Friday, October 12, 2007

Flashback: In the Battle for DFL Endorsement for U. S. Senate the Puffed Rice Heiress by Marriage Wants to Know What’s with Gene?

[More than 50 years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].

In Spring, 1958, there was to be held the Democratic-Farmer-Labor convention in Minneapolis which would endorse a candidate for U. S. Senate. There were to be two major choices: one was Congressman Gene McCarthy facing multi-millionaire heiress-by-marriage former Ambassador to Denmark Eugenie Anderson, the first woman in U. S. history to represent our country in a major embassy. . As earlier related, I had met Mrs. Anderson some years earlier when she flew into St. Cloud with her good friend Eleanor Roosevelt in 1953.

As an assistant to the 1st district congressman Al Quie, I was called repeatedly beginning in early 1958 by a former St. Cloud newspaper colleague now in public relations in the Twin Cities—a Protestant--who wanted me to meet Mrs. Anderson in whom his firm had a business interest. She lived in Red Wing, a town of some 16,000 on the Mississippi river in Goodhue county in solidly Republican southeastern Minnesota. I couldn’t understand why he wanted me to visit with her, she being a prominent Democrat—although I was favorably disposed since she was very nice to me when she accompanied Mrs. Roosevelt. Soon the reason why became clear. Mrs. Anderson was interested in running for the U. S. Senate and I was the only person my friend knew who, in his estimation, “understood politics.” He thought it would be a treat if I would set aside my partisanship, as he put it, meet her and give her some ideas. I am sure this was his idea not hers. Anyhow, when I was in the Red Wing area I agreed to go to her estate with him for lunch.

Helen Eugenie Moore Anderson was being groomed by her wealthy family for an electoral political career. She had spent a great deal of time and money helping Hubert build the DFL. If elected she would have been the first female Democratic U. S. senator, joining Republican Margaret Chase Smith of Maine as the only women in the body. Were I a Democrat—maybe even as a Republican-- I would be tempted to vote for Eugenie. Walter Judd thought a great deal of her. She was well-informed on foreign and domestic policy, had great contacts and was a tough, bright lady reminiscent of a woman the nation would know favorably in the future, Jeane Kirkpatrick.

We met privately a few weeks before the convention—my old newspaper pal acompanying me to the famed Tower View farm (owned by Eugenie and her husband John), a country squire kind of estate and museum founded by her father-in-law, the late Dr. Alexander Pierce Anderson, an inventor, farmer, educator, scientist, poet, essayist, botanist and naturalist—and not the least a multi-millionaire through the courtesy of The Quaker Oats Company (of which more later).

I was rather uncomfortable at being invited there because, in truth, I was deeply interested in the reelection of Sen. Ed Thye, 62, the longtime Republican, a former governor who not very popular in his own party and waiting to be picked off by the next DFLer. He was a dairy farmer whom Stassen had made commissioner of agriculture. Thye became popular with farmers and small towners and Stassen, in an effort to dump C. Elmer Anderson, promoted Thye to lieutenant governor. Then Stassen enlisted in the Navy (preparatory, he thought, to running for president) and made Thye governor. Thye served honorably and then ran against one of two isolationists in the Senate, Henrik Shipstead, a Farmer-Laborite turned Republican—and defeated him for the Senate.

I decided not to give Eugenie aid and comfort about Thye’s many political weaknesses…his insecurity stemming from a very sparse education (probably little more than grade school)…his becoming afflicted with Potomac fever and adopting ill-suited manners he thought were sophisticated but which didn’t go over with his old farmer friends back home…his misuse of the English language that was becoming folklore…his quarrel with his party over high price supports which he favored.

But it turned out at the lunch that Mrs. Anderson wasn’t interested whatsoever in Thye—but in Gene McCarthy whom she would be vying with for the Democratic endorsement. My old friend had told her I knew a lot about McCarthy (which was correct) and that I would not be reluctant to tell her about some of his foibles.

I had three reasons to accept her request that I tell her about Gene. First, I owed her a lot along with Mrs. Roosevelt who cooperated with me when I was a reporter, enabling me to get a nationwide beat on a UN story I had no business writing about except through the indulgence of both ladies. Second, I figured the easier person for Ed Thye to beat would be Mrs. Anderson and not Gene…because the idea of a woman candidate for the Senate was less popular in that benighted era of nearly fifty years ago than it has since become. Third, whatever I would tell her wouldn’t hurt him because she was so elitist and effete in her charming way that nothing she used against him could possibly be harmful.

All the same, sitting in the glittering dining room of her lavish mansion at Tower View farm, looking out over the wheat fields, was pleasant duty. Rich she was, with the peculiar genteelness of the rich—but rich not for what she had earned but because she had made a very fortunate marriage. At age 49, she was one of the state’s most prominent citizens because of her marriage to a strange, ascetic abstract artist of no special talent who was nevertheless the son of the man who invented…believe if or not…puffed rice! You might as well accept this digression.

The Heiress by Marriage to Puffed Rice “Shot from Guns!”

Her father-in-law, Dr. Alexander Pierce Anderson of Red Wing, made his fortune by inventing what became one of early 20th century America’s favorite ready-to-eat cereal. He demonstrated his invention at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1902. It caused such a stir as a breakfast cereal that he started his own company, Anderson Puffed Rice, and sold it to Quaker Oats for many millions. Little did I imagine that I’d be employed by the self-same Quaker Oats company six years later.

How did Professor Anderson imagine puffed cereals for breakfast? He was a genius of sorts—a Swedish son of immigrants, a farmer, scientist, poet, botanist and zoologist who made a fortune on the theory that the nucleus of a starch granule contains a miniscule amount of water—so that when he heated it, it would explode, the tiny amount of condensed water in the granules flashing into steam during the explosion and turning the mass of expanded granules into a porous puffed mass. He tasted the stuff, pronounced it good (even better with sugar and cream) and received 25 patents on the process as well as a retort gun that he demonstrated at the 1902 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

Now what to do with it? He figured that he had just invented the first ready-to-eat breakfast cereal but he wanted to perfect the process. He set up a puffing gun at the Minneapolis Steel & Manufacturing Company and was unsuccessful in hustling the product to merchants in the Mill City. Besides, the puffing gun made so much noise that Minneapolis’ city fathers objected and his landlord complained that it shook their building’s foundation.

He then decided he knew what to do. He would contact Quaker Oats and see if it was interested. It was, decidedly so. The company hired Alexander Pierce Anderson, made his company a subsidiary and moved him to Chicago. There they set up a laboratory on Dearborn street and contracted with the Empire Mill much farther down the street. In producing the stuff, he made so many explosions that the city of Chicago was angered. So Quaker moved Anderson together with his business to Quaker’s plant in Akron, Ohio. There it was languishing until the governor of Ohio (who was at the same time a Quaker director, the era not being too touchy about mixture of government and business) came to watch the explosions from the puffing machine built on Anderson’s patent. Anderson would fire the charge and a spray of puffed wheat would fall into a net—but the Akron neighborhood was complaining and Anderson’s hearing was failing.

The governor, Myron T. Herrick, a Civil War veteran, knew what was wrong. He said the machine was in fact a gun but with no recoil mechanism. He arranged from a National Guard artillery officer in Cleveland to look at the machine. The officer adapted an artillery piece as a puffer—using a cannon left over from the Spanish-American war. Anderson and a team of engineers worked around the clock, finally settling on a cannon that was pulled on a flatcar on a narrow-gauge railroad track. When the closure on the gun muzzle was knocked loose by a man swinging a large wooden hammer, a huge explosion occurred and a rain of puffed rice was caught in a screen. Then they devised a stationery gun which discharged its puffed rice into an expansion chamber. The gun’s rotating barrel cut the heating time from 45 minutes to three and a half, producing 11 times the original production. They ran production near the edge of town and soon they were up to their navels in puffed rice. Quaker then embarked on the earliest known ready-to-eat cereals campaign for Puffed Rice.

Then Dr. Anderson did the same thing with wheat. Quaker packaged the result as Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat with the slogan—very true—“Shot from Guns!” It was an overnight sensation and Professor Anderson with growing equity in Quaker became a very rich man indeed. He returned to Red Wing, Minnesota and bought Tower View Farm with a dining room that overlooked verdant fields—the dining room Mrs. Anderson and I enjoyed our luncheon repast in Spring, 1958.

“Tell Me, What Manner of Man is Eugene McCarthy?”

“I wouldn’t dream of asking you to speak ill of Ed Thye,” said Ambassador Anderson. “Let us adjourn to the drawing room where Henrietta will bring our coffee”—after which when we were settled down on a magnificent divan, she said: “Let me say at the outset that I understand you know Congressman McCarthy very well which I must admit I do not. Further that I am rather…oh…put off by him. He seems a very intellectual and deeply penetrating man but at the same time very cynical if you know what I mean, someone who seems to be laughing up his sleeve all the while he speaks, speaks in a kind of semi-audible murmur. I have asked myself what kind of candidate he would be. Oh it’s all very well to be an Irishman in St. Paul of course, well-connected in the Catholic church which is very important there, of course—but I also perceive he is not very energetic. The impressions he has given in Congress is that he would just as soon adjourn to his office and read poetry. Tell me—you know him—is this the kind of attitude that in your estimation would convey well in Minnesota?”

I had to tell her no it was not—if in fact Gene were to adopt that style of campaign across the state.

“But, my dear, isn’t this man some 40 years old? Do you expect him to change his style like that? I also understand they don’t get along very well either.”


“He and Abigail. She’s from Wabasha, right around here, you know.”

I know nothing about that. I would say that Abigail is probably the better politician of the two. She’s an old-fashioned regular politician who wants to win and who is willing to be at factory gates and all that stuff. (I was wondering how Eugenie would fare at factory gates; figured she wouldn’t so it would help my candidate Ed Thye enormously were she to become the candidate.

“Tom—if I may call you that…”

Of course.

“Deep in my soul is the feeling that bigotry and anti-religious feeling is anathema. I am sure from the short time you have known me you understand that.”

Of course.

“But we must face the ugly facts that--. Ah, Henrietta is here with the coffee. Thank you my dear. Cream? Sugar?”

“You were touching on the Catholic faith, I believe, Ambassador,” said my Protestant friend.

“Yes. I know what Catholics believe. My dearest friend is Catholic. But I understand—and I do so want to better understand—that he is a rebel even in his church. How so? I mean--could you explain—that is if you would--explain how?”

No comments:

Post a Comment