DeWitt Clinton’s Canal was Crucial to Our Nation’s Success

This hand-painted Stobwasser snuffbox picturing DeWitt Clinton sold for $5,312.50 at a December 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

At the end of the American War of Independence in 1783, New York City was at a big disadvantage. First was the issue of loyalty due to the number of people who had maintained relationships with England during the war. This created a natural tension between the citizenry.

Second was its modest size. By 1790, the population was only about 10,000. Philadelphia, Boston and even Charlotte were all busier port cities.

However, New York state had a potentially important advantage: an opening to the West through the Appalachian Mountains. This mountain chain ran roughly parallel to the Atlantic Ocean and stretched about 2,500 miles.

Surprisingly, these modest hills and mountains had almost no usable passes, which created major trade and communication barriers to the lands west. Some even speculated that the people living there might decide to form a separate nation strictly out of necessity.

It was cheaper for farmers to ship their produce to New Orleans by using the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and then by sea around Florida and up to Charlotte or other eastern Atlantic ports. This was a 3,000-mile journey, but still less expensive than a direct route of 300 miles over the mountains that did not exist (yet).

This is when our old friend DeWitt Clinton, mayor of New York City and later governor, devised his plan for the Erie Canal, and in 1817, he received approval from the legislature for construction.

The Erie Canal not only secured the economic primacy of New York within the United States, but quite possibly the United States within the world. Without it, Canada would have undoubtedly evolved into the powerhouse of North America, utilizing the Saint Lawrence River to the Great Lakes region and the rich lands beyond.

The financial dominance of NYC would come later, but only due to the groundwork formed by the Erie Canal. DeWitt Clinton deserves to be elevated in our history of people who made significant contributions to our nation’s success.

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].

You Can Credit (Blame?) Taste Buds for Europe’s First Large-Scale Economic Network

Mendes Pinto left Portugal in 1537 in a fleet commanded by Vasco da Gama’s son, journeying for two decades before returning home. A rare first English edition of his journal, The Voyages and Adventures of Fernand Mendez Pinto, went to auction in March 2009.

By Jim O’Neal

After Columbus’ failed attempt(s) to find a new route to the Spice Islands, Vasco da Gama in 1497 (sailing for Portugal) decided to try a route around the bottom of Africa, despite winds and currents that prevented ships from simply following the coast line.

This route forced da Gama far out into the Atlantic Ocean and his ships were out of sight of land for as long as three months. Europeans had never sailed this far before and their first discovery was scurvy!

Two other bad side effects were the spread of syphilis to Asia (five years after Columbus’ crew apparently introduced it to Europe) and Gama’s infliction of extreme violence. Everywhere he sailed, he abused or slaughtered the people he encountered to the point where the whole Age of Discovery was marred by brutish violence.

Vasco da Gama never got to the Spice Islands. Like others, he thought the East Indies were just a little east of India, when in fact they were way beyond India. However, he was the first European to reach India by sea, thereby linking Europe and Asia for the first time by an ocean route.

Da Gama’s discovery was significant and paved the way for the Portuguese to establish a long-lasting colonial empire in Asia. It would take another century before England, France and the Netherlands could break this monopoly, but when they did, it opened an entirely new era of European imperialism in the East.

Spices never had the allure of gold and silver or the commercial potential of tobacco, indigo or sugar. The English and Dutch both struggled for control of the Spice Islands, but spices gradually faded from European cuisine because of changing tastes and the plethora of new foods introduced from Mesoamerica.

However, their decline should not obscure their role as the primary basis for the first large-scale economic network and the driving force behind the first expansion of Europe.

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].

Yes, Some Pitchers Were Sluggers, Too

Warren Spahn’s 1950 game-worn Boston Braves jersey realized $33,460 at a July 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

As baseball season gets under way, let’s look at pitchers who’ve been excellent sluggers.

Cleveland Indians pitcher Wes Ferrell holds the Major League season record for most HR by a pitcher … nine in 1931. Ferrell also holds the career record with 38 (one as a pinch hitter).

Don Drysdale led the NL twice with seven HR in 1958 and 1968 with the L.A. Dodgers. Teammate Don Newcombe also hit seven in 1955. However, Warren Spahn has the NL career record with 37.

Jim Tobin, a pitcher for the Boston Braves, hit three HR in one game in 1942 against the Cubs.

Rick Wise is the only pitcher to pitch a no-hitter and hit two HR in one game, June 23, 1971. (He also played in both the Little League and Major League World Series.)

Pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm hit a home run in his first Major League at bat on April 18, 1952 … but never hit another one in a career that spanned 21 years and 1,070 games. (He was the first relief pitcher to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.)

Dave McNally is the only pitcher in Major League history to hit a grand slam in the World Series … game three in 1970. The bat and ball are in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

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].

Somme Offensive was a Disaster for British, French Forces

A collection of 175 photographs relating to the ground campaigns of World War I went to auction in February 2016.

By Jim O’Neal

The Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, in the Civil War was the bloodiest day in American history, with more than 22,700 killed or wounded.

However, it pales in comparison to the Battle of the Somme in WWI. The Somme is a river in northern France that travels through a gentle valley to the Bay of Somme in the English Channel. “Somme” is a Celtic word for tranquility.

The Battle of Somme was anything but.

In 1916, northern France was a prime battleground where French and English armies ran headlong into the Second German Army. With superiority in numbers, the French planned a battle of attrition. But, a massive attack by the Germans at Verdun shifted the planning to the British.

The British launched an offensive with 20 Divisions of English plus seven Divisions of French troops attacking along a 10-mile-wide front, expecting an overwhelming triumph. A critical flaw in their strategy was an over-reliance on their artillery.

From June 24 to July 1, 1916, over 3,000 British and French guns bombarded the Germans with such ferocity that the 750,000 allied troops in the trenches facing west were confident that there would be little opposition when they “went over the top” to attack.

The only issue was that the shelling warned the Germans what to expect next and, critically, the damage to their forces had been amazingly minimal.

When the Allies did attack, it only took a few minutes for the slaughter to begin. But, when it did, it changed British history and attitudes about war forever.

The Germans had not only built just trenches, but heavy dirt and concrete bunkers so deep that no amount of shelling could damage them! So when the Allies finally charged, in tight lines, German machineguns methodically mowed them down. “We didn’t even have to aim.”

The casualties were staggering.

From July 1 to Nov. 16, the Somme became the costliest battle in the history of the world. On the first day (alone), the British Army lost 57,450 troops – 20,000 of them dead. The combined total for the British and French was 1,250,000 dead and wounded.

So much for tranquility and English military planning.

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].

In the Early 1960s, Ohio was the Home of College Basketball Royalty

Oscar Robertson and the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA championship in 1971. Robertson’s game-worn Bucks jersey from that season realized $65,725 at a February 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The “Big O” Oscar Robertson had a remarkable record during the three years he played for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. He set a bevy of NCAA scoring records, including most career points (2,973), most field goals (1,052), most free throws (869) and the highest average per game (33.8).

One thing that eluded him (and UC) was a national championship, although they did make the Final Four in 1959 and 1960.

Oscar Palmer Robertson from Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis (the losing team in the 1986 movie Hoosiers) went on to the NBA and set a record that still stands. In 1961-62, he averaged a triple double for the entire season, with 30.8 ppg, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists!

So it seemed unlikely that in 1961 the Cincinnati Bearcats (without their star) could accomplish something they had been unable to do when he played on the team. However, that year, with an undefeated team at Ohio State ranked No. 1, the Bearcats upset Utah in the semifinals and were suddenly up against Ohio State and their 34-game win streak for the national championship.

As the final buzzer sounded, the two teams were tied at 61-61. In overtime, Cincinnati took command and outscored the Buckeyes 9 to 4. A shell-shocked Ohio State team from Columbus had been upset by their unfriendly neighbors from Cincinnati!

Then in 1962, for the first time in history, the same two teams met again to decide the national championship. They both had something to prove as Ohio State was determined to prevent another upset, while the Cincinnati team wanted to show their championship was not a fluke.

Again, Ohio State was ranked No. 1 in the nation, while Cincinnati did not look as strong, despite the play of star center Paul Hogue. Also, this was UCLA’s first ever appearance in the Final Four and they provided a glimpse of what was coming very soon.

With three seconds to go in the semifinals and the game tied at 70, Cincinnati’s Tom Thacker drained a desperation jumper. Final score, UC 72-UCLA 70.

So once again it was the two great Ohio teams battling for the national championship and Cincinnati prevailed again for the second year in a row – 71 to 59.

Cincinnati would make it back to the championship again in 1963, but this time as the tournament favorite after an undefeated season. Most thought they were a shoo-in for an unprecedented third consecutive national championship. However, it was not to be as they lost to the Loyola Ramblers in overtime, 60-58, and the dominance of the Ohio teams ended as well.

UCLA was lurking on the sidelines and poised to win 10 of the next 12 championships, including the never-to-be-matched seven in a row.

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].

Depth of the 1966-67 UCLA Bruins Team was Truly Amazing

A 1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) NBA rookie card, PSA Gem Mint 10, realized $501,900 at an August 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 2011, the Sporting News conducted a poll of former players and coaches, current coaches and college basketball experts. The goal was to pick the “Greatest College Basketball Team” in history.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the winner was the 1966-67 UCLA Bruins, who finished the season 30-0, averaged 90.2 points a game and won all four NCAA tournament games that season by at least 15 points.

However, the story leading up to this distinction started a year earlier in 1965.

On Nov. 27, 1965, UCLA’s two-time defending national champions played for the first time in Pauley Pavilion, UCLA’s sparkling new basketball arena.

And got totally blown out 75-60.

It seemed bad enough for the losers that the winning team ran off the court with their index fingers raised, chanting in unison on their way to the locker room “We’re number one! We’re number one!”

No, the worst part was knowing the winners wouldn’t leave. They would be hanging around the entire season to remind the vaunted varsity … winner of 58 of 60 games in the past two seasons … that they had been totally overpowered by UCLA’s freshman team!

Perhaps the only one not perturbed was Coach John Wooden, since among those freshman was a 7-1 center who would be back to form the nucleus of a dynasty. His name was Lew Alcindor (he would later change it to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after he left UCLA) and the next three years turned out to be quite remarkable.

Incidentally, despite the loss to the freshman team, UCLA’s varsity would still be ranked the No. 1 team in the nation the following week.

It seems somewhat ironic that the UCLA campus had the No. 1 team in college basketball, except for their “other” team, which was apparently far better. This was an abundance of talent that had never been assembled on a college – either before or after.

Still, one does have to wonder just how good a team they would have had if everyone got to play together.

Scary thought.

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].

First NCAA Tournament Lost Money. How Things Have Changed

Hank Luisetti introduced the “running one hander” at Stanford in 1936.

By Jim O’Neal

In 2010, the NCAA and CBS entered into a 14-year contract for broadcasting rights of the March Madness basketball tournament. The terms added up to a staggering $10.8 billion. For perspective, consider the initial year of the championship in 1939.

It was held on the elm-shaded campus of Northwestern University, which stretched along the western shore of Lake Michigan in Evanston, Ill. It was there in a cramped Patten Gymnasium, before a raucous crowd of about 5,000, that the national champion would be crowned.

It was a different time when the backboards were painted white and players wore high-top black leather shoes, indistinguishable from those worn by boxers. Players shot free throws underhand and the two-hand set shot was standard. The jump shot was practically unheard of, although Hank Luisetti had introduced the “running one hander” at Stanford in 1936.

The first tournament consisted of only eight teams selected by eight regional districts, then narrowed down to two by single-game elimination playoffs. The two teams that survived were Oregon and Ohio State. Both had breezed through the eliminations, but Oregon simply overwhelmed OS 46-33.

One “highlight” was when Oregon guard Bobby Anet dived for a loose ball, crashed into a table and broke the championship trophy.

The tournament ended with a net loss of $2,531.

Undaunted, the tournament continued and today ranks as one of sports’ big events that include the World Series, Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby and Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta Country Club.

Things change and television advertising is a major factor. Get ready for another weekend of basketball mania.

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].

Despite Cataclysms, Life Continues – But How Did It All Begin?

Remains from the Late Triassic, like this skull plate section from a Metoposaur, routinely are offered at auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Scientists generally assume the planets were formed by the accretion of dust and gas in a cosmic cloud, but the length of time this process takes is hard to estimate. Our little orb acquired its present size about 4.5 billion years ago (some use 4.6) and life originated about 2 billion years ago. We don’t know how it got started or if it exists elsewhere, but we do know that life goes on (so far).

A recent book, The Worst of Times by Paul B. Wignall, examines the extinction of life with the most notable events dubbed “The Big 5.” The largest one occurred at the end of the Permian Period – 252 million years ago – when 95 percent of all animals and one-third of insect species went extinct. It was the closest all us earthlings have come to total obliteration.

The next mass extinction was 210 million years ago at the end of the Triassic Period. This time, 70 percent to 75 percent of all life vanished.

Despite these and other cataclysms, the simple fact that life is so abundant demonstrates the difficulty in ending it. This may be the first time in our history that the power to eradicate life ourselves exists. Hopefully, we will be wise enough to avoid this.

One interesting observation is that for the first 99 percent of human history, we didn’t do much more than survive and procreate. Then a remarkable but still unexplained era began, when people all over the world discovered farming, writing, architecture, irrigation and even governance.

We call this the Neolithic Revolution. Scientists can tell us where it happened and when, but they cannot explain precisely why.

The puzzling aspect is that it happened among people who had no idea that others in distant places were doing precisely the same things. Farming was started independently seven times – China, New Guinea, the Middle East, the Andes, the Amazon basin, Mexico and West Africa – all without any possibility of shared contact.

When Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico, he found roads, canals, palaces, courts, markets, irrigation works, kings, priests, art, music and books – all independent of similar developments on other continents.

It is tempting to think of this as a global lightbulb event, but most developments involve long periods of trial and error. The tempo of progress has been unpredictable and erratic. Clearly, there was no master plan, yet humans conquered the disadvantages of geographic isolation, variable conditions and diverse cultures.

Contrast that with today’s billions of people constantly communicating, replicating and innovating. The world has become very small in comparison. The rate of change and increase in knowledge is directly proportional to the increase in Internet connectivity.

NASA has defined “life” as 1. Metabolize + 2. Reproduce + 3. Evolve = Life. Now if we could just discover how it started.

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].

Johnson and Bird Went from National Championship to NBA Magic

The Larry Bird-Magic Johnson feud continued when the college stars entered the NBA, with Bird playing for the Boston Celtics and Johnson joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We got a team that can kill you from the outside, and we got a team that can kill you from the inside. If we’re on top of our game, ain’t nobody in the world can beat Michigan State.” — Sophomore sensation Magic Johnson, Sports Illustrated interview regarding the 1979 NCAA championship

By Jim O’Neal

Not everyone shared MJ’s optimism. The Michigan State Spartans were highly respected, but they had lost six of their 27 games in the regular season and had to settle for a three-way tie in the Big Ten.

Then there was the little issue of Indiana State and their star, first-team All-American Larry Bird. The Sycamores from Terre Haute – in their first NCAA tournament – were undefeated in 1978-79 and ended the regular season ranked No. 1.

Later, Larry Joe Bird would have an outstanding 13-year career in the NBA with the Boston Celtics, where he was a 12-time NBA All-Star and a member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Star team. He is the only person in NBA history to be named MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year.

Both Michigan State and Indiana State made it to the Final Four and ended up playing for the championship. The early chatter about a championship clash between Bird and Johnson was finally about to become a reality.

Earvin Johnson had picked up his nickname “Magic” when he was a 15-year-old sophomore at Everett High School when he scored 36 points, had 16 rebounds and 16 assists in a game. A local sportswriter said, “Man, that was just magic!”

The Michigan State team – regrouping after an unimpressive regular season – was now in full bloom and prevailed 75-64. The surprising lopsided victory closed out Indiana State’s win streak at 33 games and gave the mighty Spartans their first national championship.

Magic Johnson had been right about his team assessment and he also ended up being the tournament MVP. The Bird versus Magic competition would continue for many years and produce many exciting NBA games.

Man, they were just magic!

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].

Federal Government Crucial to Making ‘Manifest Destiny’ a Reality

After the Mexican–American War, the Whig Party nominated Army General Winfield Scott for president. This daguerreotype from his unsuccessful 1852 campaign realized $25,000 at a September 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1848, the U.S. Army was firmly encamped in Mexico City waiting for orders from Washington, D.C.

General Winfield Scott’s surprise amphibious capture of Veracruz was followed by a five-month, 200-mile campaign involving bloody hand-to-hand fighting and now they were positioned to conquer the entire country.

President James Polk resisted calls to annex “all Mexico” once they had prevented the sale of California to Great Britain. On Feb. 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed and Polk wisely got the U.S. Senate to approve it. In return for $15 million, the U.S. got a Mexican cessation that included the present day states of California, Utah, Nevada, much of Arizona and New Mexico, plus portions of Wyoming and Colorado.

With a stroke of the pen, the U.S. was now 25 percent larger in size. Added to the annexation of Texas in 1845, this constituted an area larger than the Louisiana Purchase, which had doubled the size of the nation. In a brief span of 45 years, the United States was now a remarkable four times larger.

President Polk also created the Department of the Interior to assist with the assimilation of these vast territories.

Almost from the moment of independence, an expansionist strand of American thinking had envisioned a nation growing beyond the Ohio River into an empire stretching as far as the Pacific Ocean. In 1845, newspaper editor John Sullivan famously described a “manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent.”

What underpinned this vision was the effectiveness of the public land survey and the federal government’s establishment of a sequence of events to guide actions. First, it acquired land by treaty, sending surveyors to map and document the land. Then it ordered federal troops to clear out and subdue any resisting natives. It subsidized the construction of railroads to facilitate western migration. And finally, it had bureaucracies to manage the process. This included the Land Office, Geological Survey, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Forest Service.

The process was not smooth.

Nevertheless, by the end of the 19th century, the federal government had amassed great size, power and effective control “from sea to shining sea.”

America the beautiful!

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].