Skip to main content

Political Puffery

April 2024
1min read

In “The Story-Telling Cigar” (December, 1978) we noted that cigar-box labels and brand names of the nineteenth century mirrored the optimism of the time.

Tony Hyman, a reader and collector of cigar memorabilia, writes from Watkins Glen, New York, to remind us that the stogie also served for a time as an unlikely predecessor to the political polls of George Gallup: “The idea of stepping up to a cigar counter, plunking down a quarter, and asking for ‘four Jimmy Carters and a Ronald Reagan’ seems a little strange to us today. But that’s exactly what many of our forefathers did. To be sure, the names were different. ‘I’ll have five Chester Arthurs,’ ‘Two Harrisons, please,’ or ‘Gimme a Garfield’ would have been more likely. When they made such requests, cigar smokers were taking part in an early straw poll popular between 1880 and 1920. Tobacconists, saloons, barbershops, drugstores, restaurants—any place men congregated was likely to take part. As election time neared, cigar counters blossomed with boxes depicting the rival candidates. Presumably, the candidate who sold the most cigars would get the most votes. As each box was sold out, the bartender or clerk would dutifully chalk up another mark on the slate behind the bar or counter. The cigars were usually wellknown local five- and ten-cent brands, renamed and relabeled especially for the election.”

Seen here, from Mr. Hyman’s collection, are a couple of cigar boxes from the 1888 contest between Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison; both are empty, which suggests the closeness of an election in which Cleveland got the popular vote but lost in the electoral college.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate