The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Easy Money: Ozl Promoters and Investors in the Jazz Age. By Roger M. Olien and
Diana Davids Olien. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1990. Pp. xi+216. Preface, black-and-white photos, glossary, notes, index.
$29.95, cloth; $11.95, paper.)
The title of this work could lead one to believe it aims at entertainment pri-
marily. Actually it is a model of scholarly investigation and crisp, informative
writing that offers advice as well to current makers of public policy; the believ-
ers in "easy money" will be with us always, it seems. Chapter 1, "Getting Rich
Quick," gives background on wide-ranging schemes and scams that lead to
questions such as why did it appear that "'the man who said that a sucker is
born every minute underestimated the supply?"' (p. 3). And why, when success
seemed almost certain, "did so few speculators get rich?" (p. 3). Other chapters
are titled: "The Black Gold Rush" (during the teens and 1920s); "Selling Shares
in a Fortune"; "Money in Trust"; "The Napoleon of Promotion"; "Promotion
on Trial" (in the courts); and "Adaptive Strategies." An "Afterword" ranges
broadly, making comparisons, for example, between scam operations in the
192os and the 1980s.
One way to look at this book is as a study of the subculture that helped
produce the Teapot Dome scandal and a dummy corporation called the Conti-
nental Oil Company, Limited, through which a group of petroleum company
executives stole from their own stockholders. Nearly all of those portrayed in
these pages, however, were optimistic small-timers trying to collect cash from
hundreds of prospective investors whose names often had been acquired from
"sucker lists." The rhetoric used was full of sunshine-or outright lies-and
the pictures frequently "doctored." The "mecca of promotion" in that era was
Fort Worth, Texas.
The roster of promoter-adventurers was a long one, but the following can
serve as examples. Seymour E. Cox was a "genius at promotional illusion" but
"an utter failure at coping with business reality" (p. 104). Beginning in Michi-
gan before World War I, he fostered numerous enterprises in and out of the oil
fields before finally going to the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas-
sometimes known as "the bankers' institute." Another promoter's term in
prison resulted from the name he bore (Robert A. Lee) and his associates who
manipulated him through the General Lee Development Interests to corre-
spond in a chatty style with possible investors as a near relative of the great
Confederate leader-which he was not. One who brought an authentic name
into the oil fields was Frederick A. Cook, a medical doctor who had accom-
panied Robert E. Peary's expedition to Greenland in 1891-1892. Bold and ad-
venturous, though coming under a cloud for his claims regarding exploration,
Cook eventually turned to the oil business and business promotions to solidify
his fame and fortune. Instead, he lost it all. Cook was a dreamer who did not
understand business realities, and he fell back to "sharp and deceptive prac-
tices" in trying to raise money (p. 103). In 1925 he landed in Leavenworth. Of
course, the vast majority of shady or fraudulent operators were not brought to
trial, for political reasons or the lack of money to try them. Also, some pro-
moters, seeing the danger, saved themselves by "adaptive strategies."

430

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed September 21, 2014.