Confederate Torpedoes Wreaked Havoc on Union Vessels

This carte de visite of Lt. Frank Cushing, who led a mission that destroyed the Confederate ironclad Albemarle in 1864, went to auction in November 2008.

By Jim O’Neal

“Torpedo” is a generic name for a variety of naval and land mines employed by the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The word derived from a Latin name for an electric ray fish whose sting numbs its prey. It was first used to describe a weapon in 1776. It was disapproved on moral grounds because targets were struck without warning. The torpedo satisfied the Confederacy’s urgent need to compensate for its inferior strength of arms.

Torpedoes destroyed more Union vessels than all other actions, with 43 sunk or damaged, per best estimates. The psychological effect was obviously incalculable, but it was an important factor. Curiously, only one Confederate vessel fell victim to a Union torpedo … the ironclad CSS Albemarle in Lt. William Cushing’s famous commando raid.

Torpedo manufacturing proliferated with a major factory in Richmond, at Augusta Powder Works, and at many small facilities in various Southern cities. In Atlanta, even wives of naval personnel at the Naval Arsenal pitched in to help (an early version of Rosie the Riveter in World War II). Designs were configured to solve the three major issues: how to deliver the torpedo, how to keep the powder dry, and how to detonate the charge.

Some torpedoes were simply set adrift in a river to strike a ship’s hull in random collisions. Others were anchored and held in “plantations” set at a 45-degree angle downstream. This allowed Confederate vessels unobstructed passage over the frame, but Union ships travelling upstream would trigger explosions on contact.

Another clever variation was the “coal torpedo,” a bomb disguised as a lump of coal and hidden in coal bunkers. Later shoveled into a Union ship’s boiler, it had a devastating effect on the ship, the crew and others near the explosion. A “clock torpedo” smuggled aboard a ship at City Point on the James River created one of the most spectacular and costly explosions of the war.

It is amazing what desperate people will do, even to their fellow citizens, during war. The American Civil War is a tragic example of the horrors that can occur.

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].

Thomas Edison Embodied the American Spirit of Stick-to-itiveness

A signed photograph of Thomas Edison taken inside his Menlo Park Laboratory, circa 1887, sold for $3,734.38 at an October 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In April 1983, my Frito-Lay team toured a research laboratory in Delaware to view their facilities and new product development using polypropylene in our packaging systems. At one point, the national sales manager prodded their head scientist about the possibility of speeding it up and, memorably, the reply was a curt “We don’t schedule inventions.”

At the time, it seemed like a profound statement to me, but that was before I got to know Thomas Edison via his writings and others stories about his fabled career.

Edison’s invention factories were not torn over the merits of applied science versus basic research. They were always about applied research, but with a vengeance! “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and invent it,” Edison said. And did he ever. When he was finished, he would have 1,093 patents in his own name alone, more than any other American in history.

His second patented invention, a stock market ticker, sold for $40,000 in 1869. The sale provided the money for a workshop in Newark, N.J., where he and a small group of workers produced stock tickers, ink recorders and typewriters for automatic telegraphy. In 1876, he moved the shop 12 miles to Menlo Park, where the first of the invention factories was built. The lab and workers were just a hundred yards from Edison’s home.

It was an eclectic group from all over the world: a German glass blower, an English mechanic, mathematicians, carpenters, and draftsmen. Menlo Park became the best private laboratory in the country. The atmosphere Edison created encouraged independent, creative thinking. “There ain’t no rules around here. We’re trying to accomplish something.”

He could be authoritarian and cranky, and set impossible deadlines, since he was there shoulder-to-shoulder with employees 18 hours a day for extended times. Balancing work and personal lives was not as issue; creation was. His approach to failure was the antithesis of other corporations that flourished and failed. “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I now know 10,000 ways not to do it.”

The indefatigable nature of Edison and his workers was exemplified by the search for material that could make a durable filament essential to the incandescent light bulb. After trying numerous promising candidates, on Oct. 22, 1879, they tested carbonized cotton thread. It would glow for 13½ hours without bursting into flame, the common problem with all light bulbs at the time. Problem solved.

What a difference those invention factory ideas meant to our young nation: a viable incandescent light bulb, cylinder phonographs, nickel-iron-alkaline storage batteries, the electric pen for a mimeograph, the Ediphone, the Kinetoscope, etc. Edison even created inventions that improved other inventions: a simple carbon button transmitter for the mouthpiece on AGB’s telephone … eliminating the need to shout to be heard.

Edison was a charter member of that self-taught group that fervently believed that “if this doesn’t work, we’ll just try something else.” Edison may not have defined genius as 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration, but he certainly proved, without a doubt, that “Genius is hard work, stick-to-itiveness, and common sense.”

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 Coolidge’s Inaction Opened White House Door for Herbert Hoover

A photograph of President Herbert Hoover and his Cabinet, signed, circa 1929, sold for $2,151 at an April 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The first president born west of the Mississippi River was Herbert Clark Hoover in 1874. He was born in West Branch, Iowa, about 30 miles from the mighty river. He had a remarkable life, although there is little evidence of true joy other than the rewards from devoting all of his energy to work and public service … always striving for achievement.

It’s curious that he ended up the Cabinet of President Calvin Coolidge. “Silent Cal” was another taciturn man, “weaned on a pickle” and a work ethic that resulted in five-hour workdays, supplemented by naps in the White House. He did not like many people, especially Hoover, his Secretary of Commerce, complaining, “That man gave me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad.” Coolidge jeeringly called Hoover “Wonder Boy,” since Hoover’s reputation for saving lives in World War I had earned him an international title as “The Great Humanitarian.”

It was the Roaring Twenties and times were rosy.

By 1927, America was the most comfortable place in the world. Surrounded by sleek new appliances – radios, refrigerators, telephones, electric fans – that were all within reach of the common man. Eighty-two percent of all things produced were made in America, 80 percent of movies and 85 percent of all cars. America had 50 percent of the world’s gold and the stock market increased by one-third in one year.

But suddenly, there were rain clouds in the sky and for months, it rained steadily across the country. Southern Illinois received two feet of rain in three months and places in Arkansas got over three feet. People had never seen anything like it.

Rain-swollen rivers overran their banks; the San Jacinto in California; the Klamath and Willamette rivers in Oregon; the Snake, Payette and Boise in Idaho; the Neosho in Kansas; Ouachita in Arkansas; the Tennessee and Cumberland in the South; and the Connecticut River in New England.

Then on Good Friday, April 15, 1927, a mighty storm system pounded the middle third of the nation with an unprecedented rain of intensity and duration. From Western Montana to West Virginia and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, rain fell as one might envision what Noah experienced.

Nearly all of this water raced into swollen creeks and rivers and headed straight to the great central artery of the continent – the Mississippi River. The Mississippi and its tributaries drain 40 percent of America, almost 10 million square miles across 31 states. Never in recorded history had the entirety of it been this strained. People standing on the banks watched the carnage floating by. Houses, trees, dead cows, barn roofs. At St. Louis, the volume of passing water was an astonishing two million cubic feet per second.

On April 16, the first levee gave way and 1,300 feet of earthen bank ruptured and a volume of water equal to Niagara Falls passed through the chasm. By May 1, the flood stretched 500 miles from Illinois to New Orleans. The statistics of the Great Flood were staggering. Sixteen million acres flooded … 204,000 buildings lost … 637,000 people homeless, along with 50,000 cattle, 25,000 horses, 145,000 pigs and 1.3 million chickens.

The Mississippi Flood of 1927 was the most epic natural disaster in American history. The Mississippi was at flood stage for 153 consecutive days.

President Coolidge sent Wonder Boy to clean up the mess, rolled over and went back to sleep. It would help Herbert Hoover win the 1928 presidential election, never suspecting that in 1929 the merry-go-round of good times would stop when the stock market crashed, followed by the Great Depression, which would last for 10 long years until we started gearing up for 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].

People of South Carolina were Eager, Even Jubilant, to Start an All-Out War

This Confederate albumen photograph of Fort Sumter, taken two days after Union Major Robert Anderson surrendered, sold for $1,875 at a June 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Fort Sumter, S.C. – site of the first battle of the Civil War – was located on an artificial island inside the entrance to Charleston Harbor. A pentagon with block walls 300 feet long, 40 feet high and up to 12 feet thick was still under construction in late 1860.

On Dec. 26, U.S. Army Major Robert Anderson moved his troops from Fort Moultrie, at the edge of the harbor entrance, to Fort Sumter to reduce their exposure to an attack. Just days earlier, South Carolina had declared their state an independent republic and they resented the “foreign” U.S. flag. They considered Anderson’s transfer of troops an act of aggression.

They considered it another hostile act when the lame-duck James Buchanan administration sent an unarmed merchant ship with reinforcements in January 1861. As the ship approached Charleston Harbor, shore batteries opened fire and forced it to turn back.

Apparently, few recognized how eager (perhaps more than just eager) the people of South Carolina were to start an all-out war against what they considered the oppression of the North. Some even prayed for it to start.

On Feb. 15, 1861, the Confederate Provisional Congress in Montgomery secretly resolved that “immediate steps should be taken to obtain possession of both Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens … either by negotiation or force.” Confederate President Jefferson Davis then dispatched three commissioners to Washington to try diplomatic negotiations. However, he also ordered P.G.T. Beauregard (full name Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard) to take command of the harbor and start formal preparations for the use of force.

Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard

General Beauregard (one of only eight full generals in the Confederacy … ever) proceeded to extend and enlarge the batteries, targeting the fort. His preparations nearly complete, he advised President Davis on March 27 that expulsion of the Union troops “ought now to be decided in a few days.” Davis replied that Anderson should not be allowed to buy provisions in Charleston.

Want to start a war? Surround a fort with canons … cut off any reinforcements … and restrict its provisions. Then get a match and prepare to light the fuse.

On April 10, Beauregard was ordered to demand an evacuation of Fort Sumter, and if refused, to “reduce it.”

On April 12, 1861, 50 Confederate guns and mortars launched more than 4,000 rounds on an ill-equipped Fort Sumter. They surrendered after 34 hours. Two days later, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to quell the “insurrection.” The president was not willing to start a war over the slavery issue, but the taking of federal property was leading to disunion, something the president was not going to allow, even if it meant all-out war.

The U.S. flag would not be raised over Fort Sumter again until April 14, 1865, exactly four years after the surrender. Who would have guessed? Obviously, few if any of the people who were so jubilant when the war started and so utterly demoralized when it ended.

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].

General Longstreet at Center of One of Civil War’s Greatest Controversies

A signed carte de visite of Confederate General James Longstreet sold for $3,250 at a June 2015 Heritage auction.

“Bring me Longstreet’s head on a platter and the war will be over.” – President Abraham Lincoln

By Jim O’Neal

Confederate General James Longstreet (1821-1904) was born in South Carolina and his mother sent him to live with an uncle who decided his should have a military career. He received an appointment to West Point, where he underperformed academically. However, he made many lifelong friends, including future President Ulysses Grant.

Commissioned into the infantry, he served until the outbreak of the Mexican-American War. From 1847 to 1849, he served under generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec, and finally resigned from the U.S. Army in June 1861. It was nearly a month after Fort Sumter.

Like many of his southern colleagues, he joined the Confederacy and ended up in the Army of Northern Virginia after Robert E. Lee declined Lincoln’s offer to head up the entire Union Army. Almost inexorably, this led to the most famous battle of the Civil War. On July 1, 1863, Longstreet rode onto the battlefield of Gettysburg as infantry units were cleaning up after a decisive day-one victory. He was 42 years old.

After surveying the Federals rallying on Seminary Ridge, he lowered his field glasses, turned to General Lee and spoke – launching one of the greatest controversies of the entire Civil War. “General Lee, we could not call the enemy to position better suited to our plans… all we have to do is to flank his left…” The words either surprised or angered Lee, who pointed a fist toward the ridge beyond town: “If the enemy is there tomorrow, I will attack him!”

Despite the open disagreement, Longstreet reluctantly supervised the disastrous infantry assault known as Picket’s Charge (the high-water mark of the Confederacy) as ordered. The date was July 1863, and despite being preceded by a massive artillery bombardment, its futility was an avoidable mistake: 12,500 Confederate soldiers in nine infantry units advanced over three-quarters of a mile – charging into a withering hail of Union pure death. The staggering 50 percent casualty rate resulted in a defeat that the South never recovered from – either militarily or psychologically.

Noted historians are still debating who to blame: Lee, for overriding the advice of his most-trusted second-in-command, or Longstreet for being too slow to carry out a direct order.

Personally, I side with General George Pickett, one of three Confederate generals who led the assault under Longstreet and who was bitterly unequivocal: “That old man [Lee] destroyed my division.” His regular daily report is missing and is believed to have been intentionally destroyed, perhaps by Longstreet personally. It was now just a matter of time until the South’s war machine gradually came to a stop. The war would continue until April 1865, but the end was never again in doubt.

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].

Some Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings Would Make Great Pay-Per-View TV

This oversized photograph of the U.S. Supreme Court, circa 1984, is signed by all nine justices, including Lewis F. Powell Jr. It realized $4,481.25 at an April 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. unexpectedly announced his retirement in June 1987, no commentator failed to emphasize the implications for the future of the Supreme Court. The New York Times stated the obvious: “Powell’s resignation gives President Reagan a historic opportunity to shape the future of the Court.” Justice Powell had played a pivotal role as the tie-breaking vote on controversial issues such as abortion, affirmative action and separation of church and state.

Yet Powell was not merely a simple tie-breaker. Since he frequently swayed the court’s decision from one ideological camp to another by virtue of his swing vote, he was viewed as mainstream. As a result, President Reagan attempted to portray Powell’s replacement, Robert Bork, as neither conservative nor liberal, stressing his “evenhanded and open-minded approach to the law.”

The president’s lack of success was immediately evident when Senator Edward Kennedy – only 45 minutes after Bork’s appointment – fired the opening salvo against Bork’s record on abortion, civil rights and criminal justice. Kennedy declared, “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would be forced to sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue policemen could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, and artists could be censured at the whim of government.”

Once Kennedy unleashed these polemics, there was no turning back. Southern Senators were intimidated by the possible loss of black voters and liberals in the Senate were eager for a good fight after eight years of frustrating losses to conservatives.

Despite being confirmed unanimously for the U.S. Court of Appeals, Judge Bork was stepping into a veritable political hornets’ nest and he was the wrong person in the wrong spot at the wrong time! His copious scholarly writings – an asset in academia – and his lucidly crafted, elegantly penned opinions on the appellate bench were red meat in the hands of hostile interest groups.

Bork with President Ronald Reagan in 1987.

Moreover, Bork’s personal appearance and demeanor seemed as suspect as his ideology. His devilish beard and turgid academic discourses did not endure him to the public or wavering Senators. His detailed, scholarly, lecture-like answers to every single question would be considered naive today … where nominees are well versed in the art of non-answers to tough questions, and grilled by “murder boards” designed to prepare careful answers to virtually everything the nominee has written or spoken since puberty. Today’s Google/Facebook generation of staffers can unearth obscure facts that might be even slightly contentious.

Judge Bork’s nomination was rejected by a resounding 42-58 vote. After being transfixed by the riveting testimony, I personally believe that even if Judge Bork were given another try today (he died in 2012), the outcome would be similar. He had such a high regard of his superior legal acumen and was so openly dismissive of the twits on the Senate Judiciary, it would be another verbal combat that would end just as badly.

It would be a perfect scenario for a pay-for-view cable TV spectacle, especially for Supreme Court nerds like moi.

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].

Supreme Court Appointments Are Always Soap Operas, with Gavel-to-Gavel Coverage

This Rehnquist Supreme Court photograph, circa 1989, is signed by all nine justices, including Antonin Scalia and William H. Rehnquist. It realized $1,171.25 at an April 2015 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On June 17, 1986 – to the surprise of his colleagues, the public and President Reagan – Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Warren Burger submitted his resignation. After 17 years as head of the U.S. federal court system and within months of his 79th birthday, Burger wanted to devote all of his time to organizing ceremonies for the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution in 1987.

Almost immediately, President Reagan announced his choice for Burger’s replacement: sitting Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist. Judge Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C., was selected to fill the vacant position. The Burger court had been surprisingly active in civil rights and President Reagan resolved to fill the vacancies with conservative, strict constitutionalists.

Rehnquist certainly met these criteria, as his 14-plus years on the bench validated. He made that abundantly clear during his confirmation hearings that opened July 30, 1986, by telling the Judiciary Committee they should not expect any change in his jurisprudence. His years on the court were on the record.

His primary opponent, Senator Edward Kennedy, acknowledged this, but also assailed the chief justice nominee in harsh terms, thundering, “By his own record, he is too extreme on race, on women’s rights, separation of church and state, and too extreme to be chief justice.” Kennedy’s assertions set the tone for two weeks of stormy testimony. No one dared to dispute Rehnquist’s powerful intellect or keen understanding of the law. He was just “out of the mainstream” – a standard ploy for any opposition.

After three months of divisive, acrimonious debate in the full Senate, he was confirmed 65-33. The 33 nays were the most votes ever cast against a nominee who won confirmation. Charles Evans Hughes prevailed in 1930 after a vote of 52-26, the previous record.

Scalia had a much easier time, perhaps because the partisan vitriol was exhausted on Rehnquist. The New Republic had earlier written, “A Scalia nomination makes political sense.” And a White House official had exclaimed, “What a political symbol! Nino would be the first Italian-Catholic on the court. He has nine children and everyone likes him. He’s a brilliant conservative. What more do you want?” Moreover, the 50-year-old Scalia was 10 years younger than the other possible candidate, Judge Robert Bork.

Even ideological foes were hard-pressed to challenge Scalia’s meritorious credentials. A product of New York public schools, he tied for first at Xavier High School, graduated at Georgetown University as valedictorian summa cum laude, and at Harvard Law was editor of the law review and a postgraduate fellow. This was followed by the law faculty at University of Virginia and appointments at Georgetown Law, the American Enterprise Institute, Stanford Law, and the University of Chicago Law School.

He sailed through the Judiciary Committee 18-0 and the full Senate 98-0. He served on the Supreme Court until his death last year. Strict constitutional conservatives are still in mourning over his loss.

The upcoming hearing on March 20 is designed to select his replacement. We will all have a ringside seat at what promises to be another Supreme Court soap opera, with gavel-to-gavel TV coverage ad nauseam.

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].

Monarch Butterflies Among the Most Intriguing of Earth’s Insects

This photo card of Sitting Bull was produced in the 1890s. Look closely and you can see a Monarch butterfly tucked into the brim of his hat.

By Jim O’Neal

For every single human being on Earth, there are 200 million insects. Both in terms of species and sheer numbers, insects outnumber all other animals on the planet. More than a million different species of insects have been described and named, and thousands more are discovered each year … some estimates exceed 30 million total in existence.

Over 70 percent of all known animal species are insects and almost half of them are in the beetle category. Among the more infamous are boll weevils, which crossed into the United States from Mexico in 1892. They proceeded to destroy great swaths of the cotton grown in the South. Even today, efforts to eradicate them in both countries is problematic.

Thanks to the amazing adaptation skills of insects, they flourish in every land habitat and play a key role in the global ecosystem, recycling dead plants and animals, pollinating flowering plants, and providing food for a host of animals. In fact, insects are so vital to life on Earth, we could not survive without them.

Insects are also the most numerous of the arthropods – animals with tough external skeletons and jointed legs.

A remarkable example of biodiversity is the beautiful Monarch butterfly, which starts life as a wingless caterpillar that spends most of its time eating. Its metamorphosis into a butterfly is one of the most dramatic changes in nature. Within two hours of emerging, the butterfly is ready for flight and launches into the air to start looking for a mate so it can breed and create a new generation.

Monarch butterflies spend the winter asleep in the warm woods of Mexico and California. In spring, they awake and fly north to find milkweed plants that do not grow in the warmer southwest. Then, they lay their eggs and die. The next generation then flies further north and does the same thing. After two generations, they reach the Canadian border. Then, the fourth generation migrates all the way back south again, clear across the United States.

It’s not clear if they seek approval from the Department of Homeland Security or simply rely on special TSA exemptions for frequent flyers. Hopefully, they make it safely, since our fortunes seem to be linked in some mysterious way.

Go Monarchs!

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].

Reagan Made History with Appointment of O’Connor to Supreme Court

An Annie Leibovitz photograph of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (left) and Sandra Day O’Connor, dated 1997 and signed by the photographer, realized $1,750 at a February 2017 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Ronald Wilson Reagan won two presidential elections, both by overwhelming margins. In 1980, he took 44 states with an electoral vote total of 489. Four years later, he crushed Walter Mondale, winning 49 states and 525 electoral votes (the all-time record).

The Reagan agenda included an attempt to alter the contemporary jurisprudential approach to the federal judiciary; he quickly made it known he would return to traditional criteria in selecting jurists. As a candidate, he made it crystal clear he was opposed to any type of racial or other quotas.

During the 1980 presidential campaign, candidate Reagan had promised “one of the first Supreme Court vacancies in my administration will be filled by the most qualified woman I can find, one who meets the high standards I will demand for all my appointments.” The opportunity to fulfill this pledge came within the first six months of his presidency.

On June 18, 1981, in what appeared to be a major surprise, Associate Justice Potter Stewart publicly announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, effective at the close of the 1980-81 term in July. However, members of the administration had actually known three months earlier and had informed the president (while he was still recovering from the assassination attempt). This gave the administration three months to search quietly for a nominee without outside pressure and feverish media speculation.

On June 25, Attorney General William French Smith gave the president a list of 25 names – approximately half of them women – clearly a new record in this regard. Among the women were Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Sandra Day O’Connor; Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Mary Coleman; and Judge Amalya L. Kearse of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, a youthful black Carter appointee. On July 1, O’Connor and two other candidates met with the president and she quickly reminded him they had met 10 years before when he was governor of California and she was a member of the Arizona State Senate.

In addition to the successful interview, there was the Stanford connection: U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist graduated from Stanford Law School in the same class as O’Connor. When Senator Barry Goldwater urged her selection, that was enough to clinch it.

The only strong dissent came from the New Right, including the Reverend Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority, who encouraged all “good Christians” to express concern. Goldwater’s characteristically frank retort was “Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass!”

On Sept. 15, 1981, the Senate Judicatory Committee approved Judge O’Connor 17-0 and six days later, the full Senate voted 99-0 to confirm (Senator Max Baucus of Montana – a strong supporter – was out of town for the vote).

So history had been made!

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].