AUGUST 2017

AUGUST  2017
FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

Translate

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Friday, January 20, 2012

THE LIBERTARIAN HERO

I wish the average modern libertarian could meet Jay Gould, because he was unfettered capitalism in the flesh, “the human incarnation of avarice,” as one minister described him, the Mephistopheles of Wall Street, the robber baron par excellence, “prince of the railroad schemers”, and the man within whom all the theories of the libertarians about capitalism and freedom met the reality of human nature, and got the living tar beat out of it.
He was a “…short, thin man with cold black eyes, a narrow face and, in his maturity, a “full black beard”. Born into poverty, his mother was active in the Methodist Church until her death, when Jay was 10 years old. When he was seventeen, Jay apprenticed himself to a surveyor, Oliver Diston, at the salary of $10 a month. When Jay started issuing his own maps for sale, Diston sued. Jay’s attorney, T. R. Westbrook, managed to have the lawsuit dismissed, but, as one biographer noted, from that day forward, “…there was scarcely a day during his whole life that (Jay Gould) did not have some litigation on his hands.”
His map business made Jay $5, 000, which he invested with Zadock Pratt, a Manhattan leather merchant. Smothering Mr. Pratt in adoration, the 21 year old Jay proposed to write the older man’s biography. That project drew the pair into a partnership in a new leather tannery south of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Using  Pratt’s money Jay built an entire company town, which he named “Gouldborough”. He wrote Pratt sycophantic letters, in one describing the organizing meeting for the new community. “Three hearty cheers were proposed for the Hon(erable) Zadock Pratt…This is certainly a memorandum worthy of note in your biography, of the gratitude and esteem which Americans hold your enterprising history.” However Mr. Pratt, who knew a lot more about the tanning business than did the young Jay Gould, had begun to see through the fog of compliments.
Pratt (above) showed up at the plant unannounced in the summer of 1858, to go over the books. He quickly discovered them to be a confusing mess, showing unauthorized risky investments and a private bank which Jay had established in Stroudsburg, apparently using company funds, but without the company sharing  in any profits. However, Jay had anticipated this, and had already lined up a richer and more docile partner. When confronted in August by Pratt, Gould stunned the man by offering to buy him out for $60,000. Pratt quickly accepted. The cash for the buyout had come from Jay’s new partner, Charles Lessup.
But it wasn’t long before even the somnolent Lessup began to suspect he was being had. By the fall of 1859 Lessup was panicked by the commitments Jay was making in his name. But it was too late. On October 6, 1859, facing financial disaster, Charles Lessup shot himself. Lessup’s daughters bitterly demanded Jay repay them for their father’s investment, and Jay countered with an offer of a payment of $10,000 a year for six years. He had, of course, neglected to include any interest during the five year delay. Unfortunately for Jay, the families’ lawyers caught the omission. Still, in the early months of 1860, it became clear that Jay was still hiding assets from the family.
Lawyers and 40 deputized men were dispatched to the tannery on Tuesday morning, March 13, 1860. They flashed the legal papers, ushered the workers out and padlocked the doors. They held the place for a little over six hours, until Jay returned from New York. Just past noon some 200 men stormed the building with axes, muskets and rifles. Four men were shot, others were badly beaten, and according to the New York Herald, “…those who did not escape were violently flung from the windows and doors…” As Jay would later boast, ““I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.” The courts would eventually throw Jay Gould out of the tannery, but by then he had shifted his operations to a place more suited to his nature; the unregulated economic free-for-all that was Wall Street.
While North and South battled over slavery, Jay Gould battled over wealth. He formed his own brokerage firm, Smith, Gould and Martin, and made the acquaintance of James “Big Jim” Fisk, who had made his own fortune smuggling southern cotton through the Federal armies, and selling Confederate War Bonds. And even while brave men died by their tens of thousands, this pair joined Daniel Drew, director of the Erie Railroad, in their own, private war.
Their enemy was Cornelius Vanderbilt, who owned every railroad in the east except the Erie. Naturally, “The Commodore”, as Vanderbilt liked to be called, was seeking a monopoly, so he could charge whatever freight rates he wanted, and he began to buy stock in the Erie. Sensing blood in the water, Jay and friends printed up 100,000 shares of Erie stock, which The Commodore promptly bought, and which the board of the Erie – Drew, Fisk and Jay Gould – immediately declared to be worthless.
Bilked out of $7 million, Vanderbilt filed legal papers to examine the Erie’s books. Jay and friends grabbed the company records and retreated to New Jersey, where they re-incorporated. Vanderbilt then had arrest warrants issued for all three men, but since New York law could not touch them in New Jersey, the Commodore began to assemble ships and men to invade New Jersey, all by himself. While the Erie Board prepared to receive the invaders, Jay managed to slide a bill through the New York State assembly making the issuing of worthless stock, perfectly legal, retroactively.
This trick was managed by the simple expedient of giving William “Boss” Tweed (above), the head of political graft in New York, a seat on the Erie board. That brought the Erie War to a temporary end. And if you are feeling sorry for the Commodore, remember that Cornelius himself once said, “Law, what do I care about the law? Ain't I got the power?" Another libertarian hero. The entire bunch were so busy cheating and stealing they barely noticed the end of the Civil War.
With the Commodore’s cash, and further fortified by looting the Erie’s assets, Jay, Fisk and Drew began their own complicated scheme to raise freight rates on the Erie Railroad. In 1869 they began to buy and hoard gold, because raising the price of gold would raise the price of wheat, which would allow them to raise the freight rates they charged farmers for shipping the wheat. As insurance the trio took on another partner, Abel R. Corbin, who happened to be President Grant’s brother-in law. The new partner gave the appearance that “the fix” was in, and other investors jumped on the bandwagon. The price of gold skyrocketed.
When President Grant learned about the manipulations, he immediately ordered the U.S. Treasury to sell $4 million in gold. On September 24, 1869, the sudden influx hit the market like a bomb, and gold dropped 30%. The date would henceforth be known as “Black Friday” - at least until October of 1929. Thousands of investors were wiped out, including Abel Corbin, and an angry mob swarmed the Gould’s brokerage offices, smashing the furnishings and chanting “Who killed Charles Lessup?” Of course the trio of Gould, Fisk and Drew, walked away from the wreckage with an $11 million profit.
Gould's partner Daniel Drew was to be Jay’s next victim. In 1870 Fisk and Gould sold their shares in the Erie to their one time enemy the Commodore for $5 million. The deal gave Vanderbilt his monopoly, but it also revealed that the Erie was bankrupt. And it left Daniel Drew, abandoned by his partners, out $1.5 million. He would die flat broke nine years later, just one more partner and one more victim of Jay Gould.
Big Jim Fisk was saved from a similar fate when, in 1871, a competitor for a woman shot him to death in a New York Hotel. After that Jay was reduced to stealing from lesser partners, such as Major Abin A. Selover, who actually considered himself a friend of Gould’s. It was Selover who introduced Jay to a California friend of his, James R. Keene. After Keene and Selover had both been battered by Gould in a contest for control of Western Union, Jay and Selover happened to meet on the street one day. Jay tried to walk away, but for once in his life, Jay Gould was caught out in the open.
Selover grabbed Jay be the collar and shouted, “I’ll teach you to tell me lies!” The six foot tall Selover then threw Jay to the ground, and then yanked him up again by one hand, dangling him above the stairwell of a below-street level barbershop. With his free arm Selover began slapping the Mephistopheles of Wall Street and shouting, “Gould, you are a damn liar!” Nobody who witnessed the event interrupted to disagree. When Selover finally let go, Gould dropped 8 feet to the stairs. A stock broker the next day quipped, “It was characteristic of Mr. Gould that he landed on his feet.”
Overnight, Abin Selover became the most popular man in New York City. Jay Gould was wise enough not to press charges, since no jury could be expected to convict anyone of assaulting Jay Gould. Henceforth, Jay never went out without a body guard. He began to describe himself as the “most hated man in New York”, but there was a touch of pride in his voice when he said it. Selover eventually went broke, as did Keene. However, when he finally died in 1892, Jay Gould was the ninth richest man in America, worth about $77 million. He died a hero only to those who never did business with him. Gould scoffed at the idea that Wall Street should be regulated. “People will deal in chance….Would you not, if you stopped it, promote gambling?”
It was and is a philosophy which fails to see an advantage to drawing a line between gambling and investing. It is the philosophy of libertarianism. It is the philosophy of unmitigated greed. It was the philosophy of Jay Gould.
- 30 -

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SNOUT YOUR WAR

I don’t know why they called it the “Pig War”. The pig wasn’t mad at anybody. From the sketchy description we have it seems likely he was a Large Black, a breed “…known for its very docile nature, and …unaggressive temperament…”, according to Wikipedia. It would seem more logical then to call it “Lyman Cutlar’s War”, since he was the one with the musket, and he was pretty worked up on the morning of June 15, 1859, when he said he discovered the "scrofa domesticus" rooting in his potato patch. An unidentified male human was, according to Lyman, leaning on Lyman’s fence and laughing at the pig’s misdeeds. So outraged was Lyman that he immediately fetched his musket and dispatched the offending porker to Hog-Heaven, whereupon the human ran into the woods;' or so Lyman said.
Okay, it wasn’t charging Cossacks, and the pig wasn’t Napoleon from Animal Farm. But Lyman was an American and the two-toed ungulant was the property of the English owned Hudson’s Bay Company - and you get the feeling that somebody was looking for an excuse to start a shooting war.
In 1846 the United States and Great Britain thought they had avoided just this kind of trouble by agreeing to a U.S./Canadian border along the 49th parallel westward from the Rocky Mountains to the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The border line on the map then made a jog to the south to allow the already settled Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island to remain on the British side of the border.
The problem was that right in the middle of the strait were the San Juan Islands, the largest of which was the 54 square miles of the island of San Juan. When the original border was drawn nobody in London or Washington knew the islands were even there. But as soon as London realized the truth, The Hudson Bay Company opened a sheep ranch, Belle Vue Farm, on the south coast of San Juan island, and notified the Americans that they now considered all of the San Juan islands to be English property.
The Americans countered, in 1853, by creating Washington Territory, and incorporating the San Juan islands into Washington's Whatcom County. Washington Territory even dispatched a sheriff to San Juan to collect taxes, and arrest the scofflaws, i.e. English citizens. But Charles Griffin, the Belle Vue Farm manager, (and owner of the aforementioned pig) treated the warrent as if it were a joke. The sheriff returned home, dragging 30 kidnapped and bleating sheep as compensation for his failure to place the British Empire under arrest.
And there the situation probably would have remained, except that in March of 1858 gold was discovered in British Columbia. This drew an instant wave of American prospectors, the vast majority of whom did not find any gold. But, over the winter of 1858/59, about 30 of the ambitious, restless but thin-blooded Americans, including one Lyman Cutlar, escaped the brutal Canadian winter along the Fraser River by moving to the more temperate coastal climate of San Juan Island. Once they reached San Juan island, and being belivers in "Manifest Destiny", they immediately started behaving as if they were the landlords, including executing English pigs for eating American potatoes.
This might be the place to point out that I think Layman Cutlar’s story is far too convenient. He claims the pig invaded his potato patch on the very anniversary of the signing of the 1846 treaty - June 15th. Secondly, he mentions a human witness and a fence, both important proof of ownership under American homesteader law. And then there was his behavior post his pork-a-cide.
Lyman offered to pay ten dollars for the deceased little ham hock, a fair price back east. But this being the wilds of British Columbia the British manager,  Mr. Griffin (above), demanded one hundred dollars, a more accurate if slightly inflated quotation. When Lyman refused to even counter that offer, an arrest warrant was issued for Lyman Cutlar. And even though the warrant was never executed the local Americans appealed to their local governor of Washington Territory, for a redress of grievances.
That request eventually went to Brigadier General William Selby Harney (above), a native Tennesaen who had inherited Andrew Jacksons hatred of the British and the command of Washington Territory. Harney immediately dispatched 66 soldiers to San Juan, under the command of the mecurial Captain George Picket.
Being a hopeless romantic George Picket arrived on San Juan and announced, “We’ll make a Bunker Hill of it”, even though his orders were to avoid shooting (and evidently not remembering that Bunker Hill was an American defeat). Picket encouraged his men to taunt the British sailors and marines dispatched to keep an eye on the Americans. It seems he was also hoping to start a shooting war.
Pickett's provocative behavior led to British and then American and then to more British reinforcements, until there were five British warships with 2,000 men and 70 cannons anchored off San Juan island, facing less than 500 Americans with 14 cannons. The island had become a powder keg guarded by children playing with matches.
It was at this point that President of the United States, James Buchanan, first learned about the dead pig on San Juan…from the newspapers. He ordered 77 year old General-in-chief Winfield Scott to get out there and get things under control. The President would probably have agreed with the British Admiral who said the players on the scene seemed determined to “…involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig”.
It took the ancient Scott (above) eight months to travel from Washington, D.C. down the Atlantic coast, across the Carribean, on horseback across the Isthmus of Panama and then up the Pacific coast to Washington Territory. But once there, as commanding officer,  he quickly negotiated a truce. Both sides agreed to reduce their forces to 100 men each, and, at British insistance, Picket was replaced. Immediately a sensible calm was restored.
Tourists boated out from British Vancouver to observe the dueling artillery practices and stare at the soldiers, while officers from both sides shared whiskey and cigars in farm manager Charles Griffin’s home. I'm willing to bet that they also shared an occasional ham. Certain that an eventual compromise would be reached, and having the distraction of a civil war looming back in America, General Scott wasted no time in returning to Washington, D.C.
But almost the minute General Scott left Washington Territory, General Harney ordered Picket back to San Juan Island to resume his beligerant command. Clearly Harney’s intent was to stir up more trouble. But when word of Pickett’s reinstatement reached Washington, D.C., Harney was immediately relieved of his command. And that was pretty much the end of General Harney’s career. He was allowed to quietly retire in 1863, just about the time that his former junior officer, George Pickett, was directing 15,000 rebels charging across the battlefield at Gettysburg.
If Pickett had succeeded in starting a war with England over San Juan Island in 1860, I have to wonder if he would have still resigned his commission that year and joined the Confederacy. Or perhaps his and Harney’s plan all along had been to distract Washington, D.C. with a war in Washington Territory, making it easier for the South to seccede. There were plenty of Americans in 1860, including Abraham Lincoln’s new Secretary of State, William Seward, who thought a war with England would rally the south back to defense of the American Union, and a few who felt such a war would have the opposite effect.
All such ideas were pipe dreams. It is not an accident that Lyman Cutlar disappeared from history when no war was fought in defense of his potato patch. He also disappeared from San Juan island. The border dispute was finally settled in 1871, when America and England submitted to “binding arbitration”, overseen by Kaiser William I of Germany. And in 1872 The Kaiser awarded the San Juan Islands to America. So America won the islands without anybody else being killed, not even another pig.
Every morning on San Juan Island, Washington state, U.S. Park Service Rangers raise the stars and stripes over the "American Camp" on the south coast of the island, and the the British Union Jack over the north coast. And this is the only spot on American soil where the U.S. government affords honors to a foreign flag, in memory of two nations too sensible to fight a war, and of a pig who gave his life so that others might  live.
http://www.nps.gov/sajh/historyculture/the-pig-war.htm
- 30 -

Sunday, January 15, 2012

AIR HEADS Part Eleven Post Mortium

I wonder how many people worked in the advertising department at the Cole Motor Company in Indianapolis in 1911? Besides supporting Bob Fowler’s “Cole Flyer” transcontinental flight, they also had a big balloon that made appearances at county fairs, and they contributed a share in the founding of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As their slogan went, “There’s a Touch of Tomorrow in All Cole Does Today”. Well, the touch was not to last forever. Joe Cole (above) had built a fortune in horse buggies before he borrowed enough cash from Harvey Firestone to start his auto company in 1909. He ordered the parts from other manufacturers and assembled them in the Cole building. “A man’s car any woman can drive.”
Joe offered such innovations as “adjustable door glasses” (i.e., removable windows) a 15 foot long dashboard light and a speedometer that read up to 75 mph; unfortunately the car only went up to 45 mph. Bigwigs at General Motors wanted to buy out Cole, and when Joe wouldn’t sell they just bought up his suppliers and gradually cut him off. With the post war recession of 1920-21 Joe realized the jig was up and began a careful liquidation of his company. In 1924, after he closed up his firm, Joe died suddenly. His family rented out the building (above) in Indianapolis and kept the name, "the Cole Building" into the 1970’s; thus fared the man who sponsored Bob Fowler's flight. 
After he reached El Paso in 1911, it took Bob Fowler(above) a month just to escape Texas. He crash landed in a rice field outside of Seixas, Louisiana, on Christmas Eve. He landed in New Orleans at about 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. It took him until February of 1912 to reach Florida. He landed on the sand at Jacksonville Beach on February 12th, 1912 -  not that anybody noticed, what with the Titanic going down just two nights later. Bob would later observe with understatement, “I was the first to start and the last to finish.” It had taken him 116 days and 72 hours of actual flight time to cover the 2,800 miles across America. The very next year Bob Fowler made the first non-stop transcontinental flight – across the 36 miles of the Isthmus of Panama. Bob Fowler was a pretty crafty fellow.
Bob sold The “Cole Flyer” in 1912, and after being used in the movie business for a few years, it was sold again, this time for scrap. The engine is still on display at the Exposition Museum in Los Angles. In 1916 Bob started the “Fowler Airplane Corporation” in his home town of San Francisco. He modified and sold Curtis JN-4’s (“Jennys”) to the U.S. Army as trainers, and after WWI he started Bluebird Airways, a passenger service. He retired to San Jose and died in 1966, at the healthy old age of 82.
Jimmy Ward (above), the ex-jockey who had the good sense to drop out of the amazing race, died in Florida sometime after 1917, allegedly of stomach cancer. He was buried in an unmarked paupers grave. Some of his fellow aviation pioneers collected money to give him a more respectful funeral, but I can find no record of that ever happening. Perhaps somebody down in Florida can correct my mistake.
Cal Rodgers was testing a new airplane on Wednesday April 3, 1912, just off shore of Long Beach, California, when he ran into a flock of sea gulls. The plane banked sharply 45 degrees and slid into the surf, crashing just feet from where Cal had posed grinning in the surf with the “Vin Fiz” the previous December.
The engine broke loose from its mounts and crushed Cal, breaking his neck. He was still breathing when swimmers pulled him from the water, but he died soon after. Cal Rodgers was the 127th death since the Wright Brothers flight in 1903, and the 22nd American aviator killed. Considering the number of people flying in 1912, those were still terrible odds.
Cal's mother, Maria (Rodgers) Sweitzer, took procession of her son’s body and had it shipped back to Pittsburgh. There Calbraith Perry Rodgers was buried in Allegheny Cemetery under an elaborate tombstone (above), marked with the words “I Endure, I Conquer.”
Cal’s brother John took procession of the “Vin Fiz Flyer” and had it shipped back to Ohio, to the Wright Brother's shops, to be repaired. He offered the Flyer to the Smithsonian, but they already had a Wright B, so instead, in 1917, the Flyer was donated to the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. In 1934 the Smithsonian changed their minds and bought the “Vin Fiz Flyer”. Refurbished and rebuilt, that is the plane that hangs from the ceiling in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
And little Maude was determined to endure and conquer as well. After lengthy court battles with her ex-mother-in-law in California, Maude was awarded legal possession of the “Vin Fiz Flyer”. How could this be? Wasn’t the Flyer back in Ohio, being rebuilt? It was. But the contents of the repair car of the “Vin Fiz Special” contained enough spare parts, many of which may have actually flown sections of the transcontinental voyage, to construct a second “Vin Fiz Flyer” and still claim it as an “original.”
Two years after Cal’s death, and after the court battles with Maria had finally been settled, Maude married Charlie “Wiggie” Wiggin, who had shown such faith and devotion to her Cal; two lonely souls who shared an adoration of another man. “Wiggie”, had, by this time, acquired his own pilot’s license. And Maude and Wiggie made a living for a few years barnstorming their “Vin Fiz Flyer” around the country. And then they quietly faded out of history.
It would be ten years later when Jimmy Doolittle would cross the continent in less than a day - 21 hours 19 minutes, with just one stop for fuel. And as you sit in your tiny passenger seat, crammed four to an aisle, held prisoner on the tarmac for endless hours, forced to use a toilet designed for a diminutive Marquise de Sade, charged extra for a micro-waved “snack”, a pillow, a blanket, a soda or a thimble full of peanuts, even the privilege of using the rest room.
...consider the sacrifices of those who suffered before you; landing in chicken coops, landing in tree tops, landing in barbed wire fences, landing in Texas for day after day. And remember the immortal words of Cal Rodgers; “I am not in this business because I like it, but because of what I can make out of it.” It has become the mantra of every airline passenger world wide.
- 30 -

Blog Archive

Amazon Deals