When Britain Needed Help to Fight the Nazis, FDR Came Through

A Franklin D. Roosevelt inscribed photograph signed, circa 1930s, sold for $1,625 at an October 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced the idea at a press conference on Dec. 17, 1940, in typical homey, easily comprehended language:

“Suppose my neighbor’s home catches on fire and I have a length of garden hose 400 or 500 feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up to his hydrant, I may be able to help him put out the fire. Now what do I do? I don’t say to him, ‘Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15, you have to pay me $15 for it.’ No! What is the transition that goes on? I don’t want $15 – I want my garden hose back after the fire is out.”

The neighbor on fire was England, facing the full ferocity of the Nazi blitz. England was the only major European power still resisting (barely) the German juggernaut. The formal cry for help, a desperate letter from Winston Churchill to FDR, had been received eight days earlier on Dec. 9 when a navy seaplane had touched down next to the USS Tuscaloosa off of Florida’s southern coast. The president was on board the heavy cruiser recuperating from the rigors on his November reelection campaign when the seaplane crew delivered the letter.

The Prime Minister had written, “The moment approaches when we shall no longer be able to pay cash for shipping and other supplies” … pointing out that the Exchequer was down to its last $2 billion – with $5 billion in orders from American munitions factories outstanding. Roosevelt knew the answer was to find some way around the Neutrality Acts, an isolationist ploy that stipulated that any war belligerents had to pay cash for weapons – and loans were prohibited to any nation that had not repaid debts from WWI.

Harry Hopkins – FDR’s man for all seasons – wrote that his boss mulled it over for two days, then one evening came up with the whole program! The “whole program” quickly became House Resolution 1776, better known as “Lend-Lease.” It granted the president the authority to lend tanks, planes, ships and other aid not only to England but to “any country whose defense the president deems vital to the defense of the United States.” Leaders across the political spectrum rallied to support H.R. 1776.

One was Wendell Willkie, the Republican candidate just defeated in the 1940 presidential election and a staunch opponent of the United States entering the war in Europe. When the Senate quizzed him about this obvious contradiction, he smiled broadly and said, “I struggled as hard as I could to beat Franklin Roosevelt and didn’t pull any punches. He was elected president. He is my president now … I say a world enslaved to Hitler is worse than war, and worse than death.”

The opposition was organized and very powerful. Colonel Charles Lindbergh had even assured the Senate that Britain was already doomed. Fortunately, Congress had more faith in FDR and passed H.R. 1776 by large margins on March 11, 1941. The bill provided Roosevelt with $7 billion in appropriations – the first of $50 billion to be used by the end of hostilities in 1945.

Churchill famously called Lend-Lease “the most unsordid act in the history of any nation.”

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].

As America Played, Europe’s Dictators Set Stage for World War II

This 1939 edition of New York World’s Fair Comics, featuring a blond Superman on its cover and graded CGC VF/NM 9.0, sold for $25,300 at a July 2002 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Spring 1939 was a season of triumph for Europe’s trio of new dictators. Francisco Franco finished up his work in Spain at a cost of 1 million dead. Benito Mussolini seized Albania and Adolf Hitler marched unopposed into Prague and claimed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Neville Chamberlain and his Munich Pact would be enshrined in the hall of naïveté for eternity. Another diplomatic fantasy dashed.

War fever was ratcheted up a notch, but most of the world pretended not to notice.

In the United States, people sought escape in entertainment, particularly in New York, where the flashy World’s Fair offered them a glimpse into “The World of Tomorrow.” The pavilions of 33 states, 58 countries (minus Nazi Germany) and 1,300 companies filled the imaginations of visitors with modern marvels like television, nylons, robots and man-made electricity.

The popular General Motors “Futurama” exhibit drew 28,000 visitors daily and featured their vision of life in 1960, where everyone would be fit and tan, take two-month vacations and drive cars powered by “liquid air.” Visitors left with a button reading “I have seen the future” — wandering the 1,200 acres like members of a congregation that had witnessed a divine miracle.

The 1938 film Love Finds Andy Hardy marked the second pairing of the popular Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

In June, the King and Queen of England came to America and their parade in New York attracted over 3 million people (second only to Charles Lindbergh) and another 600,000 in Washington, D.C. Eleanor Roosevelt famously served them genuine American hot dogs when they finally made it to the White House.

Fantasy also reigned at the movies, where Walt Disney in 1937 introduced his first full-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and was hard at work on an animated paean to classical music, Fantasia. But the hottest box-office draw in 1938 was the freckle-faced teenager Mickey Rooney and his small-town exploits as Andy Hardy. Then came the most anticipated event in movie history, the premiere of Gone with the Wind and its epic romance in Civil War Georgia.

Awash in fairy tales and cartoons, science-fiction and nostalgia, people had little patience for bad news. However, when it started, there seemed to be no end. A surprise agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union and on Sept. 1, 1939, the killing began. After a faked Polish invasion of Germany, they unleashed 1½ million German soldiers in “response,” backed up by the most powerful war machine ever known to man.

Fantasy time had ended.

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].

Apollo XI Reminds Us What’s Important, and Why the Stars Beckon

The historic first photo of Earth from deep space signed by all 29 Apollo astronauts realized $38,837.50 at a June 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Today is a special date.

On the night of July 20, 1969, thousands of people descended upon Central Park in New York and other public venues to bear witness to the greatest technological achievement in the history of mankind. At the long stretch of green known as Sheep Meadow stood three 9-by-12-foot television screens. At precisely 10:56 p.m. EDT, the fuzzy image of a man in a space suit moved down a ladder until the moment his boot struck the fine-grained surface of the moon.

Apollo XI was the amazing coda of the amazing ’60s. The story of the astronauts – Alan Shepard’s simple arc, the dramatic orbit of John Glenn, the tragedy that killed Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee – had run parallel with the decade’s other dramas. But the long series of space shots had become routine and many had begun to question the priority of space discovery in a time of so much domestic strife.

Apollo XI changed all that … for a short time.

Newspaper publishers ordered up their “Second Coming” type, as Time magazine described it. This was no mere piece of news; this was history, big enough to challenge some of the best stories in the Bible.

The plan to go to the moon had been hatched in a conference room of the Cold War, after Sputnik embarrassed American science in 1957, and moved into high gear when John F. Kennedy audaciously promised a moon landing in 1961.

Among those at the crowded Apollo XI launch site was the heroic 1920s pilot Charles Lindbergh, now 67, who later wrote to crew member Michael Collins (the one who didn’t walk on the moon): “I believe you will find that it lets you think and sense with greater clarity.”

An Apollo 11 framed photo signed by Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin realized $10,755 at an October 2009 Heritage auction.

It had only been 41 years since Lindy had conquered the Atlantic Ocean solo, and now mankind had conquered space. But the space program, like other artifacts of the ’60s, gradually evaporated, because no matter where you stood, the ’60s were messy and hard to understand clearly.

Yet from out there, in the dark eternity of the universe, our little home projected a picture of harmony, an essentially beautiful orb, and so utterly still.

Personally, just seeing Earth from space, so tranquil, helps me keep perspective on what is truly important. I do hope we keep reaching for the stars. Eternity is 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].

How an ‘Oops’ Turned Into a Popular Magazine Feature

This signed Charles Lindbergh photograph realized $3,883 at a September 2007 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1928, Time magazine was chagrined when they realized they had left Charles Lindbergh off the cover after he made his historic transatlantic flight.

So the editors came up with a novel provision and literally created a new feature: “Man of the Year.” Naturally, the first was Lindy, and it started an exciting new trend that also boosted sales.

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In 1920, The New York Times wrote a scathing editorial that scoffed at the idea of rockets being launched into space. They opined that “they would need something better than a vacuum against which to act.”

Forty-nine years later, after Apollo 11’s 1969 launch, the Times published a retraction. “It is now definitely established a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere.” The Times regretted the error.

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On Jan. 1, 1902, Michigan beat Stanford 49-0 in what would later become the Rose Bowl. This first game was called the “East-West” and Stanford was so beat up (physically) that they quit with eight minutes left to play.

The attendance was so poor (8,500) the promoters dropped football for the next 14 years. They switched to polo, chariot races, ostrich races and even an elephant-camel race.

The first official Rose Bowl was 1923.

That first Michigan team, dubbed the “Point a Minute Team,” won all 10 games with combined scores of 555-0.

I suspect this may have included the first serious college recruiting efforts. (Do you think?)

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In 1973, a Florida shipbuilder by the name of George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees from CBS for $10 million. Four years later, he paid right fielder Dave Winfield $20 million for one season.

Last year, the team franchise was valued at $3.2 billion – second only to the Dallas Cowboys at $4+ billion.

In his initial press conference, Steinbrenner promised he would not interfere in the day-to-day operations of the team. (However, he did not specify how long this would last. My guess is sundown on day two.)

In Texas, that’s called the Golden Rule – “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

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].