‘America’s Hometown’ Now Empty Storefronts, Wal-Marts and Shuttered Factories

Milan High School’s state basketball victory over larger Muncie inspired the 1986 film Hoosiers.

By Jim O’Neal

The last time I was in Buffalo, N.Y., was in October 1974. We were on a tour of supermarkets to improve our code dating discipline. Anytime we spotted a bag with an illegible date or past the stale point, we simply crumpled the bag and asked the store manager to have the Frito-Lay salesman replace it with no charge to the store. I was aware that Grover Cleveland had been sheriff of Erie County and personally hanged two murderers, but didn’t know that the Ball Brothers glass manufacturing company had moved their company to Muncie, Ind., in 1889 due to the abundance of natural gas. And, of course, President William McKinley got himself assassinated in Buffalo in 1901.

Muncie has become newsworthy ever since a landmark sociological study was undertaken there in the 1920s. It had been identified as the representative American community worthy of the title “Middletown.”

It started after Robert Lynd, a young seminary student, accepted an assignment to analyze the effectiveness of ministries by studying a Wyoming oil-drilling camp owned by Standard Oil of Indiana. The camp was a dismal collection of tents inhabited by 500 discouraged workers and their families. Lynd was successful in forging them into a viable community. He then wrote an article for an obscure journal, detailing the appalling conditions and attacking John D. Rockefeller Jr. (personally) as the one responsible.

In a twist of fate, Rockefeller – a devout Baptist with liberal ideas – had just formed a committee to study America’s religious practices. He wanted to reconcile capitalism of the early 20th century with his personal Protestant beliefs. So Rockefeller picked Lynd to head the “Small City Study” to prove it was truly independent. Their charter was to look at social problems arising from industrialization – “ascertain[ing] the religious, ethical and capability of people” in a single industrial city.

Lynd chose Muncie since it fit certain criteria: small (38,000), Midwestern and economically diverse. Although 92 percent were “native white of native parentage,” Lynd claimed a homogeneous population permitted him to study cultural changes, unimpeded by racial or religious differences. It also reflected his deep belief that native-born Protestants represented the bedrock of American society and best hope for the country’s future success.

Robert and wife Helen Lynd arrived in Muncie in 1924 and quickly decided religion was too narrow and expanded the study to factory conditions, the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, and even the people’s reading habits. What they discovered was a city rushing into the 20th century, with rapid industrialization, farming to factories, kerosene to electricity, central heating, hot water in a tap and the telephone, automobile and railroads.

In 1929, they published Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture, 500 pages detailing a rigid class system and gradual erosion of values, with excessive materialism and consumerism in full bloom. Returning after the 1932 Great Depression, Lynd was totally disillusioned by American capitalism and looked with naive envy on the Marxist experiments in the Soviet Union.

Waves of subsequent sociologists have made their own journeys to Muncie, which today calls itself “America’s Hometown,” with a litter of empty storefronts, outlying Wal-Marts, factories shuttered, the Ball Brothers HQ now in Colorado, and a vibrant service economy. Locals have grown accustomed to being sampled and polled by outsiders. “Here, it’s something of a way of life,” said Muncie Star-Press editor Larry Lough.

I’d like to visit Muncie some day since I love Indiana basketball and in 1954, tiny Milan High School (enrollment 161) knocked off Muncie to win the state basketball championship. This was the inspiration for the 1986 film Hoosiers with Gene Hackman in one of my all-time favorites.

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].

Presidential Politics Always Filled with Strange Twists and Turns

This rare 1902 Oklahoma Territorial Red Seal, with a vignette of President William McKinley, sold for $16,450 at an April 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The 56th Congress (1899-1901) had assembled in a spirit of tranquility. For the first time since 1883, Republicans were in control of every branch of government and they rejoiced in an exceptional unity. It was the third and fourth years of President William McKinley’s presidency and included one African-American, George Henry White of North Carolina – the last black member of Congress until 1928 and the last one from the South until 1972.

McKinley was in the midst of a dramatically expanding era of foreign trade and the entire nation was applauding U.S. Secretary of State John Hay’s negotiations for the “Open Door Policy” into China. Republicans were also free to take action on the president’s policy to establish a temporary government in Porto Rico (the name was changed by Congress in 1931), with free trade between the islands and the United States. In addition, they needed to provide a territorial government for newly acquired Hawaii.

The minority lost no time in seeking revenge. Lacking a constructive program and impotent to prevent legislation on which the majority united, Democratic leaders resorted to opposition in its rawest form: Seek any device to divide or delay the Republican steamroller (sound familiar?). Constitutional questions were raised on a wide range of resolutions, with special attention to matters involving the Philippines, another recent addition courtesy of the Spanish-American War in 1898. They accused the administration of censorship and obscuring facts from the people on a broad set of issues. Anything to slow them down.

Despite furious, intermittent debates, the chairman of the Committee on the Philippines recommended granting the president broad legislative authority, almost carte blanche legal authority to do as he pleased. This further outraged Democrats and even seemed radical to many Republican senators. But the legislation had been carefully constructed by the superbly knowledgeable Senator John Spooner and modeled on the act by which Congress had authorized Thomas Jefferson to govern Louisiana nearly 100 years earlier.

This further emboldened the president and he adopted an even broader assumption of power and established a new commission to “build up from the bottom” and create a central government to be established in Manila, with the head likely to become a civilian governor. For this position, McKinley wanted a man of unusual qualifications, not only administrative and judicial, but moral as well. He wanted someone who possessed the extraordinary tact and patience required to bridge an interim period of joint control with a military government.

In the middle of January, the president telegraphed Judge William Howard Taft of Cincinnati politely asking him to call.

Taft was an affable man of 42; jolly but impressive with a big body, big smile and a bigger judicial brain, serving as judge of the U.S. Circuit Court at Cincinnati for eight years. Though Taft was a prominent jurist and a highly respected Republican, he did not know McKinley well during McKinley’s time as governor of Ohio. Taft had mingled in politics without becoming a typical politician. He was far too fastidious for the compromises and bargains, uneasy with the quid pro quo and backslapping of politics. Further, he did not have a high opinion of McKinley, despite a cordial dinner on the night of the Ohio elections of 1899.

Less than three months later came this unexpected call from the White House, presumably at the urging of Mark Hanna, the ultimate kingmaker.

Taft was perplexed by the call since he had a single all-consuming ambition, to become a member of the Supreme Court, and there had been no talk of a vacancy. When he arrived at the White House, McKinley came straight to the point, asking him to be a member of the Philippines commission and intimating he would head it. Years later when he was president-elect of the United States, Taft recalled the conversation in a speech: “Judge, I’d like you to go to the Philippines.” “Mr. President, I would like to help, but I am sorry we got the Philippines and I don’t want them.” “Judge, you don’t want them less than I do, but we’ve got them and I can trust a man who doesn’t want them more than a man who does!”

So Judge William Taft became governor of the Philippines (a job he didn’t want) and, ultimately, the 27th president of the United States (another job he reluctantly accepted). He finally got his dream job as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on July 11, 1921. He would serve until he retired on Feb. 3, 1930. After his death the following month, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, the first president and first Supreme Court Justice to be interred there.

Presidential politics took some strange twists and turns along the way … and some things never seem to 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 chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Fairbanks Never Won the Presidency, But there is That City…

A rare 1904 Theodore Roosevelt and Charles Fairbanks jugate (with a cartoon image by the creator of the Teddy Bear, Clifford Berryman) sold for $8,050 at a June 2005 auction.

“To be, or not to be, that is the question.” – Prince Hamlet in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet

By Jim O’Neal

Charles W. Fairbanks gave the keynote address at the June 1896 Republican Convention in St. Louis. Following the successful nomination and election of former Governor William McKinley of Ohio, Fairbanks became a U.S. Senator from Indiana.

When 1900 rolled around, Mark Hanna – one of the earliest “kingmakers” in American politics – tried to persuade Fairbanks to run as McKinley’s vice president (Vice President Garret Hobart had died in office). But, Fairbanks thought he had a better chance to become president by staying in the Senate.

Bad decision.

McKinley was assassinated in 1901 and Vice President Teddy Roosevelt became president. Fairbanks recognized his earlier lost opportunity, so in 1904, he accepted the vice presidency with TR in the hope that his shot at the presidency would come in 1908.

Wrong again.

Roosevelt threw his support to friend and colleague William Howard Taft and that squashed Fairbank’s aspirations once again.

Now flash forward eight years to 1916, and we find our old friend Fairbanks running for vice president again, this time with former Governor Charles E. Hughes of New York. Alas, Woodrow Wilson was reelected and Fairbanks finally just gave up.

However, he does have a major city named for him, albeit few people can find it on a map.

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].

Her Fearless Tongue Made Alice Roosevelt the Most Popular of Presidential Children

Albert Beck Wenzell (1864-1917) painted this gouache on paper, titled Theodore Roosevelt and His Daughter Alice. It went to auction in May 2006.

By Jim O’Neal

To describe Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980) as a handful would be a gross understatement. She was the only child of Teddy Roosevelt and Alice Hathaway Lee. Her mother died two days after her birth of Bright’s disease – a catch-all term for kidney diseases. Eleven hours before her death, TR’s mother, Martha “Mittie” Roosevelt, had died of typhoid fever. It was a traumatic time in the Roosevelt home and it would haunt Teddy for the rest of his life.

Young Alice never founded a school or hospital, never ran for public office, and was terrified of public speaking, but she became unquestionably the best known and most popular of presidential children.

She was 17 when William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, which vaulted her vice-president father into the White House. When she learned of the news, she reportedly let out a war whoop and danced on the front lawn. Years later in an interview with reporter Sally Quinn (third wife of Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post), Alice described her feelings as “utter rapture.” This kind of candor made her almost irresistible to the American public, and the press dubbed her “Princess Alice.”

One infatuated biographer described her as the “first female American celebrity of the 20th century.” Her cousin Joseph Alsop – the famous syndicated columnist whose robust opinions appeared in national newspapers for five decades – referred to her as “Washington’s other memorial.” Her celebrity started early, as people all over the country were talking about her antics, her clothes and her fearless tongue, which all delighted the average citizen.

On Inauguration Day in 1905, she was so exuberantly waving to her friends in the crowd that her father chided her by saying, “Alice, this is MY inauguration!” She was a flirt who smoked cigarettes in public and when her father declared that no daughter of his would smoke under his roof, she devilishly climbed to the roof of the White House to smoke on top of his roof. A perplexed TR told renowned author Owen Wister (“The Virginian”): “I can either run the country or attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both!”

After her 1902 society debut, the press constantly speculated on her romantic links with most of Washington’s eligible bachelors. She finally married Congressman Nicholas Longworth (future Speaker of the House) in one of the most famous weddings in American history, with front-page coverage across the country. Longworth was a notorious philanderer. William “Fishbait” Miller, doorkeeper of the House, described him as the “greatest womanizer in the history of Capitol Hill.”

Their marriage was an open sham and Alice was rumored to have had a child with William Borah, who became a senator after Idaho became a state in 1890. He was a perennial contender for president and was responsible for killing President Wilson’s attempt to approve the Treaty of Versailles.

Alice delighted in skewering prominent politicians. Calvin Coolidge “was weaned on a pickle.” Speaking of Herbert Hoover, she said “the Hoover vacuum is more exciting, but of course it is electric.” New York Governor Thomas Dewey, with his slick black hair, reminded Alice of the little groom on the top of a wedding cake. When FDR ran for a third term, she declared, “I’d rather vote for Hitler!”

Her acidic commentary on the rich and famous delighted and amused the public for four generations. Alice Roosevelt died of pneumonia on Feb. 20, 1980. At age 96, she had outlived the children of every other president.

She was a handful.

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].

Teddy Roosevelt Brought Vim, Vigor and Vitality to the White House

theodore-roosevelt-exceptionally-rare-type-of-equality-button
Teddy Roosevelt political pins often illustrated the theme of “equality,” inspired by Booker T. Washington’s visit to the White House. This rare variant sold for nearly $9,000 at a November 2009 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

During his first year as president, Teddy Roosevelt left the White House as he had found it. But when the Roosevelts and their six lively children moved in, it had become obvious that there was insufficient room for both governmental offices and a family home. This prompted a complete remodeling, the first in nearly 100 years. Leading architects designed a new West Wing of executive offices that was joined to the main building by a colonnade. The second floor of the main building had the offices replaced by private bedrooms, sitting rooms and playrooms for the presidential family.

Like John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson and Grover Cleveland, Roosevelt had not been sent by the voters to live in the White House, having moved in only after the death of an elected president. He knew he lacked the public and party power to support the new international presidency that President William McKinley developed, yet he was destined to dramatize it to the world.

Born in 1858, he is (surprisingly) the only president born in New York City. The first new president of the 20th century and the youngest man to ever hold the office, he brought a vim, vigor and vitality to the White House that swept away any lingering cobwebs of the 19th century. Later, elected in his own right, Roosevelt began to act with an even bolder style than before. In his annual message to Congress in December 1904, he announced an expansion of the concept of the Monroe Doctrine that became known as the Roosevelt Corollary.

The Russo-Japanese War had been going on for more than a year when TR began efforts in 1905 as a mediator. He succeeded in getting the two nations to sign a peace pact in Portsmouth, N.H. On Dec. 10, 1906, he became the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

One of the first controversial issues had occurred during his first year in office on October 16 when he held a “family supper.” Among the invited guests was the great educator Booker T. Washington, whose biography, Up From Slavery, was being widely read. The press reaction was instantaneous; this dinner guest was the hottest news since the McKinley assassination.

“Probably The First Negro Ever Entertained at the White House” screamed the headlines of the Atlanta newspaper, and many others were also harsh in their criticism. No African-American received a special invitation to the WH for many years.

It seems exquisitely delicious and ironic that a black family has had their “family meals” in the same White House over the past 2,800-plus nights and, importantly, anyone of any race is only there by their special invitation!

Things do change.

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].

Chicago World’s Fair was More Than a Ferris Wheel, Buffalo Bill and Commemorative Coins

1893-worlds-columbian-exposition-admittance-ticket
A group of 18 World’s Columbian Exposition tickets, including this scarce Benjamin Franklin piece, realized $1,265 at a January 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 2003, bestselling author Erik Larson wrote The Devil in The White City, a non-fiction narrative of a serial killer who murdered up to 200 people using the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World’s Fair) as a backdrop. Leonardo DiCaprio reportedly has the film rights and Martin Scorsese will direct.

There was a lot of competition for the fair between Chicago and New York City. NYC bolstered their bid when Cornelius Vanderbilt, William Waldorf Astor and J.P. Morgan pledged $15 million in support. But Chicago prevailed by matching the $15 million from Marshall Field, Philip Armour and Gustavus Swift (of meatpacking fame, who sold “Everything but the squeal,” a highly effective slogan highlighting how they used all animal parts to make other products and eliminate pollution).

However, what sealed the deal was a pledge by Lyman Gage, president of the powerful First National Bank of Chicago, to provide millions of dollars to help finance exhibitors. Gage would later serve as the 42nd Secretary of the Treasury under both William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt.

Chicago was eager to host the event and demonstrate how much progress they had made after the disastrous Fire of 1871 involving Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. They painted so many stucco buildings white and had new electric lights illuminating so many streets that they earned the nickname “The White City.” They successfully conveyed the image of fresh, sanitary and new. There was also a major initiative called City Beautiful that included cleaning up trash in streets, empty lots and alleys.

A major mistake they made was denying William Frederick Cody (“Buffalo Bill”) permission to perform his famous Wild West Show. Ever the shrewd businessman, he simply set up shop outside the fairgrounds and siphoned off customers. However, the fair’s shaky finances received a big boost when Pittsburgh-based bridge maker George Ferris debuted his new invention – a 264-foot-tall Ferris Wheel. It could accommodate 2,160 people at a time and with a fare of 50 cents (double the cost of a fair ticket), it bailed out the fair and wiped out a big budget deficit.

The federal government also pitched in with the introduction of the country’s first postcards, a new commemorative stamp, and two new commemorative coins. One was a quarter featuring Queen Isabella – who financed the voyage of Columbus. It was the first time a U.S. coin honored a woman. The other was the 50-cent commemorative Columbus coin, both still popular with coin collectors today. The entire fair was an homage to Columbus, celebrating his voyage 400 years earlier, despite being one year late.

On July 12, American historian Frederick Jackson Turner skipped the Wild West Show and the docking of a replica from Norway of a Viking ship – just two of the hundreds of events that attracted up to 28 million spectators to the fair. Turner opted to put some finishing touches on his thesis before delivery at the Art Institute of Chicago that night.

More on his historic speech in my next post.

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].

Deep Divisions Within a Political Party Nothing New

andy-warhols-screenprint-teddy-roosevelt
Andy Warhol’s screenprint Teddy Roosevelt (from the Cowboys and Indians portfolio), 1986, ed. 183/250, realized $23,750 at a May 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency in September 1901 following the assassination of William McKinley. Teddy was 42 years old and remains the youngest man to hold the office (JFK was 43).

When reelected in 1904, it was the first time an incumbent president won reelection after ascending to the presidency upon the death of his predecessor. Calvin Coolidge (1924), Harry S. Truman (1948) and Lyndon B. Johnson (1964) would later match this historic first.

When 1908 rolled around, TR honored his earlier pledge “not to seek a third term” and then maneuvered his associate William Howard Taft into the White House.

At the time, it seemed like a sound strategic transition for the Republicans. But it would turn out to be a colossal mistake that would grow in importance and haunt Roosevelt for the rest of his life.

When he returned from the historic Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition two years later, the group had collected 11,400 animal specimens that took Smithsonian naturalists eight years to catalog. And the political animals had also been busy during his absence.

A major rift developed between President Taft and TR over policies that had become administration priorities. This, in turn, caused a deep divide in the Republican Party that could not be reconciled. It was so serious that neither faction could generate enough support to defeat Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 election.

Later, many politicians were convinced that Roosevelt was still popular enough to seriously contend for the 1920 Republican nomination. However, this conjecture was never tested since the mighty Bull Moose’s health was broken and he died on Jan. 6, 1919.

He still regretted making “that damn pledge not to run in 1908” and took it with him to the grave.

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 McKinley’s Popularity Soared Despite ‘Imperialist’ Charges

william-mckinley-beaver-top-hat-with-leather-traveling-case
President McKinley’s beaver top hat and leather traveling case realized $17,925 at a December 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Exactly 115 years ago this week, on Sept. 14, 1901, the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley, died from an assassin’s bullet. He had been shot on Sept. 6 in Buffalo, N.Y., while attending the Pan-American Exposition.

As he stood shaking hands with a long line of well-wishers at the Temple of Music, a man approached with his right hand wrapped in a handkerchief. As McKinley extended his hand to the man, Leon Czolgosz, a Polish-American anarchist, he was shot twice by a concealed .32-caliber revolver. One bullet deflected off a suit button, but the other entered his stomach, passed through a kidney and lodged in his back.

When doctors operated, they were unable to locate the bullet and he died eight days later from the spread of gangrene throughout his body. It was eerily similar to the assassination of President James Garfield 20 years earlier. He had been shot on July 2, 1881, and did not die until Sept. 19. Again, his doctors were unable to locate the bullet and he suffered for over two months as they probed the wound with their unsanitary hands and instruments until they killed him.

william-mckinley
McKinley

Both men would have easily survived if they had the benefit of modern medicine. By the time of McKinley’s death, the X-ray had been invented and doctors in the Balkan war in 1897 were using it to “see inside patients’ bodies.” However, the possible side effects of radiation were not yet recognized.

William McKinley had entered politics following the Civil War and at age 34 was a member of the House of Representatives for 14 years before losing in 1890. He then served two terms as governor of Ohio and by 1896 was the leading Republican candidate for president. Aided by wealthy Ohio industrialist Mark Hanna, he easily defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan by the largest margin since the Civil War.

During his first term, McKinley earned a reputation as a protectionist by advocating high tariffs to protect American business and labor from foreign imports. He was a staunch supporter of the gold standard to back up paper money. However, foreign policy became a major issue in April 1898 when the United States intervened in the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain. The Spanish-American War was over in a quick three months and Cuba became a U.S. protectorate. This was followed by the annexation of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.

Suddenly, the United States had become a colonialist power, with a big interest in Asia, especially China.

President McKinley’s popularity soared during these economic boom times, and despite charges of being an “imperialist,” his margin of victory over William Jennings Bryan was even greater in the 1900 presidential rematch. Theodore Roosevelt was selected as McKinley’s vice president – against Mark Hanna’s strong objections – and naturally became president after McKinley’s unfortunate death.

Teddy “The Rough Rider” Roosevelt, who had charged up San Juan Hill, would bring a new level of energy and spirit to the White House. All Mark Hanna could do was watch and grouse, “Now look! That damn cowboy is president!”

The nation seemed to do just fine.

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].

Big-Money Elections Date Back More than 100 Years

Marcus Alonzo Hanna is considered one of the earliest “kingmakers” in American politics.

By Jim O’Neal

Bernie Sanders just announced his campaign has raised an astounding $222 million to date, with 99 percent coming from individuals!

Money has always been a factor in politics, however, modern political fundraising really got going in 1896 when William McKinley ran for president. It was due to the innovation of a successful Cleveland businessman who had made his personal fortune in the coal and iron industry.

Marcus Alonzo Hanna (1837-1904) was rejected for participation in the local Civil Service Reform Association, so he opted for the world of politics instead. He had some quirky habits like gorging on hard candy, eating chocolates by the box and a belief that government existed to serve business. He preferred the company of other wealthy men and scoffed at books and scholars alike.

He became recognized as the Republican Party boss of Ohio, a state that had produced Supreme Court Justices, presidential cabinet members, and five presidents (this would later increase to eight … the record). Ohio was a wonderful training ground for national politics.

Hanna had successfully backed McKinley (former congressman) for Ohio governor in 1892 and rescued him from bankruptcy in 1893 by paying off a $30,000 business debt. Three years later, he became McKinley’s full-time presidential campaign strategist after spending $100,000 of his personal money securing the Republican nomination for McKinley.

Hanna then positioned McKinley perfectly for the 1896 general election, first by successfully blaming the Democrats for the Panic of 1893 and then becoming the precursor of the modern media consultant. He controlled the political schedule and tailored a message that fit the strategy of the campaign. He insisted that McKinley simply sit on his front porch in Canton, Ohio, receive delegations from all over the country and occasionally issue a carefully worded public speech.

Even the railroads cooperated by reducing fares for Canton-bound Republican delegations. They flocked by the trainload. In a single day, McKinley spoke to 80,000 people, who in turn exchanged greetings and pledged their loyalty. Meanwhile, hundreds of orators crisscrossed the country spreading the word of the Ohio Republican. The campaign paid for the trips and Hanna personally approved every itinerary and all invoices.

Then they countered every speech by Democratic rival William Jennings Bryan by printing millions of documents in German, French, Italian, Dutch, Hebrew and Spanish and then distributing them in closely contested states. This combination of messaging and pamphleteering on such a vast scale cost more money than had ever been spent on any political campaign. New York banks, insurance companies and millionaires were expected to kick in 0.25 percent of their capital and even John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co. contributed $250,000!

The result was an overwhelming victory and legislators have been chasing “campaign finance reform” ever since. I wish them luck, as the price for admission today is a cool billion dollars. Even Mark Hanna might be shocked by today’s election economics, but I suspect he would adapt rather easily. He was one smart dude!

P.S. Hanna also made it into the U.S. Senate a couple of times before dying in 1904.

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].

Lincoln Family Saw Great Success, But Also Seemed Cursed

This Robert Todd Lincoln carte de visite dates to 1861, when he was 18 years old.

By Jim O’Neal

Many historians cling to the belief that Robert Todd Lincoln was the most successful of all presidential children, including those who also became president. He was one of the best businessmen of his generation, a powerful and celebrated figure in society and a public servant. He was a cabinet member in two different administrations and a superb diplomat in another.

He was also present at many famous events.

As a late entrant into the Civil War, he was a member of Major General U.S. Grant’s personal staff and was there when Robert E. Lee surrendered at the McLean House near Appomattox. He actually witnessed the formal signing. Three months later, he was at his father’s side when he died and then accompanied his mother back to the White House. She was too bereaved to attend the funeral or to accompany the body back to Springfield.

Robert performed both of these tasks with poise and dignity. Later, he would be close by when both presidents James A. Garfield and William McKinley were assassinated.

But the Lincoln family almost seemed cursed. Mary Todd Lincoln grew more erratic and confused. In the spring of 1875, distraught and humiliated by her behavior, Robert Lincoln decided to have his mother committed to an insane asylum. He had her followed by Pinkerton agency detectives to record her activities, enlisted six of Chicago’s finest doctors to testify (none of whom examined her), hired her an attorney, and then conspired with the prosecutor to ensure a consistent story for the court.

After her husband’s assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln returned to Illinois, where she lived with her sons.

On May 9, 1875, Mary Lincoln was taken to a public courtroom where she was confronted by this cabal. Her attorney cross-examined no witnesses and called none of his own, including Mary Lincoln. The final witness was Robert Lincoln, who provided the coup de grace. “I have no doubt my mother is insane. She has been a source of great anxiety to me.”

The only example of Mary Lincoln’s sanity occurred when she devised a clever scheme to get a release from the Bellevue asylum in Batavia, Ill., where she had been confined. She then made it to her sister’s house in Springfield and then on to Europe, fearful that Robert would strike again.

Mary Todd Lincoln spent her final years in anonymity and loneliness in the trendy resort village of Pau, France, near the Spanish border. Referring to Robert, her only remaining son, as a “wicked monster,” she insisted in her letters that even his father had always disliked him. Dismissed by the public as “crazy,” she subsisted for many years as an exile in a foreign country, relying on her presidential widow’s pension and fluent French.

Finally, in 1882, Mrs. Abraham Lincoln returned home to Springfield, but even her death was not an easy affair. At the end, she was covered with boils, almost completely paralyzed and blind. She died on July 16, 1882, after a severe stroke. She was 63 years old.

An autopsy revealed a cerebral disease she had for years and her entire estate was inherited by her surviving son, the “wicked monster” Robert Todd Lincoln.

Historians have a wide array of criteria to judge greatness. Obviously, family harmony is not one of them.

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].