Tobacco advertising in the 1930s was in its heyday – and from the 1920s through the 1950s there was little restriction on the over-the-top claims being made about tobacco’s safety or its human health effects. This ad, in fact, suggested health benefits – i.e., “healthy nerves,” with several endorsing stars making similar statements.
Baseball players and other sports figures had appeared in tobacco ads before, but in the 1930s their appearance in such ads became more common. It was also in the 1930s that tobacco companies began depicting medical doctors in ads, touting the safety of cigarettes. Still, to see an ad like the one shown here, invoking nearly an entire sports team to promote cigarette sales, and making health claims to boot, is pretty striking. Yet this was a much different era, and health-effects knowledge was not what it is today.A few years piror to this ad, R. J. Reynolds, the producer of Camels, had fallen to No. 2 among cigarette brands. Lucky Strike, a cigarette brand produced by the American Tobacco Co., was the No. 1. brand. The competition for cigarette sales and market share had become keen. It was in 1933 that R. J. Reynolds began using sports stars in its advertising. Baseball was then the nation’s most popular professional sport, with more than 10 million people attending games annually. Enlisting the World Series champs to your brand would indeed provide a helpful boost. In 1933, however, the Great Depression was ravaging the nation.
Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected president in the November 1932 elections, but was not sworn in until March of 1933, then the inaugural custom. Roosevelt faced an unemployment rate of more than 23 percent, thousands of bank failures, and a GNP that had fallen by more than 30 percent. FDR would launch his New Deal in the years that followed, with a flurry of actions and new agencies coming in 1933.Despite the hard times, there was optimism that a “Roosevelt recovery” was on the way. Congress had also introduced a bill to repeal prohibition, meaning alcohol would flow again, as it did legally by year’s end. Baseball, meanwhile, continued pretty much as it always had, though adding for the first time that July, an All Star game with the best players from National and American league teams in an annual game against one another. Then that fall came the 1933 World Series.
1933 World Series
The 1933 World Series pitted the National League’s Giants against the American League’s Washington Senators, also known as the Washington Nationals. The Giants had 91 wins and 61 losses in the regular season that year, while the Senators had compiled a 99 – 53 record. The Senators were the surprise victors of the American League that year, breaking a seven-year hold on winning the pennant by either the New York Yankees or the Philadelphia Athletics.
The New York Giants’ venerable and long-standing manager, John McGraw, had retired the previous year, with the Giants’ regular first baseman, Bill Terry, taking on the manager’s job. For the Senators, the equally venerable Walter Johnson, the famous pitcher, had also retired from managing in 1932, as the Senators’ regular shortstop, Joe Cronin, became their manager. Both Cronin and Terry are shown at right on a game program from the 1933 World Series. The World Series games that year were carried on NBC and CBS radio.When the Series moved to Washington, D.C. for Game 3 after the first two games had been played at New York’s Polo Grounds, President Roosevelt threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Griffith Stadium. Throughout the Series, the Giants’ pitching proved the difference, with Carl Hubbell and Hal Schumacher turning in stellar performances. The Giants took the best–of-seven Series in five games, winning their first championship since 1922. The final game of the 1933 World Series was played on Saturday, October 7th at Griffith Stadium, with the Giants winning 4-3. Mel Ott hit two home runs that game, the final one coming in the top of the tenth inning, providing the margin for victory. Two days later, the Camel cigarette ad shown above began appearing in newspapers around the country.
The Camel AdThe main headline in the Camel ad proclaims, “It Takes Healthy Nerves To Win The World Series,” with copy to follow that suggests cigarette smoking provided a beneficial help to the World Series victors. An enlarged baseball directly diretly left of the headline states, “21 out of 23 Giants – World Champions – Smoke Camels,” suggesting there must be some connection and/or advantage to smoking Camels and winning championship games, especially since nearly the whole team is involved. A Giants team photo also appears at the top of the ad, followed below by a series of photos of individual Giants’ stars making Camel testimonials. More on those in a moment. At the bottom of the ad, is the company’s narrative message, which runs as follows:
Well, the returns are in. Congratulations to the new World Champions—the Giants! Rated by the experts as a hopeless contender, this amazing team, playing under inspired leadership, fought successfully through one of the hardest National League races in years. . .and again the under dog, went on to win the World Series. It takes healthy nerves to play “better baseball than you know how.” It takes healthy nerves to go on winning day after day through crucial series after series. . .delivering time after time in the pinches. It means something when you discover that 21 out of 23 Giants smoke Camel cigarettes. These men, to whom healthy nerves are all-important, have found that Camel’s costlier tobaccos not only taste better, but also they never interfere with training. . .never jangle the nerves.At the center of this ad, below the team photo and the enlarged baseball, photographs of five of the Giants’ players appear, each offering a sentence or two endorsing the Camel brand, beginning with Giants’ player/ manager Bill Terry, shown in the circular photo. Considered one of the game’s greatest players, Bill Terry (1898-1989), was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1954.
Terry is most remembered for being the last National League player to hit .400, a feat he accomplished in 1930, hitting .401. The Giants would retire Terry’s uniform No. 3 in 1984, and it is posted today at AT&T Park in San Francisco. In the Camel ad, Terry, then team manager, is quoted as saying: “Great Team Work and healthy nerves carried us to the top. A check-up of the team shows that 21 out of 23 of the World Champion Giants smoke Camels.”Next in the sequence of Camel endorsers, comes “Blondy” Ryan. John Collins Ryan (1906-1959) played shortstop in the major leagues from 1930to 1938, and is remembered primarily for his fielding and excellent play in the 1933 World Series. Ryan was also ninth in MVP voting for the 1933 regular season. In the Camel ad, he is the first player shown on the left offering his testimonial. “I long ago learned that Camels are the cigarette for me,” says Ryan in the ad. “I like Camels better, and they don’t get on my nerves.” Harold “Hal” Schumacher (1910-1993), one of the key Giants’ pitchers through the 1933 season and the World Series, comes next in the Camel ad: “I prefer Camels,” he says. “I am a steady smoker of Camels and they never give me jumpy nerves or a ‘cigarettey’ aftertaste.” Schumacher played with the Giants from 1931 to 1946, compiling a 158-121 win–loss record. He was also a two-time All Star selection.
Carl Hubbell (1903-1988), shown in the photo above, was a valuable left-handed pitcher for the Giants and a key player in their 1933 World Series championship. Hubbell comes next in the Camel ad. “I can’t risk getting ruffled nerves so I smoke Camels,” he is quoted as saying. “I like their mildness and I know they won’t interfere with healthy nerves.” Hubbell played with the Giants from 1928 to 1943, and remained with the team in various capacities for the rest of his life, even after the Giants moved to San Francisco. Hubbell, a nine-time All Star, was twice voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1947. Hubbell is also remembered for his appearance in the 1934 All-Star Game, when he struck out five of the game’s great hitters in succession – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin – setting a longstanding All-Star Game record for consecutive strikeouts. Hubbell was the first NL player to have his number retired, which is also displayed at AT&T Park.Next in the line of five Giants’ players endorsing Camel cigarettes is Mel Ott (1909-1958), the hitting star of the 1933 World Series. In game 1 of that Series, he had four hits, including a two-run home run. In game 5, he drove in the Series-winning run with two outs in the top of the 10th inning, driving a pitch into the center-field bleachers for a home run. “Jumpy nerves and home runs don’t go together,” Ott is credited with saying in the 1933 Camels ad. “So I stick to my Camels when I get a minute to enjoy a smoke.” Ott played his entire career (1926-1947) with the New York Giants as an outfielder. At 5′ 9″and 170 lbs, he was a surprisingly powerful hitter. He was the first National League player to surpass 500 home runs. In his 22-year career, Ott compiled a .304 batting average with 2,876 hits, 511 home runs, 1,860 runs batted in (RBIs), a .414 on base percentage, and a .533 slugging average.
Top Celebrities. Baseball stars such as Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell – and other famous athletes of that era – were among the most publicly-visible and sought-after celebrities of their day. Broadway and Hollywood also had their share of stars, and these celebrities were also sought for product endorsements, including tobacco, and some of those are covered elsewhere at this website. Still, the “celebrity factor” in the 1930s wasn’t quite as intense or ubiquitous as it is today, as there was no television, no internet, no “Dancing With Stars” or “American Idol”– and no 24-7 media machine. In that era, in fact, World Series baseball stars were regarded as top-of-the-line celebrities, considered among the biggest “gets” of their day, prized by marketers.In fact, in the following year, 1934, the same “World Series baseball team” pitch for Camels was used again by R.J. Reynolds, this time featuring the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, who won the Series that year. As in the Giant’s ad, the “21-of-23-players-smoke-Camels” phrase was used, and five St. Louis players made endorsements, including” the famous pitching brothers, “Dizzy” Dean and Paul Dean; Joe “Ducky” Medwick, power hitter; and “Pepper” Martin and “Rip” Collins. Player Manager Frank Frisch provided the set-up in this ad, also given a by-line as if reporting: “They sure made it hot for us this year, but the Cardinals came through in great style clear to the end when we needed every ounce of energy to win. We needed it—and we had it. There’s the story in a nutshell. It seems as though the team line up just as well on their smoking habits as they do on the ball field. Here’s our line-up on smoking: 21 out of 23 of the Cardinals prefer Camels.” Pepper Martin added: “I like Camels because when I light one I can actually feel all tiredness slip away.” And Rip Collins claimed: “A Camel has a way of ‘turning on’ my energy. And when I’m tired I notice they help me to snap back quickly.” Dizzy Dean added: “A Camel sure brings back your energy after a hard game or when you’re tired, and Camels never frazzle the nerves.”
R.J. Reynolds, for its part, was then engaged in a fierce advertising battle with American Tobacco for the top spot of the cigarette market, and its move in the 1930s to use baseball players and other athletes endorsing the Camel cigarette brand, helped the company regain its top-of-the-market position.
For other stories at this website on athletes and advertising see, for example: “Vines for Camels, 1934-1935” (Ellsworth Vines, tennis star); “Babe Ruth & Tobacco, 1920s-1940s” (Ruth in tobacco ads); “Gifford For Luckies, 1961-1962” (Frank Gifford, football star, in cigarette ad); “Wheaties & Sport, 1930s” (cereal advertising with mostly baseball stars); “Vuitton’s Soccer Stars, June 2010” (celebrity advertising with soccer stars); and, “…Keeps on Ticking, 1950s-1990s” (Timex watch advertising with sports stars). Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you see here, please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle.
Date Posted: 27 October 2012
Last Update: 1 June 2013
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Doyle, “21 of 23 Giants…Smoke Camels”
PopHistoryDig.com, October 27, 2012.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
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Gene Borio, “Tobacco Timeline: The Twentieth Century 1900-1949–The Rise of the Cigarette,” Tobacco.org.
Leah Lawrence, “Cigarettes Were Once ‘Physician’ Tested, Approved; from the 1930s to the 1950s, ‘Doctors’ Once Lit up the Pages of Cigarette Advertisements,” HemOncToday, March 10, 2009.
Tracie White, “Tobacco-Movie Industry Financial Ties Traced to Hollywood’s Early Years in Stanford/UCSF Study,” Stanford.edu, September 24, 2008.
“Not a Cough in a Carload,” Extensive On-Line Exhibit of Tobacco Ads, Lane Medical Library & Knowledge Management Center, Stanford.edu.
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“Bill Terry,” Wikipedia.org.
“Hal Schumacher,” Wikipedia.org.
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Advertisement, “21 Out Of 23 St. Louis Cardinals Smoke Camels,” San Jose News, October 11, 1934, p. 3.
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Scott Olstad, “A Brief History Of Cigarette Advertising,” Time, Monday, June 15, 2009.
Fred Stein, Mel Ott: The Little Giant of Baseball, McFarland & Co. Inc., 1999, 240 pp.
Fritz A. Buckallew, A Pitcher’s Moment: Carl Hubbell and the Quest for Baseball Immortality, Forty-Sixth Star Press, 2010, 204 pp.