The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
When James Webb took over NASA, around 6,000 people worked for the agency. When he left in 1968, his payroll numbered nearer 60,000. But that's no indication of the real growth of the space industry, since seven out of every eight workers involved in Apollo were employed by private contractors.
Now let's suppose that every day, each of those 500,000 workers spent a dime on a candy bar from a vending machine at the plant. Okay, some might have been on a diet, but others perhaps had a Babe Ruth and a Butterfinger on the same day, so dieters and bingers probably canceled each other out. That meant a gross return of $50,000 per day from candy on the Apollo project alone. Now that would have been a good franchise to have.
The man who had it was Bobby Baker, a Washington wheelerdealer who in 1967 was found guilty of seven counts of theft, fraud, and income tax evasion. Among Baker's friends were some of the shadiest characters of the 1960s underworld. He not only owned the NASA candy machine franchise, he also had a near monopoly of the cigarette and soft drink machines—not just in the Apollo plants, but throughout the defense industry. (The machines themselves were made at a factory owned by the mobster Sam Giancana.) The man who helped Baker get that franchise was his friend and mentor, Senator Robert Kerr of Oklahoma. Kerr made his money through Kerr-McGhee Oil Industries, onetime employer of Webb. He was also a great friend and supporter of Johnson, who had consulted Kerr while compiling his paper in support of going to the Moon. According to the journalist Milton Viorst, “Kerr was a self-made millionaire who freely and publicly expressed the conviction that any man in the Senate who didn't use his position to make money was a sucker.”1
And you thought Apollo was a story about heroes.