Friday, October 3

The Great Imposter - No, It's Not a Politician

By Art Cashin

On this day (+1) in 1951, the Royal Canadian Navy found itself in a bizarre disciplinary proceeding. The proceedings were against a young naval surgeon who had recently become somewhat of a national hero.

It was during the toughest days of the Korean War (er...make that "Police Action"). In the choppiest of seas, the young surgeon was called upon to remove a bullet from a soldier's heart. Shortly after that, he saved a man with severe wounds and collapsed lungs. The medical work was so amazingly successful that newspapers and magazines ran special features on the young wonder surgeon.

Several folks who bought the magazines noticed the picture layout and the coincidence that the guy in the photograph had the same name as a doctor they knew...Dr. Joseph C. Cyr of Vancouver. They sent copies of the photos to Dr. Cyr. He noticed that the hero not only had his name...he had also attended the same schools, in the same years and got the same grades as Dr. Cyr of Vancouver. He called the Canadian Navy to question the coincidence.

That brings us to this day (+1) in 1951. They Navy had discovered that the guy who performed those delicate operations on a pitching vessel in primitive conditions was not Dr. Cyr. In fact, he was not a doctor at all. He was a U.S. citizen named Ferdinand Waldo De Mara. The Navy was ready to punish to the max...but De Mara's fellow officers, the crew and the men he had saved testified he was the most competent, dedicated and sincere man they had ever served with.

Perversely, the Navy inquiry also produced high praise for De Mara in the roles he had served in before he impersonated Dr. Cyr and joined the Navy. He was praised as a superior in a Trappist Monastery, a professor in three different colleges (in different subjects, no less), a jailbird (desertion from previous military service) and, perversely, later as a prison warden.

In all of the above positions and a dozen more (except jailbird), De Mara was an imposter. He had used different names and falsified various diplomas and accreditations he'd never won. His life was so remarkable and he succeeded at so many things others had trained for years to accomplish that the Press dubbed him - "The Great Imposter" and Hollywood made a movie about him.

But while they explained how he got into various positions, they never explained how in every one he was promoted time and again while being praised by co-workers, clients and superiors. For that you'll have to go to the Library and dig out De Mara's book (also called the Great Imposter). It is full of insights on human nature. The greatest of which De Mara called "the power vacuum" (an overstatement). Put simply De Mara felt that if you were put in charge of picking up cigarette butts you could soon be in management....simply because people don't want responsibility. They like power and pomp and titles and some even like making decisions...but whether in business, medicine, education or religion, folks don't want to take responsibility for their actions and decisions.

Interesting theory...but come on!!...this is America!!...this is capitalism!!....who ever heard of management ducking responsibility?



Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.


Thursday, September 18

It's Not Such a Crappy Idea After All

By Art Cashin

On this day in 1908, yet one more American threw aside the doubts of the establishment to start his own company.

Earlier, he had sought financing from America's premier merchant banks. But his enthusiasm was such that they laughed him out of their offices.

Some historians would later guess that it was his name that did him in. Not his first name -- that was a solid sounding William. And even his waspy prospective bankers couldn't object to his last name -- Durant (solid, American). But some felt his insistence on presenting his middle name made the bankers uneasy. For some reason, he insisted on announcing himself, both in person and on his business cards as William Crapo Durant.

Put money on a guy named "Crapo" -- not on your Newport estate. So supposed savvy bankers denied his request for four million dollars. Historical defenders of the bankers claim that it was not his name, but his proposed partners that turned them off. Even if automobiles were good, why would Durant think that combining his Buick operation with Ransom Olds, Maxwell Motors, and Henry Ford could result in a viable business?

So on this day in 1908, Wm C. Durant filed in the state of N.J. to incorporate something called General Motors at a cost of $2,000. (Ford opted out thinking his new Model T was worth more.) In a few short years, Durant dogged by some bankers, had to give up his company to other bankers.

But he then bought a small company called Chevrolet and soon was running GM again. Durant as you may have guessed was not a corporate guy and eventually gambled away over 120 million bucks (equivalent to five billion today).

When he died in the late 1940's, he was telling anyone who would listen that American's next fad would be -- bowling. Some guys just die too early.


Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Monday, July 14

Tired of the Hot Air? Have a Double Dr. Gorrie, On the Rocks of Course!

image = mosi.org
By Art Cashin

On this day in 1850, a doctor at the "Mansion House" in Apalachicola, Florida amazed some guests whom he had invited by serving them drinks with ice. They were amazed not because it was a dry town…..it was
not....the guests were amazed because this was Apalachicola, this was Florida, this was July…..yet here was ice. How deep could his icehouse go…..how many feet of sawdust had he needed to pile up to save these few cubes of ice?

Then the doctor (Dr. John Gorrie) further amazed his guests by bringing more ice…..he brought out whole brick-like blocks of it. The guests were stunned. How had he managed to save this much ice…..in Florida…..into July! Dr. Gorrie laughed and told them he had made the ice only yesterday. "Sure!”
they said. "You made ice in July?" "Who the hell are you…..Mother Nature with a bad calendar watch?"

Dr. Gorrie must have laughed again and told them he had found a way of compressing water and then air in a way to chill things enough to produce ice. "Wow!" said the guests "Now you can open a bar!" Dr. Gorrie looked at them strangely….."Bar?…..This is a cure for malaria!"

Dr. Gorrie had noticed that malaria (a big problem in 1850) seemed to happen near wetlands (like Apalachicola) when it was warm. So he determined it must be the hot air that caused malaria. So, if you cooled the hot air down…..you should be able to stop malaria. That night Gorrie raised enough funds to install his ice-making, anti-malaria machine at the United States Marine Hospital. The main effect was that the rooms were cooler and the patients were cooler but the "yellow fever" continued. (It would be a half century later until Walter Reed would prove that the cause was mosquitoes who thrived in the hot weather…..not the weather itself.)

Although Dr. Gorrie was disappointed at what he saw as his "failure", bartenders and patrons did find a medicinal use for the ice. To celebrate…..call Clarence Birdseye and point out how one man's failure can
be another man's fortune. Forgive the frosty response.



Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Tuesday, July 8

Don't Kidd About the Pirates

Image = Wikipedia
By Art Cashin

On this day in 1699, a formerly prominent businessman was arrested in Boston and sent to London to be tried for capital crimes. He claimed it was all a mistake but the authorities denied him counsel and shipped him off in chains.

Four years before, he had even been one of the respected businessmen in Wall Street. His house on Hanover Square was impressive. And he had even been a driving force in raising funds for Trinity Church which would stand in the graveyard at the end of Wall Street.

But his fame as a trader and a seaman brought him to the attention of the king. The king solicited his service to stamp out the piracy that plagued the sea-lanes. On the day he set out, records show that most of New York turned out to cheer him on.

After early successes, however, disgruntled former crewmen began to claim that he had thrown in with the pirates themselves, and had become the worst of the lot. And, when he dropped off part of his recaptured loot with his friends the Gardiner Family (of Gardiners Island), stories spread that he had buried treasures from the East Coast to the Caribbean. (In fact to this day some maintain that Jacob Astor may not have become wealthy in the fur trade - but by discovering a huge cache of this man's treasure in what is now
Central Park.)

Anyway, despite his protests of innocence (and lack of counsel) he was found guilty of five counts of piracy. And, in May of 1701, he was dropped through the hangman's trap door and into history. Thus one of Wall Street's earliest luminaries - Captain William Kidd became the symbol of piracy for three centuries.

To celebrate take some sweet young thing to the "Traders Lounge" and explain that the connection between Capt. Kidd and Wall Street was purely coincidental. But caution her not to comment about the eye patches of the patrons. It tends to agitate their parrots.


Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.


Wednesday, June 4

Don't Get Your Knickerbockers in a Bunch

By Art Cashin

On this day (-2) in 1851, the N.Y. Knickerbockers Baseball Club, which had only been organized as America's first ball club just 5 years earlier, decided to try yet another new innovation. Perhaps inspired by the sight of returning veterans of the Mexican War, Alexander Cartwright, the father of baseball, thought the thing that would build team spirit was a uniform.

So, he outfitted the Knickerbockers in "breeches, shirts and caps" of blue and white. That historical notation has caused an interesting but erroneous myth - that the "breeches" were short pants or "knickers" which led to the word "knickbockers" (a word closely associated with New York...except in certain 4th quarters).

The theory may be somewhat inverted. The first breeches for the team were long pants which they probably "bloused" inside their high sox (thus giving the illusion of short pants). But everybody knows the name knickerbocker became associated with New York because of Washington Irving's spoof - "A History of New York." When he published it in 1809, he used the pseudonym - "Diedrich Knickerbocker." The book was so funny (imagine someone making history funny) it became an instant hit and knickerbocker became synonymous with New York. (Irving later wrote about a guy name Rip Van Winkle, and about a Headless Horseman...but nobody read that stuff.)

History does not record where Cartwright bought the uniforms but folklore says the team's record improved dramatically.


Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Monday, May 5

Denton True Young

By Art Cashin

On this day in 1904, a 37 year-old pitcher for the Boston Americans added yet one more star to an amazing career. He retired all 27 of the Philadelphia Phillies in a row - - thus pitching the first "perfect" game in major league history.

That would have been enough to earn him a place in baseball memory. But he had done so much more. In the prior year's "practice World Series" he had out shown a hall of fame list that included Honus Wagner and a raft of others. In his career he had won over 510 games having pitched in nearly 900. His record got him a quick selection into the first Hall of Fame induction.

His mom called him by his given name Denton True. But his teammates, the fans and the sportswriters gave him a nickname based on his high hard right-hand delivery. As one bewildered batter muttered - - it came down like a cyclone. So Denton True Young become "Cyclone Young" - - At least for a week or two.

Then he became "Cy Young" and he became a legend.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.


Tuesday, April 15

Another Hamburger Joint? What a Kroc!

image = google images
By Art Cashin

On this day in 1955, in the city of Des Plaines, Illinois, a great American institution began. And, like most successful American institutions it made no sense on paper and was started by the illogical. It was a fast food restaurant.

It was not started by some hotshot kid but, rather, by a 55-year-old guy who previously sold blenders for making milkshakes. The year before, on one of his sales trips to California he noticed a drive-in that was doing more business than any other. He itemized its features, it was clean, service was fast, food was uniform. And the fries....they were like nobody else's.

That's when he discovered that they always left on a tiny bit of potato skin in each batch so that the flavor transferred in the frying. Knowing that you probably could not start a nationwide chain of "French Fry Joints" he asked the owners, a certain couple of brothers named McDonald, if he could possibly franchise their fast food hamburger joint.

His name was Ray Kroc and the rest is history. Luckily, he didn't have to apply to the SBA. (Yeah! Sure, Mr. Kroc, just what this country needs, another hamburger joint. How ya gonna make any money. Ain't-cha got any sense of business??)


Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.
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