Pipe smoking is one of the most cherished and long-lasting customs in our world. Smoking a pipe connects us to a ritual that has existed for centuries and it is thought of as “the oldest form of traditional smoking”. Before Europeans came over, Native Americans would smoke pipes as a part of their spiritual and ceremonial rituals. African tribes have a practice, going back centuries, of smoking hemp out of gourd pipes.
In our modern culture, cigarettes, cigars, and other forms of tobacco use have largely replaced pipe smoking. It is thought of as a niche habit, rather than a regular way to smoke tobacco. Yet, it still has the allure of a practice that accompanies great thinking and distinguished personalities. It also achieves a kind of retro feel. Any person, who resides near a hipster enclave, knows that a pipe is a sure-fire way to give the beard and square-rimmed glasses that final touch of hipsterdom.
The culture of pipe smoking itself is something that is meant to take time. Cigarettes are designed for short hits of nicotine that give off a quick buzz before moving on to the next thing. In our fast-paced society it’s little wonder why these quick doses of nicotine go so well with all the energy drinks and stimulants meant to give you an edge. Yet something about the relaxed and prolonged experience of smoking a pipe has stayed within the public consciousness. The ritual of cleaning, packing the pipe, and smoking it in its entirety can sometimes last up to an hour. The slow burn of pipe tobacco allows for a more relaxed and contemplative experience. It is often a solitary act, where one can sit back and ruminate about life and perhaps ponder the mysteries of existence.
We’re going to look at some influential people who achieved great things while also being keen enthusiasts in the art of pipe smoking. Most of the individuals seen here hearken back to a time when great thinkers were viewed as rock stars and people whose ideas were worth understanding. From our modern perspective, anyone smoking a pipe in an old photo amps up their image as an intellectual. This is the enduring feeling of the pipe smoking tradition. It’s a bad sign of the times when we’re now associating the pipe with a Canadian crack-smoking mayor. Because of this and a number of other reasons, the classification of the public intellectual is something that isn’t as seemingly important these days. Maybe it’s time for the pipe to make its comeback.
Mark Twain was an extremely prolific author and humorist. His most popular works include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Swayer. The former is widely considered “the Great American Novel”. His influence on modern literature is unassailable and William Faulkner described him as the “the father of American literature.” His pipe smoking was well documented and he would often espouse his appreciation for the activity. When confronted by a writer who admonished Twain for his habit, Twain replied with a typical lucidity and directness that characterized his literary output…
“And you never try to find out how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking in the course of a lifetime (which is worth ten times the money he would save by letting it alone), nor the appalling aggregate of happiness lost in a lifetime by your kind of people from not smoking.”
He is often thought of as one of the most important cosmologists of the 20th century. The telescope that bears his name is still in use and has helped in breakthrough discoveries such as figuring out the accurate age of the universe. In terms of influential, we’re talking about the guy that figured out the universe in expanding.
Hubble was seldom seen without his trusty pipe. He would order tobacco from The London Pipe shop of Los Angeles and make sure to order his favorite brand in advance. Hubble was known to have a favorite party trick in which he would strike a wooden match, then flip it and catch it on its wooden end just before smoothly lighting his pipe. His biographer describes his home office as a sort of smoke-stained scientist’s retreat. “Its polished oak floor, thickly plastered walls, and barreled ceiling. . .would soon become discolored from the rising smoke of his many pipes”.
Sinatra was the epitome of cool, making his mark as a big band vocalist and crooning his way through the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. He was a member of the infamous rat-pack and typified the Las Vegas and swinger lifestyle of the time period. As an individual performer he is one of the top-selling artists of all-time.
His career started going south in the mid 1950’s, but he made a remarkable recovery by winning an academy award in 1954. He was the idol of the “bobby soxers” (female teen fans from the 40’s) and was probably swing music’s biggest superstar ever.
Peter Sellers was a chameleon-like actor who could portray a wide range of characters and show off his undeniable comedic brilliance. His Iconic character from the Pink Panther, Inspector Clouseau, was almost never sans a pipe, most of the time for comic effect. He was an enthusiastic pipe smoker in real life.
He was one of the most talented comic-actors of his generation and starred in many classic films such as Lolita, Dr. Stragelove, and Casino Royal. By a few fellow British filmmakers, he has been described as “the greatest comic genius this country has produced since Charlie Chaplin”.
The Argentinian revolutionary was a Marxist, a physician, a guerrilla rebel leader, and a fan of the pipe. His penetrating visage has been used in various ways in pop-culture as a symbol of rebellion. He is a global icon because of his heavy involvement in the Cuban Revolution.
After Che was executed, his killers pillaged his possessions. CIA agent Felix Rodriguez was rumored to have wanted to take Che’s well-known pipe. In the end, the soldier who shot Guevara was allowed to take it and Rodriguez snuck away with the tobacco.
Russell was a prominent philosopher, mathematician, and political activist for a large part of the 20th century. He is renowned as one of the premier logicians and was an avid anti-war activist. He helped popularize ideas of anti-imperialism. In 1950, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
His philosophy of smoking was also something of note. In 1948 He was in a plane crash and was seated in the smoking section. 19 people died in the crash and all were in the non-smoking section. When interviewed about the tragedy later, Russell described the event, and how “in fact I owe my life to smoking”. The philosopher Colin McGinn admitted to buying the same brand of tobacco as Russell in the hopes that it would make him as brilliant as his idol.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, was a devoted pipe-smoker. His most formidable weapon, his powers of deduction and intellect, were fuelled by his tasty habit. His intense focus, whilst in the middle of solving one of the many mysteries that came his way, came accompanied by a healthy plume of smoke.
Sherlock is one of the most iconic characters in 20th century fiction. His many recreations in popular culture, from movies to TV shows, attest to the enduring allure of the detective’s stories.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one of America’s most popular and influential presidents. He took office in 1933 and was elected to four consecutive terms. He took America through the Second World War and helped usher in an era of American Liberalism through the middle of the century. He held office during a time of tremendous economic stress and threat of a global war. He smoked a lot of cigarettes and was know to enjoy a pipe in his private quarters. His heavy smoking habit was part of the reason he fell ill and died while serving his fourth term in 1945. Still, no man in history probably more deserved the comfort and solace of a pipe at the end of an arduous day than FDR.
An English writer and poet, J.R.R. Tolkien was most known for his fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He is one of the most popular authors ever and Forbes even named him at number five for its list of “top-earning” dead celebrities. His Lord of the Rings books alone have sold over 150 million copies worldwide.
Tolkien was an avid pipe smoker and his fondness for the ritual shows up in his literary work. It’s no coincidence that the wizard Gandalf would come up with pearls of wisdom that evoked a positive attitude toward pipe smoking. An excerpt from the book reveals as much…
“Gandalf laughed, and replied: ‘You would not wonder, if you used this herb yourself. You might find that smoke blown out cleared your mind of shadows within. Anyway it gives patience, to listen to error without anger.”
Tolkien often said that the characters he most identified with are the Hobbits. It comes to no surprise then, that they are the race who are most in love with smoking. They embody the peaceful ideal that Tolkien himself admired and based his narrative around.
Albert Einstein is one of the most beloved and important scientists in history. He came up with the general theory of relativity and the famous formula E=MC2. His theoretical contributions to physics helped guide the world into the oncoming technological revolution of the 20th century.
Of course, the father of modern physics would have benefited from an act that stimulates the mind. In his later years at Princeton, he was seen walking to and from his house and office followed by a plume of smoke. He has strong personal beliefs on the subject of smoking, once explaining “I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs”.