WWI Logo White

Tobacco as Much as Bullets

The Call for Cigarettes

When asked what America needed to win the war, General John Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front, replied, “Tobacco as much as bullets.” Across the nation, tobacco funds were established by community groups, businesses, and relief organizations (such as the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and the Young Men’s Christian Association [YMCA]) to send tobacco products to soldiers overseas. These tobacco funds made smoking synonymous with the war effort, introduced a new generation to cigarettes, and undermined the crusading anti-smoking efforts of groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Non-Smokers Protective League by ennobling tobacco.

Tobacco Funds

Sending Smokes & The Cigarette Ennobled

The YMCA had opposed cigarette smoking prior to the war but acquiesced in the distribution of cigarettes in canteens during the conflict. In fact, many YMCA workers returned from the war as dedicated smokers.2 The Salvation Army gave away cigarettes to the soldiers, causing one soldier to remark in a letter complaining about the prices at YMCA canteens: “The Red Cross and the Salvation Army are the only ones here that do any good at the front.”

The violence of the conflict made the hazards of cigarette smoking irrelevant, and relief efforts would undermine the nascent anti-smoking movement in America by drawing away public support, creating a generation of habitual smokers, and equating cigarettes with heroism.With the respected Red Cross packing cigarettes into “comfort kits”, and the “coffin nail” regarded as indispensable,4 the war “placed the cigarette in a new and true light before the public eye.”5

2Brandt, AM. (2007). The cigarette century: The rise, fall, and deadly persistence of the product that defined America (p. 51). New York, NY: Basic Books.
3Tate, C. (1999). The little white slaver goes to war. In Cigarette wars: The triumph of “the little white slaver” (pp. 65-92). New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.
4Ibid., 81, 84.
5The war and the cigarette. (December 31, 1914). The Tobacco Leaf. New York. In Young, WW. (1917). The story of the cigarette (pp. 227-228). New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company.
1917 The Silent Appeal Pg 1

“The Silent Appeal!”

Booklet appealing for contributions for cigarettes for Belgian soldiers and containing donation coupons issued by “The Belgian Soldiers’ Tobacco Fund” and administered by the Over-Seas Club

1918 12 20 Thank You for Cigs Postcard front
1918 12 20 Thank You for Cigs Postcard back tall

“An Explanation and a Request”

Postcard from a captain to Mrs. J. H. Parnum of Fort Worth, Texas, thanking her for her gift of cigarettes
Postcard sold by the Over-Seas Club Tobacco Fund
December 20, 1918

n.d. Weekly Dispatch Cigarette and Tobacco Fund Arf A Mo Kaiser
n.d. Weekly Dispatch Cigarette and Tobacco Fund Our gallant Soldiers

“‘Arf A Mo Kaiser!'”

Postcard sold by The Weekly Dispatch Cigarette and Tobacco Fund appealing for financial contributions for cigarettes for British soldiers
Circa 1916
(Great Britain)

“Mr. Fred Land is selling his photographs for the benefit of the brave men at-the-Front”

Postcard sold by “The Performer” Tobacco Fund appealing for financial contributions for cigarettes for British soldiers
Circa 1916

“Just a short [note] to thank you”

Postcard from Private J.H. Mousley to Mr. J.H. Post of New York, thanking him for his gift of cigarettes and tobacco
June 4, 1915

“In the rings of smoke I see,
Just the little girl for me.”

Circa 1918

Footage of cigarettes being distributed and smoked during WWI (01:24)

Stock-footage compilation
Circa 1916-1918

Our Boys in France

The Industry, the Media, and the Masses

The Our Boys in France Tobacco Fund, the Belgian Soldiers’ Tobacco Fund, and the Evening Sun Tobacco Fund led the way in sending cigarettes overseas. But the majority of these funds were started by the tobacco industry. The American Tobacco Company took credit in a tobacco trade publication:

“We were the first to establish the smokes for soldiers funds throughout the country an enterprise that aroused people everywhere to the soldier’s need for tobacco and turned hundreds of thousands of willing dollars into smoke ammunition for our boys at the front.”6

Well organized and backed by the nation’s newspapers and popular magazines, these funds operated nationwide and distributed cigarettes across the battlefront. Publishers’ support of these initiatives grew out of the increasing volume of letters shared by the families of soldiers imploring their communities for donations of tobacco, which was either too expensive or too scarce in Europe.7

6Tate, Cigarette wars, 86.
7Ibid., 65-92.
n.d. Our Boys in France Tobacco Fund Wagon Sign

“Our Boys In France Tobacco Fund”

Photograph of a man hammering a sign onto a wagon in New York
“Sold American!” – The First Fifty Years, page 55
Durham, NC: American Tobacco Company

1918 02 Natl Sportsman Our Boys in France Tobacco Fund Ad

“Ever Gone Smoke-Hungry?”

Advertisement calling for contributions to the “Our Boys in France Tobacco Fund”
National Sportsman,
page 125

February 1918

1917 Times Picayune Theaters Helping Tobacco Fund

“Theaters Helping Tobacco Fund”

News article about how the Strand Theater in Shreveport, Louisiana, would contribute a percentage of its financial takings to the “Our Boys in France Tobacco Fund”
The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Circa 1917

Back Here and Over There

Tobacco Funds and Loyalty

The tobacco funds, much like liberty bond drives, were a way for ordinary citizens to contribute to the war effort. These charitable initiatives were a rallying point for the nation, which had been bitterly divided over America’s entry into the war. The New York Sun went so far as to challenge its readers to send donations to its tobacco fund as a way of “proving your patriotism and testing that of your friends.”8 General Pershing remarked on the vital support tobacco gave his soldiers: “The thought to the soldier that those providing solace are behind him.” New York Governor Charles S. Whitman sent this note to accompany his check to The Sun: “There is so little, after all, we can do for the men who are doing so much.”9

1918 Knights of Columbus Ad Supply Tobacco

“Would you hesitate?”

Knights of Columbus advertisement requesting supplies for soldiers, including cigarettes and tobacco
Circa 1918

1918 05 24 The Sun Red Cross Ad Give Till Your Heart Says Stop resized

“give till your heart says stop”

Red Cross advertisement contributed by Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company
The New York Sun, page 7
May 24, 1918

1917 10 20 Natl Police Gazette Tobacco Fund Ad

“Send Smokes to the Soldiers!”

Advertisement calling for contributions to the Police Gazette Tobacco Fund
The National Police Gazette, page 14
October 20, 1917

1918 11 27 Our New England Boys Tobacco Fund Letter

“Help us to make it a real Xmas for them.”

Letter from Walter F. Gallagher, treasurer of the “Our New England Boys Tobacco Fund,” to members of the Fund committee, requesting that they solicit financial contributions from their employees so that cigarettes could be bought to send to the soldiers of the U.S. 76th, 26th, and 12th Divisions
November 27, 1918

8Ibid., 89-90.
9Ibid., 90.
© Copyright - The Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society