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