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“Smokes for Sammy”


In this season of Christmas shopping, I want to share what patriotic gift giving looked like in December 1917.

Tobacco Day 1917
Tobacco Day advertisement

It’s pretty jarring by today’s standards, but there it is, Monday, December 3, 1917 was Tobacco Day.  At that moment in time — long before anyone knew of the long-term dangers — it was a patriotic duty to help supply Uncle Sam’s soldiers and sailors with tobacco. Apparently, tobacco products were not a priority for the War Department initially, at least until the members of the American Expeditionary Force arrived in Europe and picked up the habit from their allies.  The doughboys soon learned that not only were cigarettes not readily supplied, they could hardly be purchased anywhere.

All of a sudden, tobacco products, and cigarettes especially, were touted as essential parts of a soldier’s kit.  Even the commanding general of the U.S. Army, General John J. Pershing, endorsed smoking.  He was quoted the previous September in a Palladium article:

Our soldiers are already in Flanders fighting, and with them a habit acquired by nine-tenths of them — a habit that soothes the troubled mind, brings peace and comfort to the weary body and restores snap and vim to the shattered nerves.  That habit is SMOKING.

All through the fall of 1917, newspapers around the country published articles, ran fund drives, and encouraged a different sort of Christmas shopping, as seen in the Item full-page ad above.  The Palladium’s “Smoke Fund” raised more than $180 with which to purchase smoking kits, which included manufactured cigarettes, loose tobacco and papers.

Even Tin Pan Alley got into the act, publishing at least one popular song encouraging patriotic Americans to help supply the tobacco needs of the soldiers and sailors fighting on their behalf.

Cover of sheet music for Makin's of the USA

— Sue King

Addendum: Someone has digitized this tune:

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