February 2020 - Week 1 Edition
The Dow Fell While Gold Rose
The Dow fell 603 points Friday while gold rose nearly $20, from $1,570 to a 7-year high of $1,590 before settling at $1,589, ending the month of January up nearly 5%, compared with a declining Dow and S&P 500. Historically, February is a weak month for stocks and with the Coronavirus added to the regular threats in the Middle East, Europe (Brexit) and Asia, the market could sink further later in February. The impeachment threat seems to be over, but the “bad losers” have vowed to attack Trump again if he wins in 2020, especially if the Democrats gain control of the Senate (and retain control of the House) next year.
World War II Heroes on the Home Front – Saving Metals, Grease and Rubber
Last month I met a real hero from World War II – Gene Metcalfe who was left for dead in the Battle of Market Garden in September 1944, enduring pain from his injuries and mistreatment in a prisoner of war camp and returning to his surprised and thankful family after the war. He is now 97 and still sharp. The story of his life is told in a new book by Marcus Nannini called “Left for Dead at Nijmegen”.
There were heroes at home too. My mother was one. As a schoolteacher, not yet married, she played a leading role in organizing “lard drives” in Rapides Parish (county), Louisiana. Excess fat from cooking could be used as a key ingredient in explosives. Fats can be used to make glycerin, which can be turned into nitroglycerin, an explosive, so the War Production Board created what they called the American Fat Salvage Committee to encourage housewives to save their fat and lard and donate it to the war effort.
There was a great public relations effort to get housewives to save their bacon fat (or fat from any cooked meat) or lard and donate it to the government. Disney Studios even used Minnie Mouse to encourage this effort. In one film, the announcer said: “A skillet of bacon grease is a little munitions factory. Every year, two billion pounds of waste kitchen fats are thrown away – enough glycerin for 10 billion rapid-fire cannon shells. Making a roast? Don’t throw out those lovely puddles of grease drippings – save them for our boys on the front line.” Typical slogans in this grease-saving program included these:
“One tablespoon of kitchen grease fires five bullets” or:
“One pound of kitchen fats makes enough dynamite to blow up a bridge.”
Not every household got the message, so my mother organized the mothers of the children in her school to save their cooking grease and donate it as a unit, so in June 1943, mom received a letter from Basil B. Cobb, executive secretary for the War Production Board in Louisiana, commending her for her leadership in the collection of 8,450 pounds of grease by schoolchildren in their parish (county):
“I have been informed that you were the ‘spark plug’ of the drive, and that a large percent of the grease collected was due to your inspiring leadership and hard work. It is this spirit we depend upon on the home front as well as the fighting front.” – Basil B. Cobb, War Production Board
During World War II, almost every key commodity became scarce and had to be recycled or rationed. Rubber was particularly scarce, so you couldn’t buy regular tires and most old tires were recycled for military use. If it were not for the rapid invention of synthetic rubber, our Jeeps, planes and tanks could not have been mass produced as they were. American patriotism and creativity made victory possible.
When it comes to our coins, there was a military angle, too. The copper used for the Lincoln penny was too valuable to “waste” when it was needed for use in shell casings, anti-aircraft ammunition and copper wire, so the Mint stopped making copper pennies in 1943. The U.S. Mint produced nearly 1.1 billion cents made of pale-gray zinc-coated steel in 1943, diverting 3,500 tons of copper to the war effort.
Likewise, the nickel in the wartime “nickel” (5-cent piece) was too valuable, so the Nickel became 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese – with no nickel. Oddly, silver is more precious than nickel, so these coins later became valuable for their “melt” content, but they looked terrible due to the corrosion caused by the manganese alloy. I used to buy these “dirty” nickels at banks in the 1960s and sell them to dealers for 8 cents for movie money!
In 1944, the Treasury abandoned its experiment with steel cents, since they were so ugly. From 1944 to 1946, they minted cents from the brass in salvaged old cartridge cases. The Mint resumed the pre-war copper penny in 1947, but World War II was a time that brought America together through conservation. This is yet another example of why collectors consider money history in your hands! Collect your history today!
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