Saturday, November 25, 2017

From Stevedore to Captain

The Civil War began as an effort to preserve the union, but as time went on, the North seized the moral high ground by making freedom for southern slaves a major goal of the war.  This did not mean, however, that the North believed in the equality of all men.

It was generally believed that the Negro was mentally inferior and intellectually incapable of performing complex tasks.  Even the abolitionist John Brown believed that the freed slaves would have to be led and supervised like children.  While gathering arms for his proposed black army that would sweep through the south ending slavery, Brown gathered pikes, believing that firearms were too complicated for Negroes.

In the North, for the first years of the war, a law that had been enacted in 1792 prohibited blacks from enlisting or fighting in the war.  Despite the fact that black soldiers had served with distinction in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, even as white men were drafted, black men were not allowed to even volunteer.  The remarkable accomplishments of Robert Smalls helped change this.

Robert Smalls was born a slave, to parents who were slaves, in South Carolina.  Today, the stereotypical view of slaves are of men who exclusively worked in the fields picking cotton or tobacco.  Actually, many slaves worked in town as craftsmen, such as carpenters, blacksmiths, or musicians, who earned wages that were turned over to their masters.  Smalls was hired out as a stevedore, loading and unloading the shallow-draft ships that plied the coastal plantations.

Cotton was the principal cash crop, and every small community had a cotton press built near a coastal inlet or the mouth of a small river or creek.  Loose cotton was pressed (usually by mule, or occasionally, steam power) into bales weighing between 400 and 500 pounds.  Shallow-draft ships would then carry the heavy bales to a larger port where they could be offloaded, sold, and then loaded onto ships bound for Northern U.S. or British mills.

It was on one of those shallow-draft ships that Smalls rose to prominence.  By hard work and natural ability, the uneducated slave became, first, a seaman, and eventually a wheelman (had he been white, Smalls would have been called a pilot). 

Pilots did more than simply steer the ship:  they navigated the course, and most important, had an encyclopedic knowledge of the local sandbars and reefs along the shallow shores of the south all the way down to Florida.  Pilots knew how to interpret the currents, knew the locations of uncharted docks, and had memorized where lay the submerged tree stumps that could easily rip the bottom off a wayward vessel.  On many vessels, a good pilot was paid more the ships's captain.

Smalls was a wheelman on the Planter, and his wages went to his master, Henry McKee of Beaufort, South Carolina.  The Planter  (pictured at right as a prewar merchant ship) was 147 feet long, with a beam of 30 feet.  A steam-powered side-wheeler, with a draft less than four feet, she was the perfect ship for calling on small ports and inlets up and down the coast, transporting heavy loads of cotton.

After the fall of Fort Sumter and the start of the war, the CSS Planter was the perfect ship for transporting men and supplies for the Confederacy.  Stationed in Charleston Harbor and now lightly fortified and carrying two small cannons, she was capable of moving more than 1000 men along with supplies up and down the coast despite the deep draft ocean-going vessels of the US Navy blockading the port.

Smalls continued as the wheelman of the Planter, which by now had a crew of eight slaves and four white officers.  Exactly when Smalls began thinking of escaping from slavery is unclear, but he must have been inspired by the sight of Union ships stationed just past Fort Sumter.  Smalls and the other slaves began plotting their run for freedom.

Against direct orders to the contrary, the captain and his officers slept ashore.   In the early morning hours of May 13, 1862, Smalls fired up the ship's boilers as normal--only a few hours early.   No one paid any attention as the ship left the the military docks and proceeded down the river, to a rendezvous point at which it quietly pulled alongside another vessel, taking on the wives and families of the escaping slaves.

As the vessel passed each Confederate checkpoint, the ship gave the appropriate signal.  while passing the guns of Fort Sumter, Smalls donned the Captain's hat, stood on the bow with his back turned to the sentries.  When the ship's whistle sounded the appropriate signal--two longs and a short--the men standing guard on shore waved at the vessel.  Politely, Smalls waved back, while being careful to keep his face averted.

Once past the fort, the deception ended as the Planter did not turn to continue down the coast, but steamed directly for the nearest Federal ship, the USS Onward.  The danger was no longer the Confederate guns, but convincing the naval ships that the Planter was not attempting to attack.  As the Onward's Captain, J.F. Nichols, prepared to fire a broadside into the Confederate ship, Smalls ordered the crew to raise a white sheet as a signal that the ship intended to surrender. 

Not only did the US Navy accept the surrender, but they treated the ship as a captured prize vessel, meaning that the crew was entitled to a cash payment equal to half the value of the ship, plus the value of the cargo--in this case four dismounted cannons and 200 pounds of ammunition.  Smalls would eventually receive $6,500 in prize money ($150,411.12 in 2017 dollars).  In addition, the rear admiral in charge of the Charleston blockade kept Smalls as pilot aboard the new USS Planter.

More valuable than the ship itself, Smalls turned over to the US Navy the captain''s code book and maps showing the location of Confederate mines (then called torpedoes) and coastal gun emplacements.  Back in Charleston, the ship's white Confederate officers were facing court martial.

The escaping slaves with their stolen warship were a propaganda coup for the North, with newspapers and magazines turning Smalls into a national hero.  Harper's Weekly embellished the story, having "an aging darky" outwitting the Confederate checkpoints.  In actuality, Smalls was only 23. 

After touring Northern churches, lecturing on the war and slavery, Smalls returned to the Planter, using his knowledge about the South Carolina coast while he participated on over a dozen raids.  In one such action, while under fire, the white Captain fled below decks seeking safety forcing Smalls to take over command of the ship and finish the raid.  Shortly after the raid, he was appointed the ship's captain, a post he held for the rest of the war.

Of the approximate 200,000 black men who served in either the army or the navy, fewer than 80 served as commissioned officers.  

When Smalls escaped, it was still a year before the North would allow Blacks to serve in the Army, and his exploits were among the arguments that eventually allowed blacks to enlist.  Even after Blacks were finally allowed to enlist, initially their monthly pay was only $10 per month with $3 subtracted for uniforms and food.   White soldiers received $13 a month with no deductions.  This contrasted with Smalls, who received $150 a month as a ship's captain.

After the war, Smalls, a Republican, served in the constitutional convention that wrote the new constitution for South Carolina, where he co-authored the civil rights clause.  Serving in both the state's House and Senate, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1874 where he served until 1887, after Reconstruction had ended and the state's Democratic Party had disenfranchised Blacks.  Smalls returned to Beaufort, South Carolina as a Customs Agent.  When he applied for a pension, it was discovered that all of the official paperwork had been lost and the Navy refused to grant his pension despite the numerous newspaper and magazine articles documenting his career.  His pension, $30 a month, was eventually authorized by an act of Congress.

Significant among his legislation is a bill authorizing a naval coaling station at Port Royal, South Carolina.  The small outpost grew rapidly over the years and its name was changed several times.  Today, it is called Paris Island Marine Corp Training Depot, where it provides basic training to 19,000 newly inducted Marines a year.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Take this Book and Shelve It

In the last few weeks, I have spent a lot of time in the Enema U library.  This is hardly surprising, as I have spent a significant amount of my life in libraries and bookstores.  (And in  bars—the majority of the rest of my life has been foolishly wasted.  As proof of my love of book collections, I can offer this photo of the library cards from my desk drawer.  Note that these do not include the ones currently in my wallet.)

What I was utterly surprised to find in the library last week were patrons sitting, laughing, and eating pizza.  For some reason, the library has added a coffee shop and now allows food and beverages among the books.  I earnestly desired to kick over the tables and drive out the livestock, but I had forgotten my whip.

The library reminded me of the late Border’s Bookstores, where I always had trouble shopping for books while being forced to listen to the dreadful music blasting from the loudspeakers.  Personally, I am convinced that the main reason the entire chain went bankrupt was that no one contemplated purchasing a book while listening to a recording of someone breaking up a pillow fight in a sorority house by beating a bass drum with a cat.

Librarians are trying desperately to find some way to keep their jobs, or at least to keep the libraries even remotely relevant.   I don’t blame them, since for some reason, the public now believes that libraries serve three main functions:  First, for warehousing of old paper that has not yet been scanned.  Second, as a place to help the dwindling number of people who lack internet in their homes to keep current on Facebook.  Third, as  Public Bathrooms for the homeless.

Some libraries are reducing the number of books they hold in order to make room for meeting rooms, computer labs, and various forms of work rooms.  I’ve read that some libraries are adding rooms with art supplies and 3-D printers for patrons to use.  At least one library has added a workshop full of tools that can be checked out by modelers, so-called “maker spaces”.

If libraries are my temples, then count me as an orthodox conservative worshipper.  I would prefer my library to have more books and a lot less coffee.  I cannot understand why libraries sell books, but I must own a hundred such volumes stamped Ex-Libris.  It should be illegal for a library to sell a book:  they are stealing from future patrons.  (Don’t tell me it is a space problem.  If you have room for that damn coffee bar, you have room for more books.)

The greatest library of the past is the Library of Alexandria, which supposedly burned.  Actually, most scholars today believe that the library eventually was destroyed by the same forces that kill libraries today:  a lack of support and declining public interest.  When Julius Caesar was courting Cleopatra, she supposedly told him to take as many books home from the great library as he wanted.  Caesar supposedly took thousands of scrolls, wanting to build a great library in Rome.

While Julius Caesar wouldn’t live long enough to build his library, after his death Asinius Pollo took up the task, building the first Roman library with the collection equally divided into works in Latin and Greek.  He added statues, paintings, and reading rooms.  Our concept of what a library should look like comes largely from the early Roman libraries.  Rome built lots of libraries, even adding them to the public baths so that even the poor had access to books.  By 350 A.D., Rome had 39 library buildings.

As Rome slowly crumbled, so did its libraries.  By 400 A.D., Rome was slowly closing her libraries.  Over the last decade, libraries all over Europe and America have shuttered their doors, as well.  (Recently, a junior high school librarian told me that over her 35-year tenure in the school library, her budget and the number of books in the collection had decreased every single year.  When the taxpayers voted in a large bond issue for the school library, the funds were used to turn some of the library space over to building new offices for the school administration.)

Libraries in America got off to something of a rocky start.  Though Benjamin Franklin started the first American lending library in 1731, libraries were still both rare and small in the new country when the British burned the Library of Congress in 1815 (along with the National Archives).  To this day, the largest destroyers of books in American history have been the British Army, Tennessee school boards, and various evangelical churches.  

The great boom in American libraries occurred at the dawn of the Twentieth Century, largely because of the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie, who as a poor young immigrant had educated himself at a public library.  Carnegie eventually built 2500 libraries across America, including “Colored Libraries” for the South.  (Jim Crow laws in places like Mississippi forbade library and school books read by “coloreds” to be read by whites.  Those laws were still in force during my childhood.  To this day, many Southern states continue to treat education as a communicable disease.  Today, in order to not appear discriminatory, the same states have eliminated the problem by not teaching anyone how to read.)

From roughly 1900 to the end of World War I, huge libraries were built in New York City, Philadelphia, and at Harvard and Columbia University, and at the Army War College.  When libraries grew to hold millions of volumes, old wooden bookshelves would no longer suffice—there was simply no longer enough space.  The Snead and Company—manufacturers of bookshelves, solved the problem by building heavy duty steel bookshelves with adjustable racks.  These bookcases rested on large marble slabs and were tall enough to help support the upper floors of the library.  Despite having adjustable shelves—enabling frames to be adjusted to hold more bookshelves—the bookshelves become more stable after being loaded with books, becoming an integral part of the building’s superstructure.

These huge heavy duty libraries were necessary to hold the rapidly expanding number of books that libraries housed.  (Or, in the case of Enema U, due to the rapidly expanding bulk of the dean of the library.)

For fifty years, the Snead bookshelves were synonymous with large libraries.  They are the basis of the Library of Congress and they hold the ten million volumes of the library at Harvard University.  But, they are no longer modern, they take up too much room, and they limit the function of a library to only—gasp!—holding books.  When the main library of New York City decided to move a large part of its collection to New Jersey in order to provide space for more meeting rooms….well, it couldn’t.  The structural engineers who studied the problem discovered that if the books were removed from the huge Snead bookshelves, the building would collapse. 

Which brings us to the lesson I sincerely hope librarians all over the world will take to heart:  When you take the books out, the library will collapse—in more ways than one.   

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thinking Inside the Box

The history of warfare is full stories of unintended consequences, in which small actions by the military  trigger events that continue to affect the civilian world long after the fighting stops.  For example, when the British Navy sought uniform pulley blocks in sufficient quantity during the Napoleonic War, they inadvertently helped develop the concept of manufacturing interchangeable parts, fueling the Industrial Revolution. 

In the same conflict, the French offered a cash reward to anyone who could develop a method of preserving food suitable for use on ships at sea.  The prizewinning process was the method for safely canning food.  (This also means that the can of Wolf Brand Chili I’m having for dinner tonight  qualifies as French Cuisine, so I’ll serve it on the good china.)

Which brings us to shipping containers, those aluminum shipping boxes that seem to be everywhere.  I was stopped at a railroad crossing the other day and it seemed that half of the passing train consisted of flatcars carrying 40’ shipping containers.  It seems that the venerable boxcar is slowly becoming as extinct as the caboose.

While we think of container shipping as a recent development, the idea of shipping freight in standardized boxes that could be offloaded onto trucks or ships actually goes back over a century, but the idea was slow to be adopted because of numerous problems.  Wooden boxes fell apart too easily and steel boxes were too heavy, but the biggest problem of all was the constant interference by the Interstate Commerce Commission whose bizarre regulations all but prohibited any improvements in shipping technology.  Attempts were made to develop containerized cargo during the Great Depression, but the Federal Government forbade it, fearful that it would hurt employment.

This fear of improved technology disrupting the status quo is called creative destruction, and some economists believe that this irrational fear of the future has been the biggest obstacle to the creation of wealth all through human history.  

Here in the US, there was fierce union opposition to containerized shipping.  Even after the container ports in New Jersey were killing off the shipping industry in New York, unions on the docks in New York were still demanding that companies hire crews of twenty-one men to load a ship when the job was actually done by three men and a crane.

On April 26, 1956, a quiet revolution occurred on the docks of Newark, New Jersey.  Malcolm McLean had managed to quietly dance between the regulations and load 56 aluminum truck trailer bodies onto the SS Ideal-X, a former World War II tanker that had been converted to cargo use.  Five days later, a crane lifted the truck bodies off the ship in Houston, Texas.  The facts that Nabisco had just shipped its baked goods to Texas a little faster than normal and at a fraction of the usual cost was largely ignored at the time—as were the facts that that the goods had arrived in better condition than usual and that the cargo had suffered none of the usual  dockside “shrinkage".

What McLean had just done was eliminate the connection between geographical locations and manufacturing.  Factories no longer had to be built near ports and population centers.  While full implementation was still decades in the future, eventually economists would realize that fast, safe shipping all but eliminated the cost of transportation in manufactured goods.  Today, it costs more to upgrade the radio in your new imported car than it does to ship it from Asia to America. And the fact that your new radio may have been shipped to multiple countries for relatively minor steps during the manufacturing process does not figure significantly into the cost.

Which brings us to the Vietnam War and LBJ.  (Yeah, as a transition, that sucked, but remember, I have to tell this whole story in about 1500 words or people won’t stay on the page long enough for the advertisers to pay me the fraction of a penny per reader that runs this site.)

In 1965, we had roughly 24,000 soldiers in Viet Nam The logistics of supplying them was such a nightmare that the Navy was pulling rusty old World War II cargo ships out of mothballs in a desperate attempt to supply the troops.  Long before they had solved this problem, President Johnson suddenly announced the tripling of forces in the country.  Logistics immediately went from bad to totally fornicated skyward. 

The situation got worse after the Pentagon decided that since internal transportation in South Vietnam was poor (few highways, only one deepwater port, no real rail system, and dilapidated docks and harbors) the military would run a push supply system instead of a pull supply system.  This meant that instead of shipping to Vietnam what units had requisitioned, the Pentagon would ship everything to Vietnam in anticipation of future requisitions.  Or to put in more modern terms, instead of being Amazon with Prime shipping, the Army was going to be a Super Walmart.  And the people who were deciding how to stock the shelves knew nothing of shipping, the facilities available to unload and warehouse the inventory, or even the needs of combat units fighting in a jungle in Southeast Asia.

We shipped everything and the kitchen sink to Vietnam.  And the kitchen.  In triplicate and in every available color.

The docks in Vietnam were a nightmare.  First, there weren’t enough docks for the ships.  So we towed a DeLong dock from South Carolina, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific to the new port of Cam Ranh Bay.  A DeLong dock is a 300’ barge with holes in it, designed to towed into position and secured with pilings driven through the holes.  This was to be the first of many such docks towed to Vietnam. 

Even if the docks had been there, most of the harbors were too shallow to allow deep-water cargo ships.  An LST (Landing Ship Tank) would sail adjacent to the cargo ships, the freight would be transferred by hand to the LST, which would ferry the goods to the improvised dock…where there were not enough warehouses for the material to be stored.  The military would usually just leave the goods on the ship until needed, turning a valuable cargo ship into a floating warehouse.  And usually, by the time the goods were needed, it usually took too long to unload them.  Eventually, so many ships were waiting to be unloaded that many were sent to wait in the Philippines so the Pentagon could avoid paying combat pay to the crews waiting.  And since nobody knew where (or even if something was), commanders in the field screamed for more supplies, which were shipped in triplicate, adding to the logistic nightmare.

This mess was largely cleaned up by Malcolm McLean, whose company was now called SeaLand, who lobbied and eventually persuaded the Pentagon to give him the contract for containerized freight to Vietnam.  His flat rate shipping contract paid for loading containers, shipping them to Vietnam, and offloading the containers by crane onto waiting truck bodies and delivering the cargo to any desired warehouse within thirty miles of the port.  His shipping system was run by computer with an IBM punch card for each shipping container.  Naturally, he charged enough to take the empty container back to the states and still make a good profit.

Eventually, SeaLand was shipping 1200 containers a month to Vietnam.  McLean bought new ships and an ever increasing number of aluminum shipping containers.

It is almost impossible to determine how much profit McLean made from this, but we can safely say his company was very profitable.  Profitable enough that containerized freight, although still in its infancy, expanded quickly.  McLean designed new ships, built the special docks necessary to handle containerized freight in new port cities, and expanded his operations into Europe. 

Which brings us to those unintended consequences that I mentioned in the first paragraph.  McLean rather quickly decided that since he had all those empty containers over in Southeast Asia, and since he was already being paid to ship them back, any money he could make shipping goods east would just be so much extra profit.  So he went to Japan and asked the fledgling electronics industry if it was interested in shipping goods at a discount to the United States.

His first customer was Matsui—but it sure as hell wasn't the last.  Just how much the Japanese electronics industry profited by having access to cheap containerized shipping that early on is impossible to gauge.  Exports of goods shipped to the United States increased dramatically, changing sleepy American west coast ports into active centers of commerce.

Containerized shipping was spreading worldwide and Japan was going to benefit from it even if McLean hadn’t made that initial and early offer.  And Japanese electronics firms were going to compete with American companies eventually, but there is no doubt that it would have taken years longer for companies like Sony and Matsui to penetrate the American market.  Perhaps long enough for the American electronics companies to expand and find a way to compete.

Today, I read in the news that Oakland is going to convert an old Army base into the largest container port on the West coast.  When completed, it will be capable of handling the new Super Container ships, the largest of which is the new OOCL Hong Kong.  Ships are measured today by their TEU capacity, or how many twenty foot long containers they can carry (even though most containers today are forty foot units).  This new monster ship is rated at 21,143.

Or put is this way.  She can carry the exact same as the old SS Ideal-X could carry—on 209 trips.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe

A colleague of mine once told me that whenever he was doing research in the library, after he had located the desired book, he turned around and selected a volume at random from the opposite shelf.  He called this ‘serendipity research’ and claimed it frequently gave him new insight into the topic he was researching.

I’ve tried this method a few times myself, but unfortunately, I have a mind like a ping-pong ball.  I start out researching British logistics in the Revolutionary War and end up reading about sewage treatment plants in Mozambique.  The problem seems to be that I will read anything from soup cans to westerns—anything but romance novels, that is.  (My taste in westerns is old-fashioned:  the hero is only allowed to kiss either the schoolmarm or his horse.  I recommend the works of James Reasoner, a grade school classmate.)

Now that I’ve retired from the classroom, I've decided to give myself a small gift:  I’m going to buy and reread all of the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout—in order.  After a protracted search, I think there is space on the top of the second bookcase in the guest bedroom.  I thought I had located space for another entire bookcase, but The Doc stubbornly insists that the guest bedroom should contain at least one bed.

If you have never read any of these books, I envy you the enjoyment of first discovering the brilliant armchair detective, Nero Wolfe.   When Stout created the characters of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin—Wolfe’s assistant and narrator of the stories—the American version of the mystery was still new.  In the early 1920’s, Carroll John Daly invented the hard-boiled detective story, and when he did, murder left the British vicar’s rose garden to enter the seedy dark alley of the American metropolis.

Enough has been said about Nero Wolfe—the character—what drove me to the library stacks this week was trying to figure out who Rex Stout was.  Who was this man who wrote his books on a schedule of thirty-eight days, completed them on time, and never did re-writes?  And most importantly, how did he come up with Nero Wolfe?  There have been some fantastic answers proposed:  Was he the result of an illicit affair between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler?  Or was he the son of Arsene Lupin?  Just as most people mistakenly "identify" Harper Lee with "Scout" in To Kill A Mockingbird instead of “Boo Radley” because the story is written in the first person, by the same token Rex Stout is frequently miss-identified with Nero Wolfe, yet his personality is much closer to that of Wolfe's assistant, Archie Goodwin.

An American detective needs an American origin, and I think I have some of the answers—and if I am correct Wolfe’s origin is as surprising as one of the endings in the detective’s most infamous murder mysteries.

Rex Stout came from a long line of hardy Quakers, and his American roots dated back over 400 years.  Growing up, he heard fascinating stories about his ancestors. In 1642, Penelope Van Princin was scalped and partially disemboweled, yet she somehow survived to have 19 children, and lived to see her 109th birthday.  A century later, another ancestor, Regina Harman, spent 19 years as a captive among the Native Americans;  still another ancestor was the sister of Benjamin Franklin.

Stout was born in Indiana in 1886 and after graduating high school early, drifted to New York City—the future home of Nero Wolfe—to enlist in the Navy in July of 1905.  As a condition of his being accepted in the Navy, Stout had to have his tonsils removed.  He paid a doctor two of his last three dollars so he could undergo the tonsillectomy while reclining in a barber chair—in order to report for duty the following day (after he had spent the night "recuperating" in agony on the floor of the barber shop where the surgery had been done!).

The next day, Stout passed his physical and enlisted for four years.  This was a time of transition for Navy, and the receiving ship where Stout was trained was one of the last three-masted vessels still in service.  After training as a yeoman pay clerk, Stout was assigned to the USS Mayflower, the presidential yacht, which was frequently used by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a naval historian, and an ardent—if frequently sea-sick—sailor.  The president had received the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a settlement to the Sino-Japanese War aboard the yacht.  Accompanying Roosevelt, Stout traveled 20,000 miles aboard the Mayflower, visiting such as exotic ports as The Canal Zone, Havana, Guantanamo, Argentina, and making four separate trips to Puerto Rico.  While on shore leave in Santo Domingo, Stout was in a brawl that resulted in his being shot in the leg. 

The presidential yacht could barely make 20 knots, and the president frequently passed the time by reading and discarding popular fiction books.  Rex Stout frequently snatched up these books and read the British detective stories of Anna Katherine Green, Israel Zangill, and Lord Godfrey Benson. 

Stout (pictured at left on the Mayflower) later confided that he wasn’t too impressed with President Roosevelt.  He disliked his choice in literature (he was dismayed to find that Teddy disliked Thomas Paine), he hated the President’s overtly macho attitude, and on at least one occasion, he disliked the president's losing his temper.  Teddy Roosevelt demanded that his yacht be run to strict regulations and Stout thought the ship exhibited a little too much, pointless ‘spit and polish’.

Decades later, Stout would admit that he patterned the New York policemen, whom he called the “flat-footed myrmidons”, after some of the worst officers of the Mayflower.  But, what if that was not the only inspiration he got from the ship?

Nero Wolfe was obese, sedentary, and the antithesis of archetypal virile male.  In short, he was the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt who championed the vigorous life.  Whereas Wolfe was contemplative and given to long periods of reflection, Teddy was impulsive and quick to act.  Roosevelt delighted in long hikes while Nero Wolfe never left his beloved brownstone residence.  Roosevelt had a rifle range and a boxing ring on the White House lawn.  The closest Nero Wolfe got to outdoor activity was raising orchids in a hothouse on the top floor of his brownstone (In a private moment, Rex Stout admitted to hating orchids, but liking lilies).  Teddy Roosevelt was practically a teetotaler, while Wolfe consumed five quarts of beer a day (though frequently promising to restrict his consumption in the future to only two quarts a day).

Roosevelt’s family was wealthy, and the president never gambled, eschewing all non-physical games.  While on board the Mayflower, Stout was paid $26.20 a month, and estimated he earned another $150 a month playing whist (with the officers).

Teddy Roosevelt loved the military.  He formed his own volunteer regiment of cavalry to fight in the Spanish American War, rising to the rank of Colonel and being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his exploits on the San Juan Hills.  Rex Stout, after serving two years in the navy, secured a bogus letter showing his acceptance into law school and purchased his discharge for $80. 

In short, I maintain that President Theodore Roosevelt was the inspiration—more like the "anti-inspiration"—for Nero Wolfe.  Now, as I reread the 33 novels and 39 various novellas and short stories, I frequently find Teddy Roosevelt hiding in Nero Wolfe's mirror.

Nor is that the last influence I discovered at the library.  Rene Magritte, the Belgian surrealist painter, named several of his paintings after detective stories by Dashiell Hammett and Rex Stout.  His painting, The Companions of Fear, painted during World War II was influenced by the Nero Wolfe story, The League of Frightened Men...

But, that’s a story for another time.