Pipe Up

Monday, December 28, 2009

I don't know of anyone who smokes a pipe, do you? (I'm talking traditional tobacco pipes, not hookas and those used for drugs.) Today, when we think of pipe smokers, the images that come to mind most likely include Sherlock Holmes, old sea captains, General Douglas MacArthur, and Santa Claus. However, just a few decades ago pipe smoking was quite the fashion among younger men, a fact that is not lost on the writers and producers of Mad Men - the intellectual character of Paul Kinsey, as played by Michael Gladis, is often seen puffing on a pipe, and Gladis is a pipe fan offscreen. My own father picked up the pipe habit in the 1940s or 50s and was a lifelong pipe smoker, never opting for cigarettes or cigars.

Pipes have been around for centuries, but despite mass production and distribution of cigarettes in the 20th century, pipe smoking really seemed to have taken off in America by the 1950s. By then they had become part of the quintessential image of men, particularly fathers. Even children's books depicted dads smoking a pipe - this image is from a 1959 children's book called Cowboy Andy:

These two 1950s ads, for Van Heusen and Izod, show men with pipes:

I have a theory that pipe smoking was bolstered, in part, by ads such as these (which come from VintageAdsandStuff) meant to show the habit as sophisticated and attractive to the opposite sex. A man with a pipe was thought to be sexy, and the pipe's aroma irresistible to women. I don't know, my mother and I found the smell of my dad's Half and Half most times to be anything BUT intoxicating.

I saved the best for last. The man lighting up in this one is the hit of the party - and the blonde with his arm around him is declaring that she is in love with the tobacco that he's wearing, and the other blonde is wondering if he's married!

I will admit - partly because of my upbringing - that there is something homey and attractive about seeing a man with a pipe. My favorite performer, Bobby Darin, loved to smoke a pipe in the 60s, and was often photographed with one:

Darin was even photographed with a pipe on the cover of his album "Love Swings." Kevin Spacey later said that while filming the Bobby Darin biopic "Beyond the Sea", that the art crew chased him around for days with a cap and pipe, to try to get him to recreate the album cover for the movie.

Then of course we have Hugh Hefner, who was rarely seen in the Playboy mansion without his essential pipe and smoking jacket:

Fred MacMurray of My Three Sons smoked a pipe on the show:

Other famous pipe smokers are said to include (via FujiPub) Yul Brenner, Bill Cosby, President Gerald Ford, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Jack Lemmon, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

So why did pipe smoking - at least in public - fall so out of fashion? I have a few theories. First, it's hardly a portable smoking habit - you need to carry around with you a pipe, a packet of tobacco, and a lighter. Secondly, smoking pipes is all about relaxation and taking your time and slowly getting that nicotine high - a pastime way too slow for our fast driven, instant gratification world. Lastly, it DOES cause cancer and is no safer than cigarette or cigar smoking.

Still, I can think of habits far worse than smoking a pipe - and what a way for a man to stand out today.


  1. great post. my boyfriend and i were considering going half on a pipe because we are a class act. but what is this van heusen ad? i couldnt quite read it but at first glance its kind of offensive. not that im complaining! the retro blogosphere thrives on offensive mid century ads.

    1. the world is a messed up place... it was just more blatant back then it seems...

  2. Oh dear...that *is* a very politically incorrect ad from 1952. When I pulled it I must admit I was only looking at the guy with the pipe, not the entire context of the ad. I can't read the small copy on it. Sorry if I offended anyone.

  3. The big advantage of pipe smoking over other types is that it smells less nasty. It's fascinating how quickly it fell out of fashion, though.

    And that Van Heusen ad is quite... incredible, isn't it?!

    I hope you had a lovely Christmas! :)

  4. i love this.

    my husband smokes a pipe often.

    and so did my father.

    i love it.

  5. No no! I'm not offended. I'm simply saying it is offensive but I'm not taking it personally. It's one of those sign of the times things. Please don't take down the ad on my behalf. Mid century ads are often sexist and racist and that's our bread and butter as bloggers on that period. It's kind of like how we still love Aladdin even with its "orientalist" sentiments.

  6. d.funkt: OK, I'll leave it...but I should've prefaced it by saying it is a politically incorrect ad. Like you said, sign of the times.

    Richard: Yes, we had a very "Happy" Christmas here and I hope you did as well! I might have to disagree - that Half & Half was hard to take sometimes! However, my dad also smoked another kind of pipe tobacco that smelled like chocolate...now *that* one I could attracting hordes of women...

    Cherry Tree Lane: I like knowing that modern day men still smoke pipes. I promise to check in with your blog this week, you've been so kind to leave nice comments on mine all of the time.

  7. Happy New Year! I hope you've been having a great holiday season. Mine has been wonderful except for my cable modem dying on me. I just did a new post with a big announcement in it. I hope you'll check it out. Thanks. Take care. Have a fantastic holiday weekend. Cheers!

  8. Pam, thanks for stopping by, great to have company, I added you to my blog roll, I hope you will be able to add me to yours, Dianne

  9. I'm a young pipe smoker and I have a theory on the subject of pipe smokings decline.

    From what I understand a of young pipe smokers of the 50's and 60's received their first pipes and started smoking them while on stationed in various places during World War Two and even after. Pipe smoking has been big in parts of europe ever since tabacco started arriving there from America in the 16th century.

    Just like people are now bringing hookah pipes home from their service in middle east and hookah use is starting to become really big here in America I could only imagen pipe smoking had the same kind of effect. Though it really stayed with those who were parents of Baby Boomers. So much so that we often get this image of older people or the 50's when we hear about using a smoking pipe. Of course you see a younger smoker now and then but for the most part I don't really think pipe smoking ever latched on to other generations of Americans.


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