Hearst Built an Empire that Included Newspapers, Magazines, Comics

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

By Jim O’Neal

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

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

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

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

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

Hearst was elected to Congress in 1902 and 1904.

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

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

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

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

Today’s Political Schisms Would Not Surprise George Washington

A painting by Jeremiah Paul Jr. (d. 1820) depicting George Washington taking leave of his family as he assumes command of U.S. forces during the “quasi-war” with France in 1798, realized $47,500 at a May 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

George Washington was a staunch opponent of political parties due to the corrosive effect he (strongly) believed they would have on all levels of government.

As president, Washington worked hard to maintain a non-partisan political agenda, despite significant differences that existed right in his cabinet.

His 1796 farewell address was replete with advice to the country, and by extension, to future leaders. One prominent warning was to avoid the formation of political factions that would pose a danger to the effectiveness of government (think gridlock in Washington, D.C.). A second peril was entanglements with foreign governments, since they inevitably lead to war. The examples here start with the War of 1812, two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and end with the Russian threats to NATO, the China Sea and the remarkably complex situation in the Middle East and North Korea.

After Washington’s retirement, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton ignored his sage advice and wasted little time confronting the Democratic-Republicans, headed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Adams became the first (and last) Federalist president. He was easily defeated in 1800, after one term, by Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Adams finished a dismal third and the Federalists gradually faded into irrelevance.

The Democratic-Republicans put together a nice run of three Virginia presidents – Jefferson, Madison and James Monroe – however, the party lacked a strong center and split four ways. Next was an alliance between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay of the National Republican Party, which only won a single election in 1824 that required the House to settle. When Andrew Jackson defeated Clay in 1832, the party was absorbed into the Whigs … a diverse group of anti-Jackson politicos.

Then the Whig Party fell apart in the 1850s over the issue of the expansion of slavery in the new territories. In fact, after the 1854 election, the largest party in the House of Representatives was the Opposition Party, with 100 members, followed by 83 Democrats and 51 American Party members (the Know Nothings).

These parties never seem to last long (thankfully).

Next it was the New Republican Party’s turn (the Party of Lincoln) until another major kerfuffle occurred in 1912 when Teddy Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft managed to divide the Republican Party enough to let Democrat Woodrow Wilson win the White House … until he had a stroke and his wife took over.

A century later, we appear to be in another political schism, with a socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders, on the Democrat Party side and on the other, Donald “The Wall” Trump, who claims to have part of the Republican Party supporting him. It is not clear which part.

Only one thing seems certain. Thanks to President Washington, we were warned!

P.S. As history teaches … this too shall pass.

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].

We Should Let Geniuses Do What Geniuses Do

This signed photograph of Thomas Alva Edison, taken sometime around 1910, realized nearly $3,900 at an April 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Thomas Alva Edison was awarded about 1,100 patents in the United States and more than double that worldwide.

They are generally grouped into categories that include electric power, telegraphy/telephony, recorded sounds, batteries, cement and motion pictures. His practice of keeping meticulous records to protect his intellectual property became the “gold standard” for future scientists, engineers and inventors in general.

Naturally, he made a lot of money, which proved useful when some of his ideas turned out to be expensive commercial failures. At times, he appeared to lack practical sense or perhaps he lacked the “Steve Jobs gene” when it involved customer preference. Another more plausible explanation is that he simply did not care, period.

One of the more interesting examples is his refusal to adopt the concept of movie theaters (people might sneak in without paying), so he held out for hand-crank, peep-show boxes. In 1908, he confidently predicted that airplanes had no viable future (the Wright brothers disagreed).

Then he became mesmerized by the possibilities for concrete and formed the Edison Portland Cement Company and built a huge factory. By 1907, Edison was the fifth-largest cement producer in the world and had four dozen patents to make a better cement, some of which was used to build Yankee Stadium.

But his abiding passion was to fill the world with cement houses.

The concept was to pour concrete into giant molds to form walls and floors, followed by baths, sinks, cabinets, toilets and even picture frames. A four-man team could build a new house every two days for $1,200 (one-third the cost of traditional structures).

The concept was scheduled to be showcased at a cement industry convention in 1912 in New York. However, when the show opened, the Edison exhibit was empty and Thomas Edison never discussed the issue publicly. There was also no word on the fate of the cement piano that was scheduled to be exhibited.

He was now interested in modernizing war and casually predicted he would be able to induce comas in enemy troops through the use of “electrically charged atomizers.” It is not clear how this idea was abandoned. He also worked on a plan to build giant electromagnets to catch enemy bullets in flight and then “return to sender.” It was another mysterious project that was abandoned.

One last example was a heavy investment in an automated general store where customers would insert coins into slots and then bags of coal, onions, nails or potatoes would come sliding down the chute. The system never worked. It never came close to working.

If you believe in reincarnation, then there is a good chance Thomas Edison is back. This time his name is Jeff Bezos, who had a nutty idea about selling books over the internet and now owns a major print newspaper and is in a race to conquer outer space, since NASA has scaled back. Elon Musk has managed to find time to enter the rocket business, too, while he tinkers with electric cars and batteries.

Our country seems to be blessed when it comes to producing geniuses. Let’s hope the government doesn’t put up too many regulations or red tape as we go hurtling into the future.

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].

Comics Legend Stan Lee Shrugs Off George Lucas Comparisons

The Avengers was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963. A copy of the first issue, graded CGC NM+ 9.6, realized $215,100 at a November 2015 auction.

By Hector Cantú

It’s been a busy year for legendary Marvel Comics editor and creator Stan Lee. He’s executive produced two of the year’s biggest movies – Captain America: Civil War and Deadpool. In the wings for theatrical release are X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27) and Doctor Strange (Nov. 4). Then there are the multiple TV projects, including Daredevil and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Lee, partnering with colleagues such as Jack Kirby, Bill Everett and Don Heck, co-created or helped conceptualize most of the Marvel Comics heroes and villains that have jumped from comic-book pages to the big and small screens (Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Kirby; Deadpool by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza; and Doctor Strange by Steve Ditko).

The Intelligent Collector interviewed Lee eight years ago, before both Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm were acquired by Walt Disney Studios. Even back then, we saw the similarities between the character-rich universes conceived by Lee and George Lucas and asked Stan about it.

“Damn!” Lee said when told that among the top 15 movies at the time, Lucas’ movies had grossed just a bit more than movies based on Marvel Comics characters. “He’s always beating me! I don’t like being in second place!”

Here is an excerpt from that 2008 interview:

Q: Do you consider yourself one of the most successful creators in Hollywood?

A: Of course not! Lucas does movies. I only wrote a lot of comic book stories, which other people have made into great movies. I had nothing to do with the movies and yet I seem to get so much credit for them. I feel like a phony!

Q: But Lucas created Luke Skywalker, you created Peter Parker. He created Darth Vader, you created Doctor Doom. Lucas wrote the stories, you wrote the stories.

Stan Lee was the cover story for the Fall 2008 edition of The Intelligent Collector.

A: … I think I was very instrumental in making these characters famous and successful as comic book characters. In the comic book field, I did very well and I am happy to accept all the credit that might be heaped upon me. But the movies that have made all this money you’re talking about, while they were based on things that I wrote, they were written and directed and acted by other people. I had nothing to do with that. So I would be an idiot to compare myself to a George Lucas. I think I’m cuter! [laughs]

Q: People would still argue you’re on the same level. You created characters. You created stories. The movies are based on those characters and those stories. The similarities are there.

A: Look, I’m not going to fight it. I’m very flattered to be put in the same class. The only difference is, of course, I created probably more things.

P.S. It appears Stan is no longer in second place. Since this interview appeared, Marvel movies have surpassed Star Wars movies on the Top 10 ranking of worldwide grosses, according to Box Office Mojo.

HECTOR CANTÚ is editor of The Intelligent Collector magazine.

Intraparty Feuding Over Presidential Politics Not New

This 1900 William McKinley reelection poster realized $17,925 at a May 2010 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“Now look! That damn cowboy is president!” – Mark Hanna (1901)

Major William McKinley was the last veteran of the Civil War to be nominated for president by any party. With the backing of Ohio businessman and U.S. Senator Mark Hanna, McKinley won the 1896 presidential election and was inaugurated on March 4, 1897. This was the last presidential inauguration of the 19th century and the first to be recorded on film.

His vice president, Garret Hobart, died in 1899 at age 55 from heart disease. He would become the last man to serve in that office in the 19th century and the last vice president to die while in office. The vice presidency was then vacant until the next election.

As the incumbent, McKinley was the strong favorite in 1900, but a major dispute erupted over the choice for VP. There was a lot of support for Theodore Roosevelt after his high-profile exploits in the Spanish-American War, however, “King Maker” Hanna was very much opposed. He viewed TR as a maverick who would be hard to control and made his opinion well known:

“Matter! Matter! Why, everybody’s gone crazy. What is the matter with all of you? Here’s this convention going headlong for Roosevelt for vice president! Any of you realize that there’s only one life between that madman and the presidency? … What harm can he do as governor of New York compared to the damage he will do as president if McKinley should die?”

There was also a major dispute over the party platform, and the new Silver Republican Party decided to back Democrat William Jennings Bryan when the main Republican Party supported the gold standard. Silver Republicans included the senators from Utah, Idaho, Colorado, South Dakota, Montana and Nevada.

Of course, McKinley did win the election and after he was assassinated in 1901, that “damn cowboy” did become president. By then, Hanna’s health was failing and he and the new president reached an accommodation. TR would stop calling him “old man” and Hanna would stop calling Roosevelt “Teddy” (he disliked that name). The Silver Republican Party faded away and the 20th century was waiting impatiently.

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].

Bell’s Invention Had Rocky Start, But Has Conquered Nearly 7 Billion People

A letter from Alexander Graham Bell, on Volta Laboratory letterhead, sent to Joseph Stanley-Brown, private secretary to President James Garfield, and dated Aug. 2, 1881, sold for nearly $6,000 at an April 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1861, a German schoolmaster named Johann Philipp Reis built a device he called a telephone. Apparently, many Germans tend to credit him with the invention instead of Alexander Graham Bell.

The one thing that Reis’ device didn’t do was work. It only produced a series of clicks like a telegraph might. After his death, it was discovered that when the device got dusty or dirty, the contact points were able to transmit speech with remarkably clear fidelity. Reis had kept his equipment impeccably shiny and clean in the finest Teutonic tradition.

Three other men, including American Elisha Gray, were close to perfecting their versions of a telephone when Bell made his famous “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you” breakthrough in 1876. Gray actually filed a patent caveat (a sort of holding claim) on the exact same day Bell filed for his patent. Alas, it was a few hours too late and Bell prevailed.

Bell displayed his invention at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, but it did not attract much attention. Most people considered it a novelty with no real understanding of its purpose.

Bell tried to explain what it did by writing: “The telephone may be briefly described as an electrical contrivance for reproducing in different places the tones and articulation of a speaker’s voice so that conversation can be carried on by word of mouth between persons in different rooms, in different streets or in different towns. … The great advantage it possesses over every other form of electrical apparatus is that it requires no skill to operate the instrument.”

Say what?

It is not clear how much this helped, but some expect cellphone subscriptions to soon exceed 7 billion – or more than the total population of Earth.

Reach out and touch someone.

P.S. An interesting obscure fact is that Thomas A. Watson had about 40 patents himself and one was for the bell that rang with a call. For the first seven years, people had to pick up the phone occasionally to see if anyone was on the line.

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].

Jackson, Calhoun Divided in Office, United on Currency

The Confederate States T1 $1000 Montgomery Issue note, showing John C. Calhoun on left and Andrew Jackson on right, is an iconic rarity in the American paper money canon. This example realized $76,375 at an October 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“Posterity will condemn me more because I was persuaded not to hang John C. Calhoun as a traitor than for any other act in my life.” – Andrew Jackson in his final days before death

Such was the relationship of President Jackson and his Vice President John Caldwell Calhoun. Calhoun had also served as vice president in the previous administration of John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) and then won reelection in 1828 as he wisely switched to the more popular Jackson.

He thus became the second vice president to serve under two presidents, following in the footsteps of George Clinton (Thomas Jefferson and James Madison).

However, a series of disagreements between Jackson and Calhoun totally destroyed their tenuous relationship and Calhoun resigned in late 1832 before completing his term. This was a first for the vice presidency that would not be repeated until much later when Spiro Agnew was forced out over criminal actions.

One small irony is that Jackson/Calhoun are the only president/vice president to be featured together on currency printed in the United States. In 1861, the Confederate States of America issued a series of $1,000 bank notes with portraits of the two men featured prominently.

And there they shall remain together for a long time.

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].

Owner Was Called ‘The Barnum of Baseball’ – For a Reason

Copies of news reports about the Eddie Gaedel stunt, signed by Frank Saucier, went to auction in 2012.
The actual bat Eddie Gaedel used on Aug. 19, 1951 realized $44,812 at an August 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The shortest player to ever play Major League Baseball was Eddie Gaedel, who suited up for the St. Louis Browns.

Gaedel, 26, was 3-foot-7 and part of a promotional stunt by legendary Brown’s owner Bill Veeck (“As in Wreck” … the title of his autobiography).

On Aug. 19, 1951, in between games of a double-header with the Detroit Tigers, little Eddie – referred to as a “midget” by the press at the time – popped out of a giant birthday cake wearing an official St. Louis Browns uniform with the number 1/8 proudly on his back.

He then proceeded to pinch hit for the leadoff batter – right fielder Frank Saucier. When umpire Ed Hurley questioned manager Zack Taylor, Zack simply produced an official signed contract and Hurley allowed Gaedel to bat.

Eddie had been taught to hunch down, which reduced the strike zone … a lot. Pitcher Bob Cain walked him on four straight pitches and Gaedel was replaced by a pinch runner. The fans loved it and gave him a big cheer when they finally realized what the ploy was.

The following day, American League President Will Harridge refused to honor the contract: “Use of a midget is not in the best interests of baseball” … and that ended Gaedel’s career on the diamond.

However, 10 years later, Gaedel was back in the news … this time in Chicago with the White Sox, the next team Veeck owned. White Sox fans had been whining about the beer and hotdog vendors blocking their views while walking in the stands. So owner Veeck hired Gaedel and seven more people with dwarfism to work in the box-seat section peddling their wares on opening day 1961.

Veeck also asked “John F. Kennedy” to throw out the first ball … and Kennedy did! However, this JFK was a fan from suburban Oak Park with the same name, but not the president of the United States.

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].

Bubbles, Tulips, Dikes, a Dutch Boy and Making Lemonade

This Tiffany Studios lamp featuring a tulip glass shade, circa 1900, realized $35,000 at a June 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1637, a tulip bulb called the “Viceroy” was advertised in a Dutch catalog for 3,000-4,200 guilders, or about 10 times the annual income of a skilled artisan. This was probably the apex of the “tulip mania” period that is generally thought to be the first of the economic bubbles that we’ve seen in the last 400 years.

The U.S. housing bubble peaked in early 2006, declined in 2007 and reached new lows in 2012. The credit crisis that followed was probably the primary cause of the 2008-2009 recession that required capital infusions by the Federal Reserve, followed by multiple quantitative easing actions to increase system liquidity and cheap money.

Tulips were not native to Holland and neither was the little Dutch boy, who saved his town by plugging a hole in a dike with his finger. This story first appeared in Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates, an 1865 novel by Mary Mapes Dodge, an American.

The Dutch had never heard the story until American tourists started asking about which dike was involved. Rather than being amused or annoyed, they simply erected a statue of the little boy near the Spaarndam lock, presumably to increase tourism and boost the economy.

They may not have been prudent about tulip prices, but the statue bears the following inscription: “Dedicated to our youth, who symbolize the perpetual struggle of Holland against the water.”

I’ve also seen the other statue at Madurodam near The Hague, which is a miniature city with a collection of Dutch landmarks.

Moral: If you inherit a lemon, think about opening a lemonade stand.

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].

Germany’s Aggressive U-boat Tactics Pushed America into WWI

Cunard Line produced a tin advertising plaque to promote the RMS Lusitania’s New York-Liverpool route.

By Jim O’Neal

When World War I erupted, one unassailable fact was that the British Royal Navy was far superior to any of the other combatants. Germany recognized this significant British advantage and realized they would have to rely (heavily) on their fleet of U-boat submarines.

Then in February 1915, the German navy adopted a controversial policy of unrestricted warfare on all enemy ships, including merchant vessels. Their objective was to interrupt transatlantic trade, as well as prevent guns and ammunition shipments to the British Isles.

On May 7, 1915, at 2:12 p.m., the RMS Lusitania, en route to Liverpool, England, from New York City, was hit by torpedoes on her starboard. This was followed by an internal blast, suspected to be the boiler room. The ship sank in less than 20 minutes. All 1,200 passengers, including 128 Americans, were either killed or drowned. The German Embassy in Washington, D.C., had published warnings in several New York newspapers reminding prospective passengers of the dangers involved in transatlantic travel. One such notice, in fact, had appeared adjacent to a Cunard Line advertisement for the return trip of the Lusitania.

President Woodrow Wilson sent a strongly worded protest to the German government demanding an apology, but the Germans claimed they were justified since the Lusitania was secretly carrying armaments to the British. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan resigned because he believed Wilson was leading the country to war. The U.S. had maintained a strict policy of neutrality since Americans were leery of involvement in a foreign war.

However, on Feb. 1, 1917, the Germans resumed their aggressive policy of unrestricted U-boat warfare and two days later, Wilson announced the U.S. was breaking all diplomatic relations with Germany. The American liner Housatonic was sunk by a U-boat just hours later.

Finally, on Feb. 6, 1917, the United States formally entered World War I, “the war to end all wars” … except for all the other ones that would follow.

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].