From The Ashtray Of History: Vintage Campus Cigarette Ads


In my junior year of college my dorm room was decorated in a retro manner. One day a salesman hocking fake Polo and other fragrances popped his head through my open doorway. He took a look at two pictures on the wall and said, trying to break the ice, “Are those your folks?”

Slightly annoyed by the intrusion, I glanced over to see that the salesman was referring to a pair of Chesterfield cigarette ads depicting Perry Como and Joe Stafford.

Thirty-five years before I even set foot on campus, brands such as Chesterfield, Lucky Strike, Philip Morris and Camel were already locked in struggle to win the hearts, minds and lung tissue of the college crowd. Recent discussion of smoking on the site got me looking at the advertising directed at the college and university students. Most of the images presented here are from 1950-54. They break down into celebrity endorsements, with college and university class affiliation noted, student taste-test endorsements, popularity via sales volume at the co-op or college tobacconist, and student survey and humor.

The Lucky Strike jingle-writing contest ran during this period also. College students got to be junior “Mad Men” with a $25 prize for winners. Princeton winner Richard Boeth, class of 1954, when asked by the Daily Princtonian how he planned to spend his prize money, said, “I’ve drunk it up already,” indicating cigarettes weren’t his only vice. The ads became a combination of cornball jingles and exploitive sweater girl drawings, which is probably why I like them.

Every time we visit this theme we get our fair share of abuse.  Seems there is little empathy anymore for what fashion writer Paul Keers called “a generation who believed that a drink before and a cigarette afterwards, were the three best things in life.” — CHRISTOPHER SHARP

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24 Comments on "From The Ashtray Of History: Vintage Campus Cigarette Ads"

  1. My mother started college in 1953. She told me that when she would come back to the sorority house for lunch after morning classes, there would be a sample size pack of 2 or 3 cigarettes at each place setting. I suppose the idea was that if the tobacco companies could get you to smoke a few free cigarettes a day, it wouldn’t be long before you’d be buying your own, and then you’d be a smoker for life. That’s exactly what happened to my mother’s older sister, but it didn’t work on my mother, who gave her free cigarettes away to friends.

  2. In the early 60s at Princeton, cigarettes were frowned upon and pipe smoking was encouraged.

  3. Walter Denton | November 6, 2014 at 6:10 pm |

    I’ve never been a smoker but after reading those ads I’m convinced I need to try Chesterfields or maybe Lucky Strike or …

  4. I remember Skirm’s in Princeton…

  5. The book for those interested:

    Tobacco Goes to College: Cigarette Advertising in Student Media, 1920-1980

  6. @OldSchool Thanks for the link. I did not know my interest was book-worthy. That ties in nicely, look who is on the cover.

  7. Doesn’t the phrase” Be Happy; Go Lucky” together with the pictures of shapely women subconsciously suggest that if you smoke Lucky Strikes you will get lucky? The equation is: Get Lucky Strike and get lucky. Oh, those Mad Men.

  8. As a former on again off again smoker who’s been mainly off again for sometime (but get a few drinks in me and I will probably follow you outside and hound you to no end for one),an unfiltered Lucky Strike was the first cigarettes I smoked and I nearly passed out. Why i continued trying is anyone’s guess? I completely understand why they were the top choice for kamakazie pilots. I just loved the packaging. What a great design. I then tried unfiltered Chesterfield’s because the Jawbreaker song told me to. Another bad move.

  9. Not to nitpick, but as a decrepit old fan of all things 30s and 40s: there’s no “e” on Jo Stafford.

  10. Roy R. Platt | November 7, 2014 at 10:09 am |

    Way back then there were some people who imagined that the “LSMFT” on the Lucky Strike packets meant “Loose suspenders means falling trousers” or meant something else that one might not want to say now in this current age of “PC” and “Sexual Harassment”.

  11. @ Spin good catch, thanks. If anyone is interested this is one of the pictures I mentioned in the piece.

    They would send them to you if you returned an empty pack and your lunch money.

  12. @Walter

    I agree. Found myself walking home last night from the train station behind a smoker, with positive response. I took up a pipe in college and recently returned to the occasional cigar. But for 5-7 years from late twenties into thirties I had a few cigarettes a day, after meals. I think the addiction aspect has much to do with the individual. Never once found myself craving one, and I stopped simply when I lost interest.

  13. A.E.W. Mason | November 7, 2014 at 6:50 pm |

    I love Jo Stafford. Here version of “Haunted Heart” is just wonderful. And I love it when a woman smokes a cigarette. And, Christian, you’re right, everything needn’t been done excessively.

    By the way, are children suing their parents yet for smoking while they were young? Wait, it’s coming: the day when it will be illegal to smoke in your own single-family detached house if there are children in residence.

  14. Revision- just found original ad. Supper Club photos free if you sent in a post card.

  15. Vern Trotter | November 8, 2014 at 2:07 am |

    My dad was a major league baseball player. The cigarette companies used to keep a table in the locker rooms piled high with cartons of Lucky Strikes, Camels and Chesterfields. Also chewing tobacco, Redman and Beechnut I recall. The object I guess was free advertising, not to get the players hooked because they already were. Star players would be in ads saying Chesterfields made their throat feel better. Hard to believe today.

    And of course every member of the military, which was most everyone because of the compulsory draft, was kept supplied with free cigarettes. The object of that was to get everyone hooked.

  16. Just listened to an old 78 rpm Columbia record of Jo Stafford singing, “Teach me Tonight.”. Jo could certainly teach this old dog some new tricks.

    Holden Caulfield remarked that some women gulp down the cigarette smoke, while others, like the mother of one of his school chums, smoked daintily. I forget the boy’s name, but Holden remarked that he was as sensitive as a toilet seat. (Got to read the book again.)

    I’ve always felt that smoking, in moderation, was no more harmful than drinking in moderation. My pipe smoking has tapered off to almost zero, due to all the bans. Part of the allure of pipe smoking is the appearance of good taste and sophistication. Where is this image if one is smoking outside with the rest of the outcasts?

    I have cut my smoking to one pipe full while playing golf. That will probably be banned. A handwritten sign in the clubhouse has banned smoking, altogether. Only cigarettes were allowed in the club house before the recent sign.

  17. I just read the Balkan Sobranie ad. I must have really missed something. Never smoked the tobacco. I recall the stuff sold almost everywhere back in the 70’s. Under a dollar a pack. Most US stuff was around 20 – 30 cents. Flying Dutchman in a tin was 85 cents, so Sobranie must have been about the same price.

    From what original tins (tobacco intact) have sold for on Ebay, Balkan Sobranie must have been good stuff.
    Last month I bought a big tin of the Prince, a lady at the supermarket check out gave me a rough time talking about the evils of smoking. She was really upset about it.

    Oh, well.

  18. @Wriggles

    The guy who was as sensitive as a toilet seat was called Morrow.

  19. Let’s be honest, the smoking habit is the fault of Christopher Columbus and Native Americans. 😉

  20. Oh, c’mon, MAC, it was the Indians who introduced it to Columbus, so it’s their fault. All Columbus did was introduce it to all the other cool kids.

  21. @Henry

    All kidding aside, can you name any positive contributions that they have made?

  22. @lemuel Saving the pilgrims’ asses

  23. Thankfully smoking is socially unacceptable nowadays.

  24. @Fritz

    Yes, but attending college classes in pajamas and attending church/funerals in tee shirts, dirty jeans, and flipflops are socially acceptable.

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