Explorers Traded Insults, Verbal Attacks in Quest to be First

Robert E. Peary was included in a 1910 tobacco card set of the “World’s Greatest Explorers.”

By Jim O’Neal

In September 1909, two men, both Americans, emerged from the frozen tundra of the Arctic, each claiming they had accomplished something no other explorers had in recorded history. They had reached the North Pole!

The North Pole is a rather strange place. A point with no dimensions, no thickness or breadth, where every direction is south and a year is divided into one day and one night. At the time, it was 400 miles from any solid ground, across an ocean more than 5 miles deep, covered by a jumble of enormous blocks of ice drifting with the wind and the gravitational pull of the moon.

Of the two men, Frederick Cook’s claim had priority – he said he had been at the Pole in April 1908, but had been forced to winter in the Arctic another season because of bad weather. However, his veracity was strongly contested by rival explorer Robert E. Peary. Peary disputed Cook’s claim and proceeded to assert that he’d reached the North Pole on April 6, 1909. His message to The New York Times stated, “I have the pole, April sixth. Expect arrive Chateau Bay, September seventh. Secure control wire for me there and arrange expedite transmission big story. PEARY”

Thus began a series of insults and verbal attacks that the newspapers reveled in. A classic example comes from The Philadelphia Record in 1909: “Dr. Cook is either the greatest and at the same time the stupidest charlatan who ever attempted to impose upon a skeptical world, or he is the victim of the most malignant and devilishly ingenious persecution that hatred and envy could devise.”

The controversy widened after Cook’s ascent of Mount McKinley (Denali) was also questioned. Perhaps inevitably, it devolved into a litany of charges that included bribes, death threats and even sexual improprieties. Cook’s claims gradually came to be regarded as elaborate hoaxes. Attempts to ascertain the truth through impartial commissions and Congressional hearings all ended inconclusively.

However, what was proved (without any doubt) was that Frederick Cook – physician, explorer, author and lecturer – was also a crook who sold fraudulent stock in oil companies. A Fort Worth, Texas, judge sent him to jail for almost 15 years. President Franklin Roosevelt pardoned him in 1940, 10 years after he had been released from prison. He died shortly after that on Aug. 5 the same year.

Meanwhile, despite having been certified by the National Geographic Society, Peary’s claim about the North Pole was never secured. Even modern scholars have pointed out major discrepancies in his assertions and it seems unlikely he actually made it. He died embittered and exhausted by the long struggle despite receiving numerous medals, honorary degrees and international recognition.

Today, the only fact we know for certain is that in 1985, Sir Edmund Hillary (first to summit Mount Everest) and astronaut Neil Armstrong (first man to stand on the moon) actually landed at the North Pole in a small twin-engine plane. This allowed Sir Hillary to claim to be the first to stand on both the South and North Poles and on the summit of Everest.

It’s not clear to me why some ambitious reporter like Anderson Cooper didn’t simply ask some of the local residents about Cook and Peary … Santa and his elves are generally hanging around assembling the toys and stuff. That old North Pole is still a very strange place.

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].

Best Way to Revamp Income Tax Might Be a Do-Over

A 1917 World Series Program, featuring President Woodrow Wilson on the cover, sold for $4,800 at a May 2017 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1912, after 16 years in the wilderness, Democrats seized control of Congress and the White House, with Woodrow Wilson as their leader. To their disappointment, the new president kept celebrations to a minimum. He delivered a brief inaugural address on March 4, 1913, canceled the inaugural ball, and reviewed the parade with stoic forbearance. This is not a day of triumph, he declared, but a day of dedication. And it was a day to muster the forces of humanity, not the forces of party.

Wilson went on to produce the greatest outpouring of social legislation Americans had ever experienced, during a brief period when the ruling class would use Hamiltonian means of a strong federal government to bring about Jeffersonian ideals of egalitarianism. His presidency would transform the American banking and currency system, create new industrial and farm policies, and expand the protection of America’s natural resources. But the first accomplishment was lowering tariffs and enacting an income tax – reforms aimed directly at middle-class pocketbooks.

Wilson and his associates sincerely believed that the federal government needed to serve as a counterweight to corporate wealth and an aggressive agent to help ordinary citizens. Wilson’s legacy is often cited as a fateful turning point when “do-gooders” harnessed the income tax to both raise revenues to grow government and to redistribute the wealth of Americans in a way they viewed as more fair. Yet at the outset, no one could foresee that war, not social justice, would start an inexorable rise in taxes that would thwart all the moral absolutism dreamed about.

Starting the day after his inauguration, Wilson called Congress into an extraordinary session for a historic assault on the tariff system by delivering his message personally in the first presidential appearance inside the Capitol since the days of President Jefferson. Although he recognized the challenge he faced due to conservative committee barons who dominated Congress, despite being Democrats, Wilson stood with his progressives and intended to use his executive power to the fullest. By September, the Senate actually passed a tariff bill that helped consumers … a historical first.

However, there was the small issue of how to plug the $100 million loss of revenue that was created. And so we now meet the federal income tax, which turned employers into tax collectors. New York’s The Sun summed up the opposition by arguing that income taxes were repugnant except in times of great national emergency and charged “it amounted to taxation of the few for the benefit of the many.” Advocates claimed it was merely a way to tap the “surplus” income of the rich – “over and above the amount necessary for good living.”

On May 8, 1913, the House approved the first income tax that would actually take effect since 1872, when Congress repealed Civil War-era taxes. But the Senate disagreed, with some senators opposing the “confiscation of property under the guise of taxation” and others saying “No honest man can make war upon great fortunes per se.” The war of words continued until a law was passed that affected fewer than 4 percent of Americans, with working-class people virtually excluded. A 1 percent rate on $20,000-$50,000 graduated up to 6 percent on $500,000 and above. There was also a 1 percent flat tax on corporations.

After two years, everyone seemed angry at Wilson for doing either too much or too little. Feeling besieged, he entertained a fantasy of putting on a beard and sneaking out of the White House prison, or putting a sign in front of his office: “Don’t shoot! He’s doing his best.” The reform agenda was mobilizing to act when…

In June, a shot rang out at Sarajevo.

World War I would eventually cost the United States $50 billion and the federal budget grew from $742 million in 1916 to nearly $14 billion in 1918. Excise taxes and tariffs had been providing 90 percent of federal revenue and this was limited. What to do?

Thus started the long story of the U.S. income tax, which at one point grew to 90 percent and has become so complex not even the IRS knows with certainty what lurks on all 50,000 pages of highly technical jargon (or even if 50,000 pages is accurate!). It grows each day … as does the debt that is back in the news.

My recommendation to President Trump is to simply start over, since every effort to reform only adds more pages and complexity. Take a blank piece of paper and write down “Need 18 to 20 percent of GDP to run federal government. Question: What is the best way to get this money and do the least damage in the process?” Answer: Find three smart people to figure it out, then just do it … fast.

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].

The Great Bobby Jones Achieved a Sports Record that Will Never Be Broken

Bobby Jones’ 1937 personal Augusta Green Jacket sold for $310,700 at an August 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Only two Americans have been made an Honorary Burgess of the Borough by the people of St. Andrews. One was Ben Franklin and the other was amateur golfer Bobby Jones. When golfers evaluate each other, it is not about their swing, iron play or prize money. The question is: “How many Majors have they won?” The modern-day Majors comprise four tournaments: the U.S. Open, PGA Championship, the Open Championship (British), and the Masters Golf Tournament.

This unique criterion is the yardstick to measure greatness and the current all-time leader is Jack Nicklaus, with a career total of 18 wins. Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods is No. 2 with 14, and there is growing skepticism about his chances to tie or surpass Nicklaus (my bet is no).

Usually ranked No. 3 on the all-time greatest list (which typically includes Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead) is a remarkable man by the name of Robert Tyre Jones Jr. (aka Bobby Jones). With childhood health issues, Jones wasn’t expected to live past his fifth birthday, but he became the greatest sports legend of the first half of the 20th century. He is golf’s consummate icon, the measuring stick against which all aspiring champions will be measured. In a sport where so many compete so regularly, no player has ever dominated the way Jones did between 1920 and 1930.

During that 10-year stretch, Jones competed in 45 events, winning 21 and finishing in second place seven times. From the tender age of 19 until he was 28, he won 13 Major Championships and set records that lasted for more than 60 years. He is also the only man to win all four of his era’s Majors in one year: the British Open, British Amateur, the U.S. Open, and U.S. Amateur. Since no other amateur has won the U.S. Open since the 1930s, this is a cinch to be the only sports record that will never be broken or tied … as long as the game of golf is played.

Jones also was the embodiment of sportsmanship. At one point during the 1925 U.S. Open, he penalized himself a stroke for a slight ball movement that no one noticed. Everyone congratulated him profusely on his honesty, but he simply replied, “You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”

Bobby Jones, circa 1930

After Jones set this precedent for self-policing, golfers are still trying to match his uncompromising integrity. Golf is the only professional sport that really doesn’t need referees or umpires, since players usually call all the penalties. It’s an astonishing situation when compared to cycling, gymnasts or track stars (doping), or professional soccer, where players conspire to fix games. Or baseball, basketball or football, where players and coaches are routinely ejected for complaining about adverse rulings.

However, a truly remarkable thing happened in 1930 when Bobby Jones won golf’s Grand Slam at age 28 … he retired from competitive golf to focus on his law career. This is analogous to Joe DiMaggio retiring in 1941 after hitting in 56 straight games, Babe Ruth in 1927 after his 60 home runs, or Roger Bannister hanging up his running shoes on May 6, 1954, after becoming the first man in history to run the mile in under 4 minutes.

The next phase of Jones’ life included transforming 365 acres of land in Augusta, Ga., into a golf course that is revered by golfers worldwide: the Augusta National Golf Club. This is arguably the planet’s No. 1 golf course and venerable site of the greatest tournament in the history of the game: the Masters. The just-completed 2017 Masters was the 81st time the world’s best golfers played for the coveted Green Jacket.

Play is strictly by invitation-only, as is membership in Augusta National. Condoleezza Rice was one of the first two women invited to join (2012). I have been patiently waiting a long time and only recently adopted Groucho Marx’s philosophy: “I would never join a club that would have me as a member!”

P.S. To whoever decides on members …. just kidding.

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].

Masters Golf Tournament Won’t Be the Same Without Tiger Woods

A set of gloves worn by Tiger Woods during each of his four rounds at the 2011 Masters, autographed by Woods, sold for $9,560 at a July 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The modern-day golf Majors include the U.S. and British Opens, the PGA and the Masters Golf Tournament. Jack Nicklaus’ 18 victories in these events is considered the most revered record in the sport.

It wasn’t that long ago that a lot of people were convinced it was only a matter of time until Tiger Woods broke that record and virtually all others of significance in the game. This was especially true in the spring of 1997 following Woods’ stunning professional debut. By the time he arrived at Augusta, he had won three tournaments in seven months as a professional, was chosen as Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Year,” and, amazingly, was the favorite to win the coveted Masters.

Nicklaus went so far as to predict that Woods would eventually win the Masters 11 times!

The limited edition 2001 SP Authentic Gold Tiger Woods #45 card is popular with collectors.

As brilliant as he was, it seemed unlikely that Woods would be able to contend with the hype and pressure heaped his way. He not only did, but he made it look easy. He led the tournament by three strokes on Friday (day two), by 9 strokes on Saturday night, and a record 12 strokes on Sunday when the tournament ended. “He’s a boy among men,” Tom Watson innocently said as Woods ran away from the field, “and he’s teaching the men a lesson.” A very sincere compliment from one of golf’s biggest stars.

Woods’ victory wasn’t just an amazing performance by a young star, it was a major social and political event in American history for the simple reason that Tiger was a black man. Woods’ father was African-American, Native-American and Caucasian. His mother was from Thailand. Tiger jokingly calls himself a “Cablinasian.”

Regardless of his ethnic breakdown, the fact is Tiger was a man of color. As late as 1963, this meant that he would not have been allowed to be eligible for membership in the Professional Golf Association (PGA) since membership was limited to “Caucasian only.”

For many years, Augusta National had been a symbol of the old South, a place that clung to segregation, much the way George Wallace had, only without State Troopers. During the first 40 years the Masters was played, the only black men inside the ropes were those carrying golf bags as caddies. Clifford Roberts, who had become the sole master of the Masters after Bobby Jones died in 1971, insisted that the tournament wanted black players and would welcome them when they qualified. But during the 1960s, when both Charlie Sifford and Pete Brown won events on the PGA tour, neither was invited to play in the Masters.

Now a man of color has actually won the Masters and it’s a relief that another barrier has been shattered. But there was a real controversy brewing. A television crew asked 1979 Champion Fuzzy Zoeller, “What do you think about Tiger?” Few golfers have been more friendly than Fuzzy. He is a gregarious, funny man who loves to tell jokes. As the TV cameras rolled, he picked the wrong time to be funny with his references to the potential 1998 Champions Dinner menu. “That little boy is driving well and he’s putting well. … So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it. Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”

When Zoeller’s comments aired a week later, all hell broke loose. He lost his No. 1 sponsor and the controversy took a long time to settle down after multiple apologies, all of which Tiger accepted graciously.

Sadly, four-time Masters winner Woods will not be competing in tomorrow’s Masters due to continued back problems. He will be missed by every Masters fan in America. It will not be the same without him.

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].

Presidential Sons a Complex, Dark Addendum to First Family History

A pair of baseballs signed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, from the collection of baseball legend Stan Musial, sold for $2,629 at a November 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After favored son John Quincy Adams became president of the United States, there was an unspoken feeling that – like the sons of kings and monarchs – he might be destined for greatness. However, it would be a surprising 176 years before another president’s son, George W. Bush, would be sworn in as president.

The stories of presidential sons between these two bookends make up a complex and slightly dark addendum to the First Families of the United States. Some historians have a theory that the closer the male child is to his father, the more likely he is to die or self-destruct. Whether it is fact or coincidence is open for debate.

  • George Washington had no biological children, but was stepfather to a notorious young man, John Parke Curtis, who ruined his estate and died prematurely at age 26.
  • Thomas Jefferson’s only son died shortly after birth (unnamed).
  • James Madison’s stepson was an alcoholic, gambler and womanizer. After Madison died, he cheated his own mother (Dolley), and Congress had to intervene to help the former First Lady.
  • James Monroe’s only son died in infancy.
  • Andrew Jackson Jr. was an adopted son who mismanaged the Hermitage. He died of tetanus after shooting himself in a hunting accident.
  • Martin Van Buren Jr. died from tuberculosis in a Parisian apartment with his father sitting helpless by his bedside.
  • James Polk’s nephew and ward – Marshall Polk – was expelled from both Georgetown and West Point, ending his life in prison.
  • Calvin Coolidge Jr. died of blood poisoning from an infected blister after playing tennis.

A number managed to live longer lives, yet seemed to be cursed with a plethora of issues:

  • John Tyler Jr. was an alcoholic.
  • Ulysses S. Grant Jr. got caught up in an investment fraud scheme.
  • Chester A. Arthur Jr. was a playboy with an unaccountably suspicious source of “easy money” and investigative reporters hounded him and only stopped when his father’s term of office ended.

Franklin Roosevelt Jr. was the first of two sons named after their father and died suddenly after birth. The second namesake, married five times, was banned from the prestigious New York Social Register. Then, the powerful Tammany Hall machine became irked and ended his political career, as well.

Remarkably, when this terrible scourge progressed, fate would sometimes (greedily) step in and run the table. This happened to Franklin Pierce, who lost all three eldest sons in a row. It also happened to Andrew Johnson when first-born Charles Johnson died in a horse accident, Richard Johnson likely committed suicide at age 35, and younger brother Andrew Johnson Jr. died at a youthful 26.

Intuition says this phenomenon is more than random chance or a curse. Perhaps it is the pressure of being the first born, or something that drives the children of powerful figures to escape through substance abuse or risky behavior. Even President George W. Bush admitted to fighting alcoholism for years.

Mine is not to psychoanalyze, but simply to point out a series of eerie similar situations for your interest and speculation.

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].

From Humble Beginnings, Islam Now Has 1.4 Billion Followers

These pamphlets are signed by boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who converted to Islam in the 1960s.

By Jim O’Neal

Revered by Muslims as the prophet of the Islamic faith, Muhammad laid the foundations for the emergence of the Islamic Empire. He was the religion’s political and military leader as much as its spiritual head. He was born in Mecca in 570 after the death of his father. His mother died when he was 6, so he was left in the care of an uncle, who employed him to manage caravans trading with Syria.

In his late 30s, he made regular prayer trips to a cave in Mount Hira, where he eventually received his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. He began preaching and slowly gained a small but loyal following.

Exiled from Mecca in 622 because of his faith, he traveled to Yathrib (on a journey that became known as the Hijra), where he gained vast numbers of new followers and ultimately organized the city into a unified Islamic capital. The city was renamed Medina (“the City of the Prophet”) and Muhammed created a constitution for the state – the Constitution of Medina – which formed the basis of an Islamic tradition.

The Constitution addressed the rights and duties of every group within the community, the rule of law and the issue of war. It recognized the Jewish community of Medina and agreed to mutual obligations with them. Among its edicts was a requirement that all religious members fight as one force if the community came under threat.

The intent was to ensure peace within Medina, while Muhammad gathered followers and soldiers to conquer the Arabian Peninsula. “Whenever you differ about a matter, it must be referred to God and to Muhammad.” Since God spoke through Muhammad, his word carried unquestioned authority.

Islam is the name of the religion (such as Judaism and Christianity), while “Islamic” is an adjective and does not refer to a person. A follower of Islam is a Muslim, and the majority believe the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet of God, according to the Quran and hadiths (prophetic sayings). Muslims overwhelmingly revere Jesus, and the Quran emphasizes Jesus was a great prophet of God, but, like other prophets, was only a human being.

By the time of Muhammad’s death in 632, nearly all the people of Arabia were Muslims, and today, 1.4 billion across the world are devout followers. More than 50 countries boast of having majority Muslim populations.

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].

Early Broadcast Advertising was Shunned … Until Listeners Demanded More

A $12 ticket could get you into the first Super Bowl in 1967. This full-ticket example, a Gold Variation graded PSA NM-MT 8, sold for $26,290 at a May 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1967, the cost to air a 30-second commercial in the first Super Bowl was about $40,000. Nearly two weeks ago in Super Bowl LI, the cost had increased to $5 million and fans were eager to see the latest creative efforts of Corporate America to hawk their products on TV. Ads are everywhere we look. They pop up on our computers and iPads and are common on race cars, golf apparel and sports stadiums. The Nike swoosh is instantly recognized.

It was not always this way, at least on radio.

During the early days, many radio stations had a practice of observing a weekly “silent night” when they would go off the air. However, the trend was definitely in the opposite direction as listeners were seeking more programming than the stations could produce. This led to hybrid programs combining content with advertising. Early high-profile examples included The Maxwell House Hour (the No. 1 coffee in the U.S.), General Motors Family Party, and The Ipana Troubadours from Bristol Myers toothpaste.

But the issue of regulation hovered over radio like a dark cloud. Some argued for total government control as was the practice in Britain. An even more vigorous debate erupted over commercial advertising. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover asserted it would kill radio. After all, how many listeners would stay by their radios to learn about the advantages of one soap over another? (Quite a few, it turned out.) He argued for the industry to adopt self-policing policies to curtail advertising excesses.

However, broadcasters were salivating over the new revenues and wanted even more. Finally, in 1926, an NBC variety show was interrupted for a special promotional announcement from Dodge cars and it encountered little audience objections. From this point forward, commercial breaks during regular programs were the norm.

Advertising became an integral part of radio broadcasting and never hesitated again.

Some early sponsors did worry about being too aggressive and carefully chose tasteful, discreet language … “Swift & Co has a few practical hints on how to lower your meat bills.” That quickly changed once they discovered consumer-crazy citizens of the 1920s were eager to embrace radio advertising. Far from being insulted, people desperately wanted to hear the messages. They wanted to stay hip, keep up with the latest technologies and the most modern forms of behavior.

A hundred years later, I have a smart phone with more computing power than an Apollo mission, that can hold all my music and trace my ancestry. But after spending most of my life chasing larger screen TVs, I do object to watching my programs on my watch!

Must be a generational thing. Times change.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

St. Louis World’s Fair Striking in its Arrogance of America’s Place in Humanity

This 1904 St. Louis Summer Olympics gold medal, awarded to four-mile men’s relay winner George B. Underwood, sold for $38,837.50 at a May 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

America in 1900 was a provincial society of 76 million citizens. It is hard to contemplate a place of such innocence … a nation of dirt roads and horse-drawn carriages, of tight corsets and Victorian pretensions, of kerosene lamps and outhouses, of top hats and bowlers, McGuffey Readers and The Ladies’ Home Journal.

Cities were crowded with smoke-filled men’s clubs and ornate-paneled bars, while country towns were still home to 60 percent of the population, villages of stark simplicity and virtue. The average American had but five years of schooling and the nation only recently had made dramatic strides in improving literacy. Yet even in the absence of sophistication, most people were convinced America and its people were God’s chosen few.

The St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 (the Louisiana Purchase Exposition), commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase (a year late), was striking in its arrogance of America’s place in humanity. In addition to the ice cream cone, hamburger/hot dog, and iced tea – all introduced here – the fair featured an anthropology exhibition to explain human progress via the general increase in the size of the human cranium, the principle of “cephalization.”

Anthropologist W.J. McGee designed a display of pygmies from Africa, Patagonian giants from Argentina, and Native Americans in ethnological settings – purportedly to demonstrate the peak of upward human development from savagery to barbarism to civilization. The implicit message was the distinctive American alchemy that had transformed people to a higher state of being.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a furious competition between scientists and pseudoscientists around the world to discover evolution’s “missing link.” All of them turned out to be bogus. The 1868 discovery in Albany, N.Y., of the Cardiff Giant turned out to be a gypsum statue aged with an acid bath. Then P.T. Barnum constructed his own Cardiff Giant, which he exhibited at his circus (a hoax of a hoax).

In perhaps the most celebrated of discoveries, Britain’s Piltdown Man, “unearthed in 1912,” established England as the cradle of civilization for 40 years. Then it was declared a phony, a mixture of orangutan bones assembled by an amateur paleontologist eager for fame.

Today, we still don’t know exactly how life began, but we do know, finally, how we got from there to here. One thing is certain: The path went through that 1904 fair in St. Louis – and I wish I had been there to attend the first Olympic Games held in the United States, eat a hot dog and end up in one of those bars with a mug of cold beer.

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].

Hitler’s Seduction of German People was Sudden, Complete

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Adolf Hitler is among the figures featured in Gum Inc.’s 1938 “Horrors of War” trading card series. A complete set (288 cards) sold for $2,390 at a November 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The same winter President Roosevelt came to power in the United States, another leader in Europe assumed his country’s highest office. Over the next 12 years, until their deaths just two weeks apart in 1945, the lives of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler would grow increasingly intertwined … drawn together as archenemies in a conflict that was the 20th century’s most grotesque and widespread event.

Even all these years later, the rise of Hitler still baffles. His seduction of the German people was so sudden and complete, his assumption of power so total, that he defies comparison with history’s other evil conquerors. One German philosopher called him an “error” in history, as if the Fates had been distracted while a deadly mutant virus took hold.

Both FDR and Hitler’s journey to power was propelled by a world economic collapse.

Along with America and most of Europe, Germany suffered a Great Depression, with unemployment reaching 25 percent. If it had been hunger alone, the people may have followed a very different kind of leader. But Hitler’s enormous popularity was also a product of Germany’s lingering desire for revenge.

Despite Germany’s surrender in 1918 (an armistice arranged by the Reichstag, not the Army), few accepted the fact that they had been defeated in World War I. Hitler was from Bavaria, a haven for right-wing nationalists, and he railed against the forces of Judaism and Bolshevism, while mocking the fragile Weimar government as “November Criminals” for acceptance of the armistice.

After the complete breakdown of the economy in 1930, the passion of resentment and revenge gained momentum to include students, professors and businessmen. Hitler’s anti-Semitic message resonated with a deep suspicion of money cartels and the perceived unjust punishment from the Versailles agreement. The campaign moved with the speed of a plague.

The Nazi bible was Mein Kampf, a two-volume treatise started by Hitler while in prison for the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, a bungled attempt to control Bavaria. As the movement gained in favor, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) became a best-seller and provided Hitler with a cloak of legitimacy. Still, it was Hitler’s voice, not his pen, that fueled the emotional appeal of the Nazi movement. In a brilliant insight, he grasped that the pain of the German people could be harnessed in a unique way. They had been victimized by the depression, humiliated by Versailles, robbed by chronic inflation and their spirit had devolved into despair, fear and resentment.

Hitler’s extraordinary oratory provided a powerful reassurance that they were a great people, their suffering unjust and he promised an improved life while those who were responsible for their pain would be punished. His two-hour speeches could hold a crowd of half-a-million people spellbound. It mattered not what he said, but how he said it. They were thrilled by the pageantry, the sense of historical inevitability and blind faith that Germany would rise again. It was only a short journey from here to another war of conflagration with even greater magnitude than the last.

The people were eager to get it started and so it came.

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].

President Taft Often Bypassed Journalists to Speak Directly to American People

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A 1910 Chicago Cubs team-signed book presented to President Taft sold for $43,020 at an August 2016 Heritage auction. Two months earlier, Taft launched the “Presidential first pitch” tradition at an opening-day game in Washington, D.C.

By Jim O’Neal

It took William Howard Taft time to actually realize he was president of the United States. He told close friends that anytime someone said “Mr. President,” he would look around expecting to see Teddy Roosevelt. Or when he read headlines that the president and a senator had a meeting, his first thought was, “I wonder what they talked about.”

Of course, anyone who succeeded TR would inevitably seem dull and uninspired, but the 6-foot-2 Taft, with his walrus moustache and 300-pound girth, was so ponderous, it exaggerated the differences. Although Roosevelt had retired, his presence hovered beyond the door of every room, and he was the unseen figure at the conference table when Taft sat in council with his political associates.

During Roosevelt’s years in the White House, the American people had come to expect the president to be in every edition of the daily newspapers. Taft made little effort to promote himself, virtually ignoring the press. When they complained, Taft dismissed it, saying he had been elected by the people, not the press. He intended to give his news in speeches directly to the people, not in releases to journalists. (He would have loved Twitter, like you know who).

That was not the only difference between the presidential styles.

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William Howard Taft oil portrait by Emily Burling Waite.

Taft was slow and soft-spoken and believed the time had come to work behind the scenes for “affirmative legislation.” Taft also held the law sacred, while Roosevelt had not hesitated to stretch it if necessary. Roosevelt used diplomacy to strengthen national power, while Taft viewed national power as an asset to be used in diplomacy. The “Big Stick” of Roosevelt yielded to Taft’s “Dollar Diplomacy” to help American commerce worldwide.

Suddenly, it was no longer the Roosevelt White House.

Even Mrs. Taft made her mark in a hurry. Helen Herron Taft, born in the first year of the Civil War, was 47 at the time of the election. Quick-witted and energetic, she was less a charmer than him and more of a pusher when it came to having her way. Unlike most other first ladies, she was politically savvy and influenced her husband’s activities in all major decisions.

Mrs. Taft had spent time observing the White House during the Roosevelt years, and knew how to make needed changes. During Taft’s governorship of the Philippines, she had learned at Malacañan Palace, with its 125 servants, that a strong administrative structure would free her from daily household obligations. No previous first lady brought experience of that sort to the White House. She had unlimited personal freedom and used it liberally.

Alas, time zipped by and Taft proved ill-equipped to cope with the political patronage. Worse, he committed the error of angering Roosevelt – the man who had literally put him in the job – and TR wrecked the Republican Party to prevent “Big Bill” Taft from having a second term. Upon leaving the White House, the 55-year-old Taft accepted an appointment as a law professor at Yale and then finally was granted his lifelong dream of being on the Supreme Court (appointed by Warren G. Harding). When Chief Justice Edward White died, Taft was swiftly appointed Chief Justice.

“All’s well the ends well.”

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].