Tag Archives: History Channel

Fortune Everlasting

24 Jun

The other day, I was sitting on the couch at parents’ house and picked up a copy of Fortune 500, the annual list of America’s largest businesses. Like most people, I look at the top companies, but I also look for other things. How many are based in Tennessee? How many are new additions? How many dropped out? There is a lot of interesting information once you start digging in.

This year, I noticed something else. It was not that long ago that the History Channel put out a program called The Men Who Built America about the big industrialists of the late 1800s. It covered Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford. There were others, but those guys were the main characters.

As I thumbed through the Fortune 500, I thought back to those men and wondered how many of their companies are on the 2014 list. Obviously, Ford Motor Company is going to be on there. Heck, everyone has seen a Ford vehicle going up and down the road. But, what about those other guys?

Cornelius Vanderbilt was into ships and railroads. In the old days, his companies dominated, but I could not find any of them on the current list.

Andrew Carnegie made his fortune with Carnegie Steel. He sold out and spent the rest of his life giving money away. Carnegie could do that because he sold the company to J.P. Morgan, and this is where things get interesting.JP Morgan

Morgan learned investment banking from his father and took it to a new level. He bought Carnegie Steel and merged it with another mill to form U.S. Steel, which currently ranks 166th on the list. Morgan also owned General Electric, currently the 9th largest company in the United States. However, that is not all. He was also on the ground floor of American Telephone and Telegraph. We know it better as AT+T, and it ranks 11th.

This means that J.P. Morgan owned three corporations that currently rank in the Fortune 500. But, there is more. J.P. Morgan Chase and Company is the 18th largest business in the country.

Then, there is the story of John D. Rockefeller, who owns Standard Oil. He created a trust system, which allowed him to controlled the vast majority of the world’s oil supply. The United States government, fearful of an important resource being controlled by one person, busted the trust into smaller companies. Being a major stockholder in the new companies, Rockefeller became the richest man in the world. In other words, the federal government really showed him.John D Rockefeller

Anyway, a few of those smaller companies still exist. Exxon Mobil ranks 2nd. Chevron ranks 3rd. Marathon comes in 25th.

The History Channel called them The Men Who Built America. Others call them robber barons for their ruthless business techniques. Regardless of what one might think of them, there is no doubt that they played major roles in the American economy. What is more, they continue to play major roles many decades after their deaths.

It Was Unidentified to Me

17 Dec

I thought about changing the names in this story to protect the innocent. Instead, I changed my mind.

Last night, I watched a show about aliens on the History Channel. You know that channel. The one that is supposed to be about history but is about everything else. (Side note: If you want to watch shows about history, then I would suggest the National Geographic Channel or the Smithsonian Channel.) Anyway, I watched this show about aliens, and it made me think about the time that I saw a UFO.

It was during my high school years, and I was cruising around town with Chris, my best friend. We were doing the usual stuff. Riding up and down Main Street. Hanging out a Sonic. Doing a little drag racing. It was a typical Friday night. We were heading to his house, which sat in that weird place between town and country. We were not in the boondocks, but we were not in town, either.

We were almost to his house when Chris asked about a light that was in the sky. I said something about it being a radio tower or airplane. He said something about it not moving like an airplane and about how a tower couldn’t have been built while we had been out. I looked up and saw this red light in the sky. Then, it was blue. Then, it was yellow. I had to admit that it was weird.UFO

When we got to his house, we stood outside and watched it hover and change colors in a set pattern. We kept talking about it, and I broke down and said it. It could be a UFO. Chris went on and on about how there were no aliens and no flying saucers. I didn’t say it was some alien in a flying saucer. I said it was an Unidentified Flying Object, and it was definitely unidentified to us. He didn’t find humor or logic in what I had said and went in to wake up his parents.

Chris’ dad was one of the highest ranking political figures in our state, and we were waking him up to see a UFO. Chris came out with his mom and dad in their pajamas. His mom was trying to be cheerful, but his dad was not hiding his annoyance.

That’s when it got really weird. We were watching this thing hover when a beam of light shot out of it and hit the ground. Chris’ dad said he was going to bed and went back into the house. Chris’ mom followed. At some point, Chris said he was going to bed. I couldn’t believe it. We watched a laser beam shoot out of this thing, and they were going to sleep.

I got in the car and watched it all the way home. It never moved, but it kept changing colors. When I got home, I went to my room and watched it from the window. There were no more beams, but everything else remained the same. Eventually, I went to sleep, too.

The next morning, I told my parents, but they didn’t seem interested. Chris acted like it never happened. I never said anything to his parents about it, but they probably wouldn’t have talked about it, either. Through the years, I have told a few people, but they all think I am being ridiculous. I tell them the same thing that I told Chris. Whatever it was, it was unidentified to me. That is the definition of a UFO.

Me and My Dad

5 Mar

Tonight, my dad and I finished watching The Men Who Built America, the History Channel miniseries about the major industrialists of America’s Industrial Revolution.The Men Who Built America

My dad has always been interested in the history of business and economics because he was industrialist, as well.

We had a great time watching it together, and I liked when he asked questions of me. I paused the DVD, and I told him what I knew about the time period. He also told some stories that I have never heard before.

In one episode, J.P. Morgan and George Westinghouse were fighting over whose electricity was going to be used by the country. That led my dad to tell a story from his childhood. When he was born, electric lines did not reach to the house of his parents. However, his aunt and uncle who lived down the road had electricity. Because his aunt and uncle could keep milk refrigerated, my dad spent most of his time with them.

While I was growing up, I knew that my dad was as close to his aunt and uncle as he was his parents. In fact, he referred to his aunt as Mama. I never understood why this was. It was like he had two sets of parents, and, as a result, I had an extra set of grandparents. It turns out that it was all caused by some electric lines.

That’s really something to think about. The decision by the electric company to stop the lines at a certain point affected family relations for a couple of generations. I’m certain that the person who made that decision never realized the effects that decision would have. My dad’s aunt and uncle were childless, and my dad became the son they never had.

It’s funny what watching a history documentary will do. I learned about Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie and Morgan, but I learned about my dad, too.

It also helped me with a blogging decision. A few years ago, I wrote a history of my dad’s business as a Christmas gift to him, and, over the next several posts, I am going to reproduce it on this blog. Along the way, I am going to break some self-imposed rules. I am going to use the names of the people who I write about. I do it because I am proud of my dad’s accomplishments and want others to know about them.

Those readers who live in my town may recognize some of the names and be able to put faces to names. Those who live in other parts of the world will have no clue who or what I am writing about. No matter who you are or where you live, I hope you enjoy reading the next few posts as much as I enjoyed writing them.


18 Mar

If you ever take a drive along the southern back roads, then you will eventually see something strange – a vine that has covered the ground, trees, fences, power lines and buildings.

It may look lush and green from your point of view, but underneath it has taken over and sucked all of the nutrients out of the area it has covered. This plant is most commonly known as kudzu, but, as a child, I knew it as “mile-a-minute”. Other people call it “the plant that ate the south”.

Native to Japan, the plant was introduced to the United States at the Centennial Exposition, held in Philadelphia in 1876. According to The Amazing Story of Kudzu, gardeners first cultivated kudzu for ornamental reasons, but people began realized that animals would eat it. Southern farmers latched on to this idea and began to grow it for this purpose. However, the plant really took root in the 1930s when the Soil Conservation Service used it for erosion control.

Have you ever heard that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions? Well, in the South it is covered with kudzu. Good intentions led to the promotion of a plant that could not be controlled. It is estimated that this stuff can grow a foot per day and can take up to ten years to kill. Life After People, a show on the History Channel, estimated that it would take fifty years for kudzu to completely cover downtown Atlanta. My friends, that is a successful plant.

I described the effect of the plant on the South because the Surrounded by Imbeciles world has its own kind of kudzu. When this blog was birthed, I had grand plans to sarcastically discuss the “problems” in the world. I wrote about the issues of gas pumps; moved on to my pet peeve with Sonic Drive-In; and, continued with the uncomfortable aspects of day spas. Eventually, I altered my attitude and writing style, and these older posts were forgotten.

No one read any of these. And, I mean NO ONE. Then, in mid-January someone clicked on my gas pump rant. I was so stunned that I published a post about how we may forget about posts, but they are always out there. I went on my merry blogging way but realized that more and more people were checking out the gas pump post. As the numbers grew, I had no idea why this lost post suddenly became popular and wrote about it again.

And, that brings me to this post and the comparison to kudzu. “The Problem With Gas Pumps” has continued to grow in readership and popularity. Not only has it become the most popular post in the Surrounded by Imbeciles world, but it has also taken over the field. More people have read the post than the next eight posts combined. It is even sneaking up on “Homepage”.

Please understand that I am not complaining. Nothing makes us bloggers feel better than going to the Stats page and finding out how many people are interested in our written thoughts. That’s the ego in all of us. It just amazes me to watch an old and forgotten post continue its seemingly nonstop growth. Perhaps, kudzu is not the correct metaphor because “gas pumps” is not destroying anything. In fact, it is assisting my blog with its continued growth and improvement (along with all of the fellow bloggers and readers that I really appreciate). It’s just that every time I see the blog-o-meter crank up the numbers I envision that vine growing up the telephone poles.