Archive for November, 2010

When War Closed the NYSE for Nearly 5 Months
November 28, 2010

Silent Cal Knew About America's Business

On This Date in History:  When World War I first broke out, the United States was officially neutral.  Calvin Coolidge would later say as President that the business of America was business and that idea had already taken hold at the outset of the Great War.  America not only wanted to stay out of the war, but also expected the beligerants to adhere to international law and allow Uncle Sam to conduct business as usual.  That meant allowing the United States to continue to participate in free trade.  Well, the Brits weren’t about to give up their advantage on the high seas by allowing Germany to get supplies, even food, from overseas.  Any supplies that Germany got would add to its ability to make war.  So, the Royal Navy used its huge numerical advantage to use with a naval blockade.  The US was not happy that its ships were being stopped and searched or its ships were denied entry to certain ports.  But, typically, American merchants were simply escorted to British ports by the navy and their cargo was searched.  A process was also set up for damage reparation claims.  Fearing that good were getting to the Axis powers in an indirect way, the British expanded the blockade to include neutral Baltic states.

Sinking of Lusitania Changed American Attitude

The Germans did not have a surface fleet sufficient to blockade goods from the Allies so they went below the waves.  The Germans used their U-Boats, or submarines, to sink ships that were supplying the Allies, mainly through England.  The difference between the two was that the U-Boats dispensed with the dangerous, more acceptable practice of stopping and searching ships and simply began torpedoing ships without warning.  If the ship was suspected of supplying the Allies, the fish went in the water and down went the ship.  Activity such as this began to gain the ire of the Americans with the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915.

Solid Line Nominal Prices; dashed "real" prices

Most of the time, people think that war is good for business.  But, in this case, a compelling argument can be made that both before and after US entry into World War I, American business was adversely affected.  One casualty of the war was the stock market.  When war first broke out in 1914, the financial world was fearful of what would happen in international markets;  perhaps European stock holders would sell their equities and the market would crash.  So, in July 1914, the New York Stock Exchange closed and stayed closed for about 5 months.  The thinking was that, with the major stock exchanged closed in the US and others overseas disrupted by war, then it would be much more difficult for anyone to dump their stocks.  But, almost immediately, a curb or street exchange developed with traders working about a block from Wall Street matching up buyers and sellers for securities.  It provided some much needed liquidity and was referred to as New Street.  However, Uncle Sam ran into a problem.  The government needed money and raising taxes wasn’t enough.  They needed to sell bonds but without a market to sell its debt, then it was in trouble.  So, on this date in 1914, the only US exchange reopened on a limited basis.  Equities were still not traded but bond markets were re-opened.  A few days later, stocks resumed trading.  And, there was no crash.  But, there also wasn’t a war boom.  For the most part, the stock market went sideways except when one figures in the effect of inflation.  In that case, the real stock value was decidedly downward. 

Most of the time, we think of the US as being a wild west show when it came to financial markets prior to the Great Depression; that before 1929 there was no government regulation.  But, as this story illustrates, the Federal Government was indeed involved in trying to control market results.  In this case, it had the largest exchange in the world shuttered until the government needed it.  Talk about insider trading.  But, it was all about business and the declaration of Silent Cal was true before he was president and 80 years after his administration.  The business of America is business.

Abraham Lincoln Was But An Afterthought to the Organizers of the Gettysburg Battlefield Dedication
November 19, 2010

Not Many Photos Exist From Gettysburg

Not Many Photos Exist From Gettysburg

Closer Look at only photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg

Close up of above photo with only known image of Lincoln at Gettysburg

On This Date in History: I have a few words concerning the events of November 19. 1863 but anything that I could say would pale in comparison to the speech reprinted below. It is the the Gettysburg Address and it was delivered 146 years ago today. The president was not invited until about two weeks prior to the ceremony. He was not the main speaker. Edward Everett, a noted statesman from Boston and Harvard President, was given two months notice to work on his speech, which took about two hours to deliver. Mr. Lincoln’s speech was but 270 words. It has been accepted that Lincoln wrote the address on a scrap of paper while on the train to Pennsylvania because it was reported that way in a novel. However, historian Stephen B. Oates points out in his biography, With Malice Toward None, A Life of Abraham Lincoln that the train was too crowded and noisy for him to work on it. Instead, Oates says that he wrote part of it on White House stationery before he left and finished the rest on the morning of the event in Gettysburg.

Verbiage in Invitation to Lincoln Very Interesting

It has been reported that the president was sick. While I find nothing to confirm that he was ill during the proceedings, I suspect that people have made the assumption, perhaps accurate, because after he returned to the White House, he was diagnosed with varioloid, which has been described as a mild for of smallpox. I’m not sure about that one because it seems to me that a “mild form of smallpox” is akin to being “a little pregnant.” Also, it is widely reported that his speech was panned in newspapers across the land. The Chicago Times and paper from Harrisburg, PA certainly show that there were some. However, not all papers were non-plussed by his remarks. In fact, the Chicago Tribune was sharply in contrast to its rival and even Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune recognized the greatness of the speech. I believe I recall a quote from Edward Everett who remarked afterward, “Mr President, you were able to say in a few minutes what I could not in two hours.” This is probably not a direct quote but something reasonably close.

Last Lincoln Portrait Apr 4, 1865

Words of Nov 19, 1863 Long Remembered

Harrisburg Patriot and Union: “We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the Nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of.”

Chicago Times: “The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances.”

Chicago Tribune: “The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man.”

Horace Greeley: “I doubt that our national literature contains a finer gem than that little speech at the Gettysburg celebration, November 19, 1863… after the close of Mr. Everett’s classic but frigid oration.”

Leaving Gettysburg For the Cemetery

Leaving Gettysburg For the Cemetery

I think what may be lost regarding the speech is what it shows. It is an early indication of where Mr. Lincoln was heading in terms of after the war. Even on a battlefield well north of Washington, Lincoln was confident of victory. What often gets overlooked is that on the same day, US Grant had forced the capitulation of Vicksburg which essentially gave the Union full control of the Mississippi River and effective cut the Confederacy in two. The victory at Vicksburg arguably sealed the deal for the outcome of the war. Mr. Lincoln was aware of that that and if you read carefully, you can see the hints of what his notions were regarding his intentions. He does not give a rah-rah victory speech with talk of retribution. He does not discriminate between the allegiances of the soldiers and speaks of the “unfinished business” and a “new birth of freedom.” Clearly he is talking about concluding the war but he is also referencing a nation of freedom for all. This speech is not just one of honor but also one of reconciliation. It has always eluded me of how differently our nation’s history might have been had the 16th president been allowed to conclude the “unfinished business.” How would he have handled Reconstruction and the reconciliation of the former enemies. John Wilkes Booth lives in infamy as the man who deprived the nation of “what might have been.” There are 5 known drafts of the Gettysburg Address. Each seems to have some variance. Here is a version of the Gettysburg Address:

THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Unfortunately, it seems that the youth of America seems to be as uninspired by Mr. Lincoln as did the organizers of the dedication at Gettysburg or some scribes who critiqued the President’s message.  Recently, I was at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC and I spotted several student groups.  It appeared as if the students thought that they were at some social gathering. Most were not paying attention to the tour guides, instead generally talking and cutting up while playing what my old football coaches used to call “grabass.”  There was no sense of reflection or respect for the memorial or the man to whom it was built.  It was only older visitors who took the time to read the words of the Gettysburg Address and the text of the President’s second inaugural speech which are etched forever in the marble.  Maybe I’m getting old, but that ain’t right.

Weather Bottom Line:  After a rather dreary and damp day, look for early fog to give way to loads of sunshine that will persist through the for periods of darkness.  Conditions will be quite pleasant so get out and enjoy the great weekend weather.

Worst Outlaw in the History of the American West Inspired Others
November 13, 2010

Al Jennings-Worst Outlaw in the West

Al Jennings-Worst Outlaw in the West

On This Date in History: Al Jennings was born in 1863 Virginia. His father was aTemple Houston-the one in the middle judge and Al began practicing law in the Oklahoma Territory in 1889. Al’s law-partner, brother Ed Jennings, was shot to death in October 1895 by another lawyer named Temple Houston, who was the son of famous Texan General Sam Houston. When Houston was acquitted, Al and another brother Frank vowed vengeance. They took off after Houston but never caught up to him. So, what does any good lawyer who fails at a vengeance killing do? Join a gang. He and Frank robbed a Santa Fe train with their new found friends in 1897. Well, they tried to rob a train. This may be where the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid comes from because these guys tried to get the guy in charge of the mail car to open it up but he refused, just like Woodcock did with Butch. But, instead of blowing up the rail car, these desperados got chased away by the conductor.

Temple Houston

Temple Houston

They tried again. This time they piled up railroad ties across the tracks. instead of stopping, the engineer opened up the locomotive at full throttle and simply plowed through the obstruction. They then tried to rob an express office but a simple phone call from the office brought the town sheriff and a bunch of armed men. The would be robbers fled with nothing. Then they tried a bank but someone must have blabbed because when they arrived, the bank was surrounded by numerous armed men. The bumbling robbers left empty handed. So, they gang decided to return to what they knew best…train robbing!


Cabinet Saloon Where Temple Shot Ed

In another probable Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid inspiration, they tried a 3rd time when they flagged down a Rock Island passenger train and tried to blow up the two safes on board in a box car. The safes did not open but they did manage to blow up the box car. They did get $300 from the passengers though. But, they got no more chances. They were caught and sentenced to 5 years in prison…except for Al, who got a life sentence for robbery with intent to kill.

Jennings Mugshot 1902

Jennings Mugshot 1902

Al goes to prison and who does he share a cell with but a guy named William Sidney Porter. After spending time listening to the tales of Jennings, Porter was released and took up the profession of a scribe, taking the pen name, O. Henry. O. Henry is considered one of the finest American short story writers of his time. Through his short stories, Henry managed to rehabilitate the image of Jennings and, On This Date in 1902, Al Jennings was released from prison after his sentence was commuted to 5 years by none other than President William McKinley. Jennings returned to Oklahoma to practice law. So, what does a lawyer who was a terrible train robber do? Why run for office. Not just any office…why not county attorney! In 1912, he ran on the promise that “when was a train robber, I was a good train robber. And if you choose me, I will be a good prosecuting attorney.” Obviously, Al had developed a politicians ability to stretch the truth and it helped because he won the nomination but lost the election. He ran for Governor in 1914 but opposition by newspapers left his campaign in third place when the votes were counted. So, where does a failed train robber and failed politician go? Why to Hollywood!

Jennings with Fatty Arbuckle's Cousin Andrew In Hollywood

Jennings with Fatty Arbuckle's Cousin Andrew

O. Henry had encouraged him to write so he went out west and ghost wrote several movies, several of which were supposedly based on his life. The westerns portrayed him as being more treacherous than Billy the Kid, robbed more men than Jesse James and was a participant in nearly 25 face to face shootouts. I would say that there wasn’t much mystery in who the ghost was behind those scripts. Al continued this sort of thing the rest of his life as he was behind many of the B-movie westerns through the 1950’s with the lame scripts that were as phony as the image Jennings created for himself. To perhaps illustrate the level of Al’s position in Hollywood, the photo to the left is not of Al with star Fatty Arbuckle, but instead Fatty’s cousin, Andrew. Nevertheless, it was an interesting and certainly long life for Al, who did not pass away, for real, until 1961. He lived through Reconstruction, the Indian Wars, the closing of the frontier, two world wars and the dawn of the space age. So much to write about yet he chose to write about…himself…and most of that was not true, except his name, Al Jennings. Here is a biography, which is really funny.

Perhaps the Most Spectacular Bridge Collapse Ever Caught on Film
November 7, 2010

A Big Mistake

Tacoma Narrows Bridge: A Big Mistake

GertiephotoOn This Date In History:   The Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened in July 1940 to great fanfare. With a span of 2800 feet, it was the third longest bridge in the world. The builder decided to save money by making the bridge only 39 feet wide to support just two lanes of traffic which seems pretty short sighted given that it was probably a pretty good bet that traffic in the years ahead would continue to increase.  Nevertheless, the bridge only had two lanes but was designed to withstand winds of 120 mph. People flocked to the bridge after it’s opening, not just because it was faster than the ferry, but also because word had traveled that the moderate winds that are common in the area would make the bridge sway and even undulate up and down.   It was pretty cool to see.  Drivers reported losing sight of the autos in front of them when the bridge waved. The bridge gained the moniker “Galloping Gertie.”


Brave (or stupid) Pedestrian

All the fun and games came to a crashing end on this date in 1940 when steady winds of just 42 mph made the bridge sway…and then leap. It continued throughout the day until the entire structure failed. The bridge had been closed but the last man let across lost control of his car and, in fear of being tossed 190 feet into the Tacoma Narrows below, he fled on foot. He tried to retrieve the family cocker spaniel from the back seat but the pup would have none of it. As he reached the end of the bridge, the bridge collapsed spectacularly with the dog as the only casualty.

The result of the collapse was analyzed and is a common subject in college physics classes. Basically, the wind was in tune with the natural harmonics of the bridge. The more the wind blew, the greater it increased the amplitude of the harmonics creating a wave. Its a similar phenomena as when a singer breaks a glass. To avoid a similar fate, bridges today, including the one that replaced “Galloping Gertie” have damping and aerodynamic features built in and wind tunnels are used to test the ability of the structure to resist wind and prevent compromise of the integrity of the structure.

Here is the 1940 Newsreel Footage of the Collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Here is a different, color film on video of the collapse

Whatever man builds, can come down. Gravity and other forces are constantly at play. There are some things in life in which compromise can be a good thing. But engineers cannot afford to not get it right the first time. It kinda reminds me of what US Grant often said, “man proposes; God disposes.” These days we often teach our kids that close is good enough. If that is your methodology, mommas don’t let your babies be engineers.

Not Wearing a Hockey Goalie Mask on the Ice Can Leave One Always Ready for Halloween
November 1, 2010

Playing Goalie in Hockey Without a Mask is a Sure Way to Get No Dates

Plante Without Mask

Plante Without Mask

On This date in History:   Today, hockey players all wear helmets and goalies all wear masks.  In fact, many goalies have developed masks with creative designs on the front.  However, masks and helmets were not always the norm.  It wasn’t until the late 70’s or early 80’s that players were required to wear helmets and even then, veteran players who began playing before the rule was put in place had the option.  Gordie Howe played hockey until he was 51 years old and he never had his head covered.  Goal keepers were a little ahead of the game and it wasn’t by rule.  On this date in 1959, Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante first wore a mask in a game. Prior to that, goalies did not wear a mask and routinely they were hit in the face by a puck flying at what, up to 100 mph? Maybe faster. And those pucks are made of hard rubber. I’d say that a flying puck left a mark or two.  I suspect that  goalies in the NHL at that time did not have hottest girlfriends on the team. But Plante wasn’t the first to try a mask. The first was Clint Benedict of the old Montreal Maroons who wore a partial leather mask in the 1930’s for a brief time but he said it obscured his vision so he stopped using it.

Plante With Mask

Plante With Mask

Now, Plante had used a white fiberglass mask in practice all season but his coach wouldn’t let him wear it in a game.  But, in a November 1, 1959 game, he got hit in the face as a puck screamed across his nose and mouth. The blood poured.  He went to the locker room for stitches.  It took more than 20 minutes, which was a long time for stitches in a hockey game. Seems that the delay was not due to a slow doctor but instead was a result of  Jacques arguing with the coach about his returning with a cream colored mask.(not sure why it wasn’t the white one) He told the coach either he wore the mask or he didn’t play. Later, Plante explained, “I already had four broken noses, a broken jaw, two broken cheekbones and almost 200 stitches in my head,” he pointed out. “I didn’t care how the mask looked.” See, Plante was so good that he could do just about whatever he wanted. He even knitted his own underwear….hardly a manly, tough goalie sort of thing. But he said it calmed his nerves.

Plante courageously put on a mask, to the chagrin of his coach, after he was pummled on Nov 1 1959

It seems pretty courageous for anyone to go into the goalie box without a mask. And Plante did just that. But, it took perhaps even more courage to enter the box wearing a mask. He was jeered and mocked by other players and the fans for years. I’m sure “sissy” wasn’t the only word that he was called. But, after a few years, other goalies thought it might be a pretty good idea and since one of the best did it, why not? The practice of wearing a mask became the norm across the league and today goaltenders embrace the mask as they put all sorts of wild designs on the apparatus to express their personality or show loyalty to the team.

Jacques Plante: A profile in courage. You don’t suppose that the other goalies decided the mask was a good idea when they saw Plante, after wearing the mask, with the best looking dates in the league?

Weather Bottom Line:  Look for a big change for the end of the week as a big fat area of high pressure comes down from the north driving Arctic air our way with perhaps a little hurricane moving up off the east coast to help drag down the cold air.  I could argue that a couple of models want to give us snow on Thursday…but I won’t make that argument now.  No weather excuse not to vote though…should be seasonal with a fair amount of sunshine on Tuesday.