John D. Bridgers M.D.
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Bull Durham

Bull Durham
Duke University

James Buchanan Duke, it has been said, changed North Carolina more than any other American ever changed their native state.

Such interpretation, of course is open to dubiety when one considers Henry Ford, Thomas Alva Edison and others in this class of commercial and technological entrepreneurs who have altered the cultural landscape with their innovations.  

Be that as it may, no other individual outside those personal mentors who helped shaped my character and outlook have figured more in my good fortune than did "Buck" Duke -- a largesse shared by many others within and without "The Old North State."

However, not all felt warm toward Duke when he was alive, nor do they cherish his legacy.

In his heyday many thought of him, with some good reason, as a conniving "robber baron" of finance, and many now class him as a "Great Satan" for having brought the bane of bad health to the world by making it easy to smoke cigarettes.

But, just as there are few unmixed blessings in this life there are also evils, which are not pure curses.

In any event, this is Duke's story as I recall it from the things I have heard and read, and it's told here with a sense of appreciation.

The name Duke had currency in North Carolina, and to some extent across the land, before the days of James B. Duke.

His father, Washington Duke, had been raised on a tobacco farm in the vicinity of Durham, a "country town" in the throes of becoming a modest city in the days of The Reconstruction.

The town has never lost completely its rural and agrarian air though today it is a far different place than when Washington and his brother Benjamin founded a small factory there for the processing and marketing tobacco products.

Since early colonial days, tobacco has been an economic mainstay of the middle Atlantic settlements and it remains a major entrenched interest in North Carolina.

Just after the Civil War, tobacco usage resided mainly in the smoking of cigars and pipes, the chewing of processed tobacco leaves, and the dipping of snuff -- the later a powder made primarily from ground stems of the tobacco leaf spun-off in the re-drying process.

To my knowledge, the Duke brothers were into all these products save cigars  -- the making of which were by hand, a few by users themselves but mainly by skilled artisans who plied their manual talents in coastal Florida and on the island of Cuba.

The Dukes came into prominence when they produced a small kit of "makings" by which one could roll their own cigarettes -- this consisted of a draw-string bag of shredded, blended tobacco leaves and a packet of gummed tissue papers.

Despite being cumbersome to make, the rolled cigarette quickly gained in popularity, became a leading tobacco product and recruited many new users to the habit of "The Golden Weed."

The "makings" packet for rolling cigarettes produced by the Dukes was sold under the brand name of "Bull Durham," a title derived from the town in which it was processed and a stalwart bull which became its logo.

The trade-mark became a national icon, often seen in publications and widely displayed in paintings on the sides of country barns, the bill boards of that day.

A fellow once pointed out to my father and me that this particular beast had been chosen for the depiction because one of his testicles hung lower than the other.

This undoubtedly was the stuff of myth for I later noted such asymmetry in other bulls, but it stands to reason the scrotum could have figured in the selection for this indeed was the business part of the bull.

As an aside, Merrill Lynch now uses a similar logo, though the dangle of its gonads is indistinct -- either it's really a steer or its special parts are retracted.

The Merrill Lynch emblem is frequently executed as a brass cut-out, and it may be that its "jewels" are as cold as those of the proverbial simian of the same metal.

In any event, on both counts the bull has been the trade-mark of enterprises that have smiled on me.

"Bull Durham" was dominating the marketplace when James B. Duke came into the family business.

The young Duke appreciated the appeal of the cigarette and set out to make it more accessible.

From a warehouse in Virginia, he rescued an abandoned and rusting cigarette-making machine -- its inventor having been unsuccessful in promoting his innovation.

Duke bought the rights to the equipment, made it operable, converted the cigarette into the prime tobacco product and monumentally expanded tobacco usage the world over.

His fortune multiplied and, though the Duke home and manufacturing remained in North Carolina, the headquarters of the expanding empire moved to New York City.

This brought Duke into contact, directly or indirectly, with the other entrepreneurs who were then changing the industrial face of America.

Accordingly Duke explored other ventures in which he could invest his accumulating surplus and by which he could further expand his holdings.

At that time around the turn of the 20th century financial titan -- John D. Rockefeller, Sr. -- stood as the paradigm of entrepreneurship.

He had been a leader in establishing the petroleum industry, first as a provider of oil for illumination and then for its rapidly growing use as fuel for the internal combustion engine, which the automobile was making commonplace.

In the fullness of time he organized the industry by acquiring other companies and fashioning them into a wide-spread cartel through which he controlled the refining and marketing of petroleum products around the globe.

Duke reasoned this an apt model for the tobacco industry and Duke ha soon swallowed R.J. Reynolds, Ligett and Meyers, Lorillard and others into a similar trust controlling the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco world-wide.

This too swelled the funds pouring into his hands and he looked further a field for new opportunities in which to invest and from which to profit. 

Andrew Mellon was another great financier and industrialist of that day, who had, with others, made Pittsburgh the nation's center for steel production and fabrication.

He was lured to look beyond steel-making and banking to other possibilities in metallurgy, and his attention was captured by aluminum.

Here was a metal, light and strong, and the most plenteous ore in nature -- the stuff of clay -- but a metal that defied refinement by traditional smelting.

Again we see the various new industrial processes of that day, one feeding the other and all growing on what they fed on.

Thomas Alva Edison is renowned for many products and processes traceable to his genius for new ideas, but his organizing ability prompted research by committee -- he built a company for invention.

He is possibly best remembered for the incandescent electric light bulb, but perhaps in this field equally important developments were his devices and networks for the mass production and distribution of electricity.

As this utility became available, new uses sprang up for electricity and they are still appearing.

Early on electroplating was discovered -- an electric current causing one metal to "plate" itself onto another when placed as diodes in a conducting solution.

Such electrolysis proved to be the answer for refining aluminum.

Edison's generating system provided the tool whereby the large amounts of electricity energy needed for this process could be provided.

Thus it was that Duke and Mellon joined in a venture to both produce hydro-electric power and use it to process aluminum.

As they cast about for places to build dams for hydroelectric power, Duke promoted the mountain streams of North Carolina as likely sites.

Their first such installation was at Fontana Village on the upper reaches of the Catawba River where a sizeable lake was created along the southern border of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The first aluminum plant was built in nearby Tennessee just below Knoxville with the new town being named Alcoa, an acronym for the Aluminum Corporation of America.

The lake not only drove turbines, but also provided a reservoir of cold deep water for efficient steam generation and created a new mountain recreational area.

In time Duke located power stations along the length of the Catawba River, which today provide electricity for western North Carolina and for most of South Carolina.

So were two enterprises, which would become blue-chip companies, spun off the income from Duke's tobacco interests.

The Duke Power Company has the reputation of being one of the nation's best designed and managed electrical utilities and is a favored investment for many of us Tar Heels.

But not all remained peaceful for the Duke empire.

The giants of industry -- whose fortunes to a great extent were, vis-à-vis, causes and effects of one another -- were ruthless in some ways, and many viewed them as predators rather than benefactors.

They were partially both.

They created a business climate which made the United States a new expansive force on the world's economic stage, but they were also seen to have control which throttled competition, that attribute which guarantees efficiency and security to an open market.

Thus it was that the federal government, led by President Theodore Roosevelt moved into "trust-busting."

So was Duke's tobacco cartel dismantled, but far from razed.

Despite what many saw as avarice he had been prescient enough to leave the companies he had encompassed intact -- they immediately had their autonomy and this rebounded to Duke's advantage.

Also, ALCOA and Duke Power had become freestanding endeavors which were unaffected by actions impinging on the tobacco trust and were rapidly becoming behemoths themselves.

Even with these setbacks in corporate governance, the Duke fortune continued to accrue.

It is written that the Baptist preacher who ministered to the spiritual needs of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. once told him that he no longer managed the family fortune but that his large fortune now controlled him.

The Rockefeller family fortune had become organic -- growing so large as to have developed a life of its own and not only ran itself, but was manipulating the family.

The cleric's advise was that Rockefeller direct the growth of his wealth into other pursuits, hopefully into ventures, which would be of benefit to society as well as to corporate beneficiaries.

And so was born The Rockefeller Foundation which became a model for elysomysonary ventures.

James B. Duke patently perceived a similar threat and opportunity, and began to explore what he could and should do with his ever-expanding worth.

He settled on enhancing education and health care in his home state.

Allegedly he first approached the University of North Carolina, reputedly the oldest state-owned institution of higher learning in the country.

However, his largesse was turned down because it carried with it the expectation of re-naming a cherished state edifice for the philanthropist's family.

It was then that Dr. Kilgo and Dr. Few came upon the scene.

Some years before the Methodists had started a small liberal arts college in Randolph County to the west -- Trinity College.

Even though the campus was moved to Durham in the early days of this century, Trinity remained a small yet influential seat of higher education in the state.

Dr. Kilgo, Trinity's president, approached Duke about endowing this school with his money, and thus was planted the seed for Duke University.

Large tracts of pine forests and farmland were bought up to the west of Durham abutting the Trinity Campus.

An entirely new campus was built around a stone quadrangle, said to have been modeled after the gothic architecture of Princeton University.

This new complex came to be known as "The West Campus" and would be home to the male under-graduate program along with the graduate programs in medicine, religion, law and engineering, while Trinity persisted as "The East Campus" and housed the women's program.

Thus was the school organized when I attended the medical school just after World War II.

It was apparent that nothing had been done by halves …

The thousands of acres of woodlands became the Duke Forest, guaranteeing a picturesque and protected approach to the campus, and, as a model of conservation, supporting the university program in forestry training.

This later curriculum was only recently phased out when it was perceived as redundant in the face of such training being carried out at technical and land-grant institutions.

The original building plan was followed for some years, but later abandoned due to ever-rising cost of such masonry construction and the inappropriateness of narrow mullioned windows for hospital rooms and the like.

Coming east from Greensboro, for miles to the west of Durham, the spire of the stately Duke Chapel can be seen rising above the pine hills -- it being truly a cathedral, the corner-store of The West Campus and the funerary repository of the Duke family.

In the evenings, and on special occasions, the beautiful sounds of the carillon drift across the campus, adding to the ambience of what has become a great university.

Intense negotiation marked the early days of the planning and development of the university concept, particularly as to assuring the fiduciary stability of the institution in the years ahead.

An irrevocable trust was set up in the instrument of The Duke Foundation.

The Foundation became, and remains, the largest single stock-holder of The Duke Power Company -- recently through mergers with a Texas natural gas producer and distributor having became The Duke Energy Corporation.

Over the years The Duke Foundation has also given on-going succor to other non-profit institutions and agencies throughout the Carolinas:  hospitals, schools, children's homes, etc.

The Duke University School of Medicine quickly gained national prominence and today is listed among the several top health care centers in the nation.

It also set a new standard for health care in North Carolina.

Within a few decades the two-year medical schools at The University of North Carolina and Wake Forest College were expanded into four-year programs.

In time when the state teachers college in Greenville became East Carolina University, now the third largest constituent campus in the state university system, a four-year medical school came into being there.

Here there now are four medical, education, research and referral centers in a state in which there had been only a couple of two-year schools before James B. Duke had made his bequest early in the second quarter of this century. 

Today as one enters the city limits of Durham, the promotional signs no longer proclaim the city's role in the tobacco industry, but identify it as "The Health Center of the South."

This is ironic when one considers that organized medicine, the health industry and the federal government consider the use of tobacco as the cause of the nation's most correctible health problem.

Today tobacco interests are but a minor holding in the financial network with The Duke Energy Corporation, and presumably, some residual interest in ALCOA, these being the engines which now drive the enterprise.

So -- on and on goes the organicity of the Duke contribution, continuing not only to change the state, but the nation and the world as well.

We have become so inured to the talk of billions of dollars by government and by Wall Street that we tend to forget how much a million dollars is to an individual.

Just so, we tend to overlook the power and growth of a family fortune such as James B. Duke amassed -- we often fail to consider that accruing wealth will at some point develop "a life of its own" and will continue to grow almost beyond belief and understanding.

When Duke's holdings were being probated after his death, Orange County, the registered seat of family residence, laid down claim to the right of taxation.

If so allowed it was estimated that the folk of Orange County would no longer have to levy other taxes.

Allegedly an amazing fact surfaced -- the worth of the estate followed the law of uncertainty because it was growing faster than it could be counted.

Small wonder that Doris Duke, sole direct heir of James B. Duke was billed as "the richest girl in the world."

What all this shows is that the life of James B. Duke was not a biologic event, but started a process which still goes on, and at least for the immediate future promises to march on in progressive accumulation.

When all is said and done it looks as if, in regard to the Duke legacy, not all is easily said and done.

Today the tobacco industry has developed an odium that paints it as an unmitigated evil. 

It seems forgotten that tobacco helped American colonies get on their feet financially three centuries ago, and that their survival brought a new awareness of liberty to the world. 

However, even then as the recreational use of tobacco was beginning to sweep abroad some warned of its negative side.

King James II of England -- finding his courtiers much intrigued by the use of tobacco -- complained that the "reek" of the habit was unwelcome to him and in his court.

In my childhood -- spent in the heart of tobacco-country -- cigarettes were called "coffin nails" and most ministers proclaimed the unholiness of the habit when custom was to catalogue wrong-doings as sins rather than exploring sin as a separation of the individual from God, whatever the cause.

Most of my fellow physicians and I, though once true tobacco addicts, have given up the habit, but I try not to be "holier-than-thou" about it.

My ambivalence about this was recently brought home when a Duke University spokesman -- at a medical alumni reunion -- made the point that the school's original funding had come from the Duke Power Company and not from tobacco.

I'm sure I was not alone in recognizing this as Orwellian "new speak" by one who would rewrite history to make it more palatable knowing it all really started with those small packets of "Bull Durham" tobacco.

For me, when I ride down a North Carolina highway and on very rare occasions spot a fading, peeling "Bull Durham" sign on the side of a crumbling, dilapidated barn …

Or when I read how one of Louis L'Amour's western heroes handled his small tobacco bag with one hand as he rides his horse, manipulating the draw-string with his teeth and deftly "rolling his smoke" with other alone …

When I scroll throughout these and other insights I must admit that despite the trouble tobacco has caused I remain a beneficiary of the first order, and remember that James Buchanan Duke made a big difference in my life …

And I am not alone.




June 1997


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