter rapture.” This kind of candor made her almost irresistible to the American public, and the press dubbed her “Princess Alice.”

One infatuated biographer described her as the “first female American celebrity of the 20th century.” Her cousin Joseph Alsop – the famous syndicated columnist whose robust opinions appeared in national newspapers for five decades – referred to her as “Washington’s other memorial.” Her celebrity started early, as people all over the country were talking about her antics, her clothes and her fearless tongue, which all delighted the average citizen.

On Inauguration Day in 1905, she was so exuberantly waving to her friends in the crowd that her father chided her by saying, “Alice, this is MY inauguration!” She was a flirt who smoked cigarettes in public and when her father declared that no daughter of his would smoke under his roof, she devilishly climbed to the roof of the White House to smoke on top of his roof. A perplexed TR told renowned author Owen Wister (“The Virginian”): “I can either run the country or attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both!”

After her 1902 society debut, the press constantly speculated on her romantic links with most of Washington’s eligible bachelors. She finally married Congressman Nicholas Longworth (future Speaker of the House) in one of the most famous weddings in American history, with front-page coverage across the country. Longworth was a notorious philanderer. William “Fishbait” Miller, doorkeeper of the House, described him as the “greatest womanizer in the history of Capitol Hill.”

Their marriage was an open sham and Alice was rumored to have had a child with William Borah, who became a senator after Idaho became a state in 1890. He was a perennial contender for president and was responsible for killing President Wilson’s attempt to approve the Treaty of Versailles.

Alice delighted in skewering prominent politicians. Calvin Coolidge “was weaned on a pickle.” Speaking of Herbert Hoover, she said “the Hoover vacuum is more exciting, but of course it is electric.” New York Governor Thomas Dewey, with his slick black hair, reminded Alice of the little groom on the top of a wedding cake. When FDR ran for a third term, she declared, “I’d rather vote for Hitler!”

Her acidic commentary on the rich and famous delighted and amused the public for four generations. Alice Roosevelt died of pneumonia on Feb. 20, 1980. At age 96, she had outlived the children of every other president.

She was a handful.

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].

Lowly Potato Nourished Ireland Before a Killer Fungus Changed Everything

A 1938 charcoal pencil on paper study of Sir Walter Raleigh by famed illustrator Dean Cornwell went to auction in 2012.

“God gave us the potato blight, but the English gave us the famine.” – Unattributed Irish saying

By Jim O’Neal

Some believe that Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the potato to Ireland circa 1570. It seems more likely that this marvelous, life-giving tuber was imported from South America where it had been cultivated in the highlands of Peru. Either way, it thrived in the cool, wet climate of Ireland.

Potatoes grew so easily, and with so little labor, that one acre could yield up to 12 tons a year, more than enough to easily feed a large Irish family. By 1840, 3 million Irish survived almost exclusively on potatoes alone. One adult would generally consume up to 14 pounds a day.

Potatoes were rich in protein, carbs and vitamin C, which helped double the Irish population from 4 million to 8 million in the relatively short period from 1780 to 1845. However, this rapid population growth created demand for more land, which was a scarce resource.

So began a fatal death spiral.

Available land parcels were divided into smaller plots and their diminished size soon dictated the planting of only potatoes. It was the only crop sufficient to yield enough food from each field.

Unfortunately, not only did the Irish cultivate only one food source, they only grew one potato variety, called “Lumpers.” It provided the higher yield, but was not genetically diverse and therefore vulnerable to blight, a plant disease that could be devastating.

In Ireland, just such a blight began at harvest time in September 1845. It was a killer fungus named phytophthora infestans, brought from America on ships to England and then blown across the Irish Sea.

This particular fungus killed the potato, turned them black and left them rotting in the ground, too putrid to harvest. It also returned with a vengeance the following year.

The Irish peasants had survived starvation by selling off their livestock and eating corn imported from America. They were now almost 100 percent reliant on the 1846 crop.

At first, the crop seemed healthy, but by September, potatoes began to die in the west. Then the disease moved relentlessly across the entire country at an amazing speed of 50 miles per week.

Not a single potato was untouched.

Then came the winter of 1846-47 and it was the harshest in memory … freezing cold, with one blizzard and sleet storm after another. As the Irish consumed the last of their meager supplies, they began to eat anything in sight. Nettles, turnips, rotten cabbage, seaweed and even grass. (There were reports some ate each other.)

It is difficult to overestimate the magnitude of this disaster.

In 1845, the population was 8 million; six years later, it had shrunk to 5.5 million. Of this, 1 million died of starvation and the remaining 1.5 million emigrated to Britain, Australia and America.

It left Ireland an impoverished nation and assistance from the British government bordered on being revengeful. Such a huge catastrophe rooted in such a lowly plant.

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].

Insidious Practice of Slavery Violated Every Principle that Men of Goodwill Supported

thomas-hart-benton-slave-master-with-slaves-study-for-the-american-historical-epic
This crayon with pencil and ink on paper by American painter Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), titled Slave Master with Slaves (Study for The American Historical Epic), circa 1926, realized $35,000 at a December 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Slavery was the great exception to the rule of liberty proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and established in the U.S. Constitution. The first African slaves (about 40 in all) were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Va., in 1619 to aid in the production of lucrative crops like tobacco.

By the time of America’s founding, the number had grown to 500,000, mostly in the five southernmost states. Slavery was never widespread in the North, but many profited indirectly by the practice. Between 1774 and 1804, all of the northern states had abolished slavery, but the “peculiar institution” remained absolutely vital to the South.

Even as the U.S. Congress outlawed the African slave trade in 1808, domestic trade flourished, and the slave population more than tripled over the next 50 years. By 1860, it was up to 4 million, primarily in cotton-production areas of the South.

One naive hope had been that slavery would slowly die as a simple matter of business economics. In 1776, Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations) argued that the plantation system was uneconomic since slave labor cost more to maintain than laborers paid a competitive wage. But, in 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, making slave-based production lower in cost. The insatiable demand for cotton from Europe was irresistible to the southern agrarian-based economy.

Overlooked in all of this was a brilliant insight by Smith. He noted that slavery ended in the Middle Ages in Europe only after the state and church became separate and strongly independent. His insight was that it is nearly impossible to end slavery in free, democratic forms of government, primarily because many of the legislators would also be slave owners and unlikely to act in ways that were not in their best interest.

Similar arguments later appear in the works of French philosopher Auguste Comte, known for his ideas regarding the “separation of the spiritual and the temporal.”

That was exactly the situation in the United States since many of the founders – most notably George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – owned slaves and the South had always been dominated by self-interest. The obvious implication is that war was not only probable, but inevitable and unavoidable.

So the inexorable forces of profit versus human rights continued to accelerate, with only pauses, as the deeply conflicted country tried to find compromises (e.g. 1820) that simply delayed the inevitability of war. Kick-the-can strategies never achieve anything except temporary lulls.

Quite predictably, ours required a bloody civil war to (finally) reconcile the Constitution and an insidious practice of slavery that violated every principle that men of goodwill supported.

Both Smith and Comte tried to warn us, but their theories did not include any useful solutions, except perhaps to implement a kingdom … the very thing we were fleeing.

Even after 620,000 lives were lost in the Civil War, a number that exceeds all our other conflicts combined … and with the passage of 150 years … we are still struggling with race and inequality as our legislators try to find compromises.

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].

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].