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Smokes for Sammies Button. FROM THE COLLECTION OF LON ELLIS.

Here’s a pin from my collection that may not draw much attention at first, but has an interesting background. Here’s the story:

In an effort to support our troops overseas during World War I, the country created a “Smokes for Sammies” home front campaign to help supply American soldiers in the trenches with tobacco products. Tobacco products were included in “Comfort Boxes” and sent to soldiers, sailors and Red Cross nurses. In order to drum up support for this effort, publishers of periodicals conducted “subscription campaigns” that provided incentives to people to subscribe to their publications where a portion of the money collected from each subscription was donated to this cause. Cigar stores, hotels, and other businesses put out boxes for the general public to deposit their donations. Musicians and other performers gave performances in support of the cause. In Pittsburgh, the Bonds Department Store advertised in the September 28th, 1917 issue of the Pittsburgh Press with an ad that said “Smokes for Sammies – Here’s your chance to help your friends while your’re helping yourself – we will take 25 cents from the purchase price of every suit and overcoat we sell and deposit it in a box.” The January 1918 issue of Golfer’s Magazine said “almost all golfers indulge in a side wager in their friendly matches. Instead of putting your winnings into your pockets, put them in a box in the clubhouse for “Smokes for Sammies”. Think of the tons of smokes it would provide for our boys in khaki and the pleasure it will give them.”

This effort was not universally supported by everyone however. In the October 1918 issue of an evangelical publication called The Expositor, an article appeared entitled “Nicotine – The Goddess of America”. In this article, it was stated that “the tobacco trust bought up daily papers to promote the Smokes for Sammies and doped our boys who were willing to sacrifice their lives for us.” 

To some people’s dismay, school children were used to collect money for this effort. In a letter to the editor of one newspaper, a superintendent of schools wrote a letter stating “thousands of these boys are now going to the front as men without the tobacco habit and now you invite us to ask 11 and 12 year-old boys and girls to raise money to buy what? Chesterfield cigarettes and Duke’s Mixture. I suggest that these manufacturers could afford to pay the whole bill for their goods and charge it up to advertising and they know it. Why call upon the children?"

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