Peter the Great Modernized Russia and Opened its Path to Power

An extremely rare mint state Peter I Rouble 1723 sold for $63,250 at a May 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001, it didn’t seem to faze me. After reading all the literature on this pernicious disease, I was convinced of two things: First, surgery was the best option and second, the skill of the surgeon was the critical variable to ensure a positive result. I had heard the finest surgeon for this kind of procedure was a doctor at Johns Hopkins named Patrick Walsh and I had a connection that got me an appointment in June of that year.

After waiting in line behind the governor of Connecticut and the king of Spain, my operation was scheduled for Sept. 5 (it was a long line and Walsh performed only four procedures a week). Strictly by chance, I watched 9/11 unfold on CNN while recuperating in a rental recliner in a Baltimore hotel room.

PepsiCo made a healthy donation to a special research fund and invited Dr. Walsh to be a guest speaker at a boondoggle in 2003 in St. Petersburg, Russia, that coincided with the city’s 300-year anniversary. Pepsi-Cola had been the first western brand sold in the USSR (1972) since Chairman Don Kendall had a theory that trade was a better alternative than nuclear war. Since the Russians were short of hard currency, we traded Pepsi concentrate for Stolichnaya vodka. By the time I got to Europe, there were 26 Pepsi-Cola bottling plants in Russia.

St. Petersburg was always intriguing to me since it had been founded by Peter the Great in 1703. Peter (1672-1725) became ruler of Russia in 1682 (yes, he was 10 years old), at first jointly with his half-brother as co-Tsar and his mother as regent. In 1696, he became sole ruler of a vast empire. Seven years later, he founded St. Petersburg on the estuary of the River Neva and this new city, fortress and port by the Baltic Sea gave Russia direct access to Europe. This opened new opportunities for trade and military conquest, so Peter boldly made his new city Russia’s capital, stripping the title from the ancient seat of Moscow.

An admirer of Western palaces, Peter employed European architects to design the government buildings, palaces, houses and university in the fashionable baroque style. Labor was no problem with 30,000 peasants, Russian convicts and Swedish prisoners of war available for the construction gangs. More than 100,000 died, but those who survived could earn their freedom.

Peter proceeded to use his unchallenged power to make significant changes in Russia by founding the Russian navy and reforming the army along European lines, developing new iron and munition industries to equip it. By 1725, Russia had a first-rate army of 130,000 men. His court system was also transformed, adopting French-style dress. New colleges forced the nobility to educate their children and established a meritocracy for promotion. However, he treated rebels ruthlessly and adopted an aggressive foreign policy that gave him control of the Baltic Sea.

Although Peter wisely forged diplomatic ties with Western Europe, he failed to form an alliance against the Ottomans. His enlightened reforms established him as a powerful emperor of a vast empire and monarchy that survived until the bloody Russian Revolution in 1917.

“I built St. Petersburg as a window to let in the light of Europe!” Not a bad legacy and certainly superior to what has occurred in the past 100 years.

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].

FAA Operations Manager Ben Sliney Had a Good First Day on the Job

sept-24-2001-edition-of-time-magazine-signed-by-president-george-w-bush
A copy of the Sept. 24, 2001, edition of Time magazine signed by President George W. Bush went to auction in August 2003.

By Jim O’Neal

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was at the Harbor Court Baltimore, a five-star hotel overlooking the spectacular harbor. I was recovering from prostate cancer surgery that, fortunately, had been performed by world-famous surgeon Dr. Patrick Walsh, head of urology at Johns Hopkins.

I was in an overstuffed rented recliner watching CNN when “Breaking News” started on the tragedy in New York City. The news started erratic and devolved into chaotic as the story expanded to cover the Pentagon, President Bush, a third plane, and an abundance of speculation. A fourth plane, United Flight 93, would crash just after 10 a.m. in Shanksville, Pa.

Then there were scattered reports that all domestic flights were being grounded.

This was the work of one man, Ben Sliney, National Operations Manager of the Federal Aviation Administration. Although an experienced veteran, Sept. 11 was his first day in this head job. At 9:45 a.m., Sliney issued an order of formidable implications. He had already forbidden any aircraft from taking off from any airport anywhere under his national jurisdiction. He had also already closed the Atlantic and Pacific approaches to the United States and transatlantic planes were diverting to alternatives.

But now, at 9:45, Sliney instructed that a seldom-heard procedure – SCATANA (Security Control of Air Traffic and Navigation Aids) – be broadcast to every one of nearly 5,000 commercial airplanes in the air. “This is not drill.” It required ALL aircraft to land IMMEDIATELY at the closest airport. By 11:20, an hour and 35 minutes later, every plane was down … somewhere … on North American ground.

Airports were crowded and millions were inconvenienced, but the intent was achieved. The American skies were empty, except a few jets on patrol, several planes of prisoners and deportees, and some organs en route for transplant. A small irony was that the machine that had done so much to bond the nation had now been employed by an enemy to do the opposite.

I would say Mr. Ben Sliney had a good first day on the new job.

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].