Ordinarily in this space we celebrate anniversaries of advances that improved our ancestors’ lives. This time, however, we note an invention responsible for killing 100 million of our relatives in the 20th century alone: the commercially produced cigarette.
- George Washington grew tobacco, and profits from tobacco farming helped fund the American Revolution.
- Cigarettes were prohibited in 16 states between 1890 and 1927, mostly for moral rather than health reasons.
- In the 1920s, the American Tobacco Co. hired Edward Bernays—the father of public relations—to persuade women it was acceptable to smoke cigarettes (“torches of freedom,” in his ad campaign).
- The owner of a paper cigarette-holder company invented the drinking straw in the 1880s, applying some of his know-how to a replacement for the natural rye grass used at the time.
1865 | Washington Duke begins cigarette production
1881 | James Bonsack patents cigarette-rolling machine
1889 | Duke Tobacco Co. spends $800,000 on cigarette marketing, including baseball cards in each pack
1890 | Leading tobacco companies merge to form American Tobacco Co.
1911 | Supreme Court breaks up American Tobacco Co.
1919 | Americans smoke more than 10 billion cigarettes
1954 | “Marlboro Man” debuts
1964 | Surgeon General’s report links smoking to cancer and bronchitis