Kalamazoo Collects “Smokes for Sammies”

Community Support for Soldiers in the First World War

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On 14 August 1917, Kalamazoo said good bye to Colonel Joseph Westnedge and the 32nd Michigan Regiment with a parade, kisses from mother, and a packet of cigarettes. The city, family and friends supplied the cheers and tears, while A.W. Walsh Grocery Company, 147-149 E. Water Street, supplied the smokes. Walsh also provided cigars and pouches of tobacco, but the cigarettes were special.

From the time the U.S. announced its entry into the war, 6 April 1917, both the federal government and the War Department made the cigarette an official part of a soldier’s kit. During the wars with Spain in 1898 and Mexico in 1916, the younger generation of soldier made the cigarette their choice for smoking. Anti-cigarette groups in the U.S. worked to show that it represented an immoral lifestyle, while in Europe the cigarette was approved in the military for use as a calming agent for soldiers in the trenches. Cigarettes also worked more easily than cigars and pipes in the damp conditions. The Walsh donation to the departing troops simply represented what was happening in cities across the country and served to spark Kalamazoo to action to provide all troops heading overseas with smokes from home.

The Diamond Cigar Store Controversy

Two days after sending off the Kalamazoo troops, Charles Wagner and Frank Doyen, owners of the Diamond Cigar Store, 134 S. Burdick, announced a campaign to ensure a regular supply of cigarettes to the Kalamazoo troops in training who would soon serve overseas. Wagner and Doyen asked the people of Kalamazoo to purchase and donate packs of tobacco, rolling paper, and cigarettes. The proprietors cleared their front window for what they hoped would become a growing display of support for the boys making the sacrifice to go to war. All packing and shipping costs were to be covered by the Gazette. Within a day, Wagner and Doyen collected 50 packs of tobacco and cigarettes, and this encouraged them to seek double that by 21 August. However, the second day saw a reduction in donations.

A misunderstanding developed which the Gazette addressed in an article on 19 August. Whether the public or other tobacco shops questioned the campaign is unknown, but the article appeared to address specific questions: donors did not have to purchase tobacco products at the Diamond Cigar Store, donors should break the seal on donated items to prevent their resale in the Diamond Cigar Store, and there are no extra profits for the store or the Gazette through this campaign. This was a simple campaign to provide comfort for soldiers far from home and not profits for businesses at home. 

Wagner and Doyen were evidently able to hold onto enough support for the campaign. In early September, the Gazette printed a short article that confirmed two shipments to the Kalamazoo National Guard companies at Grayling of tobacco and cigarettes. However, it was interesting that the article stated that “through the American Express Company,” not the Gazette, the shipment was made free. Granted, by that date the Gazette was involved with a new campaign, organized by some of its own employees, and may have begun to disassociate itself from Wagner and Doyen's campaign, but still loyal enough to let the public know that there was some success. All that really was important, was providing comfort to the boys who had left home. 

Newsies Save the Day

Morris Kantor along with Herbert and Andrew Gillman, Gazette “newsies”, were disappointed in the Diamond Cigar Store’s limited attempt and chose to organize their own campaign to purchase cigarettes for the soldiers. With a Gazette sports editor serving as their accountant, Kantor and the Gillman brothers planned for all the Gazette “newsies” to participate in a four day collection during their daily sales of papers. “Newsies” asked for contributions from both purchasers of their papers and passers-by. Morris Kantor served as the spokesman for the “newsies” and stated that many gladly gave but added, “Gee! But they will think up some funny excuses,” about those who did not. Undeterred by the negatives, the boys continued to collect each day with the hope of sending off their first package to Colonel Joe’s boys training in Grayling on 26 August. This did not prove a problem, for they collected $31.25, triple what they hoped for, and sent off the following note with the package:

“Dear Colonel Joe and the boys from Kalamazoo- We are not big enough to fight, but we want to do our share towards helping you lick the socks off the Kaiser, so we are sending you some tobacco. We read in the papers we sell that you boys are short of smokes, so the fellers all chipped in, but you can bet your life if we were big enough to handle guns, we’d be takin’ orders from you on the firin’ line instead of helping fill your pipes in the camp. Good luck, Joe, old boy, and when you clean ‘em, clean ‘em right, so’s we won’t have to do the job over again. 
    From your friends, 
    The Newsboys of Kalamazoo”

Where the proprietors of a business failed, children succeeded and proved that the effort was a worthy one. Although the Gazette could not save the earlier effort, its “newsies” became influential in demonstrating Kalamazoo’s desire to provide comfort to the U.S. soldiers with cigarettes.

Origins of the “Smokes for Sammies” Campaign

When the American Expeditionary Force arrived in France in May 1917, the soldiers were met with high prices for tobacco brought on by the large number of existing French and British troops. Military demand required regulators to take charge of tobacco’s supply and distribution to the troops of both countries and to establish rationing to civilians. A high price made desirable brands prohibitive for a soldier. What was affordable in the war zone was a strange combination of strawberry leaves, lavender, fennel and woodruff. Writing home, the soldiers referred to the “abominable stuff” and stated “American tobacco is one of the things most needed. We cannot smoke the French made tobacco.”

Further support for the soldiers came from groups that once opposed the cigarette. Edward Carter who set up the first Y.M.C.A. canteen in France wrote home to superiors with a request for cigarettes greatly sought by the U.S. soldiers. The response from the New York office told Carter to obtain cigarettes by all means possible. The Salvation Army and Red Cross were not far behind in supporting the demand for the once “immoral” cigarette. Both organizations gladly helped deliver the cigarette to soldiers on the front-line and in the hospitals. Letters from individual soldiers printed in the papers back home along with letters from organization workers to superiors helped to support the government and War Department’s early acceptance and placement of cigarettes in a soldier’s pack. The American Tobacco Company (ATC) took up the call and put forth what became one more charitable act to aid the U.S.’s war effort; “Smokes for Sammies.”

The Gazette Takes Up the Call

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Subsidized by the federal government, the ATC developed a national program to meet the soldiers’ needs which the Gazette introduced to Kalamazoo on 13 September. For each .25 cent donation, a soldier received .50 cents worth of tobacco. This included: two packages of Lucky Strike cigarettes, one package of Tuxedo tobacco, three packages of Bull Durham, and a plentiful supply of rolling papers. Along with the tobacco, a stamped post card with the donor’s name and address was included in the hopes of initiating an exchange of mail to also help boost the morale of the troops. Donors could not specify a soldier to receive the package as such deliveries in a war zone were not possible, but this campaign would guarantee that all soldiers could receive a package. Unlike previous local initiatives, this campaign had specific guidelines:

  1. A local organization collects and counts the money and keeps a list of names and addresses of donors to send to the ATC
  2. ATC packs the tobacco kits and inserts a one cent stamped post card with the donor’s name and address on it
  3. U.S. government ships the cases of tobacco kits
  4. French government lets the tobacco into the country duty free
  5. YMCA and Salvation Army distribute the kits (at the end of 1917, the Red Cross served as the receiver and main distributor in France)
  6. French government agrees to mail the post cards to U.S.

The Gazette, working with tobacconists and other shops that sold tobacco products, established over twenty locations as collection sites in and around the downtown area. This time people simply left a financial donation in a box which the Gazette collected and counted daily.

The participating shops in Kalamazoo were:

  • C.J. Stamm -- 212 E. Main
  • B. Cleenewerck and Sons (5 stores) -- 115 N. Burdick, 126 & 128 E. Main, 302 W. Main,
  • Raseman and Cleenewerck at 101 S. Burdick
  • M.E. Maher Co. – 113 W. Main
  • Saloman Cigar Co. -- Main and Portage
  • Burdick Hotel -- 108 – 118 W. Main
  • Rickman Hotel -- 321 – 323 N. Burdick
  • Park-American Hotel -- 313 – 325 E. Main
  • Holt’s Hotel -- 314 E. Main
  • Hennes Pharmacy -- 119 N. Burdick
  • George MacDonald Drug Co. -- Main and Burdick
  • M.D. Pharmacy -- 119 N. Burdick
  • Robinson Godwin -- 132 Portage
  • D.U. Baxter -- 102 Portage
  • Mattison Drug Co. -- 108 W. Main
  • F.B. Drolet -- 139 S. Burdick
  • John F. (Jack) Dold -- 202 W. Main
  • City Drug Store -- Main and Edwards
  • Joseph T. Peters -- in Columbia Hotel
  • M.N. Kennedy -- 156 Burdick and South

Growing Support

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With it barely a month since the troops had departed combined with the patriotic push of the Smokes for Sammies national campaign, Kalamazoo’s support for a cigarette campaign had started slowly, but with the proper arrangements grew quickly. Within 24 hours, the Gazette reported contributions that totaled $16.75, which was enough to purchase 67 smokers kits for soldiers. On the morning of the 15th, the Gazette reported the previous day’s total, $25.75, but also identified the campaign as theirs with this image and statement:

“You can bring happiness to some Sammy in the trenches with a donation to the Gazette tobacco fund.”

The Gazette must have felt confident that the campaign under their auspices would succeed when they printed this and also stated that the campaign would go on indefinitely.

Daily totals of donations and the kits which they would purchase encouraged a friendly competition between shops. Eventually, the Gazette began to print the name of and amount given by donors at each store. During September 1917, a number of national charities began collection drives, to which local chapters were asked to contribute. The people of Kalamazoo supported all war charities inclusive of the .25 cents for the cigarette campaign. Even after the government added a .01-.03 cent tax on tobacco products, smokers continued to give. Many accepted the tax as inevitable, since the government was subsidizing the industry, and bought their usual amount plus the .25 cent donation. Some shop owners refused to charge the new tax and set off a temporary smoke war in the city to keep sales and donations high. Throughout the fall, neither sales of cigarettes nor contributions to Smokes for Sammies was hurt.

The Peoples’ Column and Health Issues

Starting on the 18 September 1917, letters began to appear in the Gazette’s Peoples’ Column that, at first, showed not all of Kalamazoo appreciated the campaign. On that date, the Gazette printed a negative letter from J.L. Sturr who wrote with a strong anti-cigarette bent that focused on the cigarette as an unhealthy habit. Sturr wrote of the “filthy” and “expensive” habit that not only harmed the health of the smoker, but also those near the smoker. This letter harkened back to the talk of pre-war days when anti-cigarette groups joined up with prohibitionists. Such a letter may have caused pause for some people to donate to the Smokes campaign. The Gazette’s early morning delivery and sales perhaps influenced many people. For at the end of the day, the total collection from all collection points was only $4.25, an amount usually collected at one store.

On 21 September brought a second letter that also spoke against the campaign. J.A. Todd of 444 W. Walnut, a Civil War veteran from the 11th Michigan Infantry also touched on the negative aspects of smoking cigarettes. Todd used the words from a pamphlet put out by auto-industrialist Henry Ford that referred to the cigarette as the “little white slaver” and a “twin brother to whiskey” that was not needed when he served and that soldiers did not need in the current war. Soldiers in his day were paid well enough to meet daily needs in the military stores, and Todd especially thought it inappropriate to ask for charity especially for cigarettes.

A letter from Mrs. L.A. Marshall of 420 Greenwich Place appeared in the Gazette on the same daythat may have helped to put contributions and people’s opinions back on track. Mrs. Marshall wrote as the widow of a soldier who fought in the Spanish-American War and the daughter of a Civil War veteran who was well aware of how soldiers lived. Marshall went after Sturr for lacking patriotic spirit. Emphasizing the spirit of the day, Mrs. Marshall reminded Sturr that all must make sacrifices, some harder than others, but those back home must lend support. Although the letter from Mr. Todd was printed on the same day as hers, Mrs. Marshall touched upon the lack of goods available to soldiers even in military stores. As for the anti-tobacco rhetoric, Marshall agreed it was not an easy habit to stop, but that it was not the time to discuss it.

Letters for and against the campaign were not numerous, but the health issue must have concerned the Gazette and the national campaign. Although the government and military both accepted the use of cigarettes as a means to relieve stress and to aid wounded soldiers in the withdrawal from morphine, papers often printed the positive comments of physicians to promote the purpose of the campaign. Many physicians agreed and stated that cigarettes were less a threat to the lungs and heart than cigars and pipes. In October, the Gazette printed an article in which a medical doctor, E.D. Neer stated:

“Users of tobacco in the army should certainly be given a supply of the weed. I am in favor of the national campaign to furnish ‘Smokes for Sammies.’”

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Dr. Neer did not practice medicine in Kalamazoo, but in Sherman, Texas. Dr. Neer’s words confirmed those stated in the Journal of the American Medical Association that cigarettes help soldiers at the front deal with the strain and help prevent “nervous irritation.” A verbal war against the cigarette persisted from some groups across the country and medical support for it was essential to preserve the existing program. Among the listing of donors to the campaign in Kalamazoo there was not one identified as a medical doctor. Those who did write the title doctor before their name, when checked, turned out to be dentists.

The modern means of warfare introduced in World War I placed soldiers under stress that doctors were only just beginning to accept and study. They considered a steady supply of cigarettes as essential to maintain calm during heavy bombing raids and times of no action. Cartoon images often accompanied reminders for the Smokes campaign titled “Smokes Relieve Trench Monotony.” Medical support combined with patriotism, and the acceptance and delivery to the soldiers by the Salvation Army, Red Cross, and the Y.M.C.A. kept the campaign alive into the spring of 1918.

How to Reach More People

From the start, the Gazette’s campaign attracted donors from near and far and all ages. Locally, the Gazette used two young children as examples of how easy this was. One unnamed child made a .25 cent donation that he had saved up one penny at a time. The paper used this to encourage workers to save one penny each working day to contribute. A second youth, George Comfort, Jr. set about working around his home to earn the money that his father was willing to give to him. Each child’s sacrifice became a symbol of the campaign to support the comfort of the troops.

The Gazette learned early on that nearby towns also wished to participate. Plainwell surprised the Gazette on 16 September with a donation of $17.76. Dr. G.H. Copp delivered the village’s contribution stating that the three drug stores each had a container with a note “deposit a quarter for smokes for Sammies.” Dr. Copp encouraged other small towns to take up the cause, which may have helped to get the town of Three Rivers involved in placing collection containers in the town’s fraternal organizations.

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Meanwhile back in Kalamazoo, another group inspired the Gazette to reach out to the numerous local industries. Eleven girls at the King Paper Mill had gone around to co-workers to ask for donations and collected $6.75. Within days, many industries installed a collection box and named a worker who accepted the responsibility to record donor’s names and the amounts given.

The belief was that this would make it easier for workers to give who did not have a collection point close to their home and did not frequent the downtown area. Some of the industries who joined the campaign in this manner were:

Company Donation Total

Barley Motor Car Company $46.25
Crescent Engraving $ 5.75
Ihling Paper Box Company $12.80
Kalamazoo Corset Company $19.15
Kalamazoo Looseleaf Binder $24.00
Kalamazoo Paper Box Company $16.50
Kalamazoo Sanitary Manufacturing Company $17.50
King Paper Mill $ 6.75
Reed Manufacturing $10.25

These were contributions made in late September and early October and reflect the steady support of the community in and around Kalamazoo.

Another show of support came from the entertainment industry. George Spaeth, manager of the Fuller Theater, put up 10% of the proceeds from both the showings on the 26 and 27 September. How much the Fuller contributed was not stated, but shortly after the showings the Gazette reported the total as $217.51, an increase of $8.50 from the previous day, and provided 836 kits for soldiers. October 1st the Gazette printed a notice that reported the ATC’s sending of kits purchased from the Kalamazoo contributions. One month later, Peter C. Schram, manager of the Orpheum Theater, offered to contribute from his theater’s showings on the 25 and 26 October. Both theaters showed prime movies that they knew would attract large audiences. At the Fuller, it was a serious drama with leading actors of the day, while at the Orpheum, the showing was a recent documentary of tank warfare in France.

Throughout October, articles in the paper spoke of the extremely high cost of tobacco for soldiers in France, increased taxes on tobacco in the U.S., and the care taken by the Red Cross to deliver the kits to the soldiers even on the front line. Red Cross workers were not allowed in the main trenches, but they had trained dogs to carry packs through communication trenches to the troops. Smokes for Sammies was in competition for funds with the Red Cross, but the latter never challenged the contributions to the former – both were needed to give aid to the soldiers. In fact when reports came back to the U.S. that Smokes for Sammies cases were sitting on the docks in France just before Christmas, it was the Red Cross that took charge of the cases and saw to the distribution of the contents to soldiers, Y.M.C.A. canteens, and the Salvation Army.

Is This the End?

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Throughout the remainder of 1917, donation notices in the Gazette became smaller and moved further inside the paper. Such notices reminded Kalamazoo that donation boxes were still in the shops.

The end of 1917 saw an increase in the number of war related charities; a third sale of Liberty Bonds, the continuing efforts of the YMCA and Red Cross to solicit funds for support of canteens and collections at home and in France, the on-going collection of aid for the Belgians and more. All of these were national fund drives important for the well-being of the soldiers and the Gazette freely yielded the front page to announce war charity events without the competition of a Smokes for Sammies article.

Late in December, a casual notice reminded Kalamazoo that the Smokes for Sammies fund drive had not stopped. Then just before Christmas local musicians announced a jazz concert and dinner dance to help raise funds for the smokes campaign. Scheduled for 3 January 1918, James H. Johnstone, director of the Plectral Sextet, brought together leading local groups: YMCA Mandolin Orchestra, “Billie” Priest, “Burt” Reeves, Kazzo Banjo Bugs and Fischer’s Jazz Band. People could purchase tickets for either half of the evening or for the whole night’s festivities with all the proceeds going to the Smokes for Sammies fund. Unfortunately, the concert/dance drew too small an audience, and Mr. Johnstone incurred a debt. Johnstone apologized, stating that the date was too close to the holidays to draw a sufficient crowd.

Kalamazoo did not call it quits. The fund drive continued with one more idea that was spreading across the country. The small town of Bangor, which proudly stated its support for the war with “meatless” Mondays and “wheatless” Wednesdays, encouraged other towns to join it in adding “smokeless” Tuesdays to the week. Letters from the local boys serving in France, which families gave to the Gazette to print, continued to speak of the need for American cigarettes and extended thank yous for the smokes that had arrived. Gazette articles about Bangor and the soldiers’ letters convinced Kalamazoo to hold its own smokeless day on 21 January 1918; no shop, soda fountain, or hotel stand was to sell any tobacco products.

Kalamazoo’s smokeless day was the last day the Smokes for Sammies fund appeared on the front page. However, this trend across the country came as no surprise. In order to guarantee the delivery of all the material needed for the war effort, the U.S. government took control of all coal, metal, rubber, and Tuxedo brand tobacco. Other tobacco brands were soon to follow. Instead of donations, the government planned to ship directly to the YMCA canteens, and the Salvation Army and Red Cross. Government control of the tobacco industry brought about the end of the Smokes for Sammies campaign. The ATC officially ended the campaign on 1 May 1918.

Kalamazoo contributed over $500.00 to the Smokes for Sammies fund, which allowed over 1000 AEF soldiers to benefit from the city’s generosity. Though no articles ever identified a person receiving a postcard from a soldier who received a smoke kit, that was not important. For the Gazette early on spoke of the large number of anonymous donations. Donations may have slowed just before the holiday season, but there was no indication that Kalamazoo didn’t want to give. When the government took control of significant industries and announced that the soldiers had all they needed, the ATC confirmed that this included cigarettes.

Sources

Articles

This essay was based on numerous articles in the Kalamazoo Gazette—too many to list here—from 14 August 1917 through 2 May 1918. To see a full list, consult our Local Information Index under “Smoking.” 

Books

“That Damn Y,” A record of overseas service

  • Mayo, Katherine
  • Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920.
  • 940.47 M47, p. 36–42

Cigarette Wars: The triumph of 'The Little White Slaver'

  • Tate, Cassandra
  • Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • (KPL does not own a copy of this title, but it can be obtained through MeL.)