The Pop History Dig

“Babe Ruth & Tobacco”
1920s-1940s

This advertisement of Babe Ruth and his wife Claire, singing the praises of White Owl Cigars, appeared in the ‘L.A.Times” newspaper, Dec 1938, and likely other publications as well.
This advertisement of Babe Ruth and his wife Claire, singing the praises of White Owl Cigars, appeared in the ‘L.A.Times” newspaper, Dec 1938, and likely other publications as well.
     Shown at right is a 1938 Los Angeles Times newspaper ad for White Owl cigars.  Featured in this ad is the venerable New York Yankee baseball slugger of the 1920s, Babe Ruth, along with his wife, Claire.  This famous pair is making a joint pitch for White Owl cigars.  No, Claire didn’t smoke them, but she’s lending her approval in this ad in another way.  More on that in a moment.

     Babe Ruth by this time was retired from active play, having made his last pro- fessional appearance with the Boston Braves in May 1935.  His celebrity, how- ever, was still very much intact, and remained so for a number of years beyond his playing days.  His image and endorse- ment were sought by numerous interests, many wanting him to pitch their products directly.

     In this ad, the central message from White Owl cigars is printed in bold just beneath the photo of the happy couple:  “Mr and Mrs. Babe Ruth both agree on this Vintage Cigar.”  The ad also uses the “Happily Married” tagline above the main photo, inferring that White Owl Cigars somehow contribute to marital bliss.

Claire Ruth.
Claire Ruth.
     In the ad, both Ruth and his wife Claire provide their separate endorsements for White Owl cigars, each shown in smaller artist sketches flanking the main photo.  They are set out in respective sidebar boxes, delivering a short message — one targeted to women from Claire, and another from Babe.  First, in the left hand box, “Claire says”:

“…We’ve often been painted out as happily married.  We are, too.  I guess it’s because we get so much fun out of doing things together…discovering so many things… like how much mildness means in a cigar.  Babe says mildness comes first — and I say that from my woman’s point of view it’s both first and last.  I’m all for those cigars of his because they’re kind to kisses.”

Babe Ruth.
Babe Ruth.
Then, comes the “Babe” making his endorsement:

“…We’ve had lots of fun together.  Claire knows how much I like a really mild cigar — but I’ve never told her that in addition to being mild, they’re the one cigar I can count on always tasting good too!  It always has the same grand aroma, fine flavor, and Vintage mildness.  No matter when or where I buy them, they’re always a swell smoke!”

     The text from White Owl at the bottom of the ad then continues:

“It’s something when you get a cigar that suits a man’s taste and a woman’s fancy.  But White Owls do that.  Over five billion White Owls have been smoked… a record unequaled by any other cigar in the world.  That’s a smoker’s tribute to White Owl’s mellow mildness…rich aroma.  And the ladies appreciate its scientifically proven ‘easier on the breath.’

“Year after year, White Owls have been improved… No wonder more White Owls have been smoked more than any other cigar…”

Babe Ruth selling his cigars in front of a Boston drug story & tobacco shop, February 1920.
Babe Ruth selling his cigars in front of a Boston drug story & tobacco shop, February 1920.
     By all accounts, Ruth was a regular cigar smoker, and he indulged not only in White Owls, but other tobacco products as well.  He smoked pipes and cigarettes occasionally, and also used snuff generously.  But cigars seemed to be his favorite tobacco product.  Ruth reportedly preferred the larger cigars.  “Twice he went to Cuba to bring back Havanas,” according to Baseball Hall of Fame researcher Bill Jenkinson.  There are some accounts of Ruth on his fairly active road nights,  going through four of five cigars an evening.  One teammate, pitcher Waite Hoyt remembers Ruth on the road relaxing in his hotel suite, and lighting up “a long 60-cent cigar.”

     There are any number of photos of Ruth showing him smoking at leisure, smoking in his car, even smoking while hitting a ball.   There is also a 1919 vintage photo of him sitting at a work bench rolling cigars.  In fact, during his early playing years in Boston, Ruth had invested some of his money in a small local cigar business that manufactured a “Babe Ruth” nickel cigar complete with his picture on every wrapper.  “I smoked them until I was blue in the face,” Ruth reportedly said of those cigars.  But Ruth also spent some time promoting his cigar venture, as the 1920 photo at left shows him standing on a makshift platform pitching cigars in front of a Boston cigar store.  Another photo below shows Ruth at the counter inside the store making a sale. 


Babe Ruth shown making a cigar sale at Boston tobacco shop, February 1920.
Babe Ruth shown making a cigar sale at Boston tobacco shop, February 1920.
Ruth as Pitchman

     Beyond his cigar business venture, however,  and as a result of his baseball fame, Babe Ruth was a sought-after celebrity.  He was regularly sought out to sell all manner of  commercial products — both during his playing career and for some years after, as in the White Owl cigar ad above.  Ruth also lent his name and/or image to a wide array of advertisers, and he endorsed a number of products in one way or another.  Among some of the Babe Ruth-endorsed products were: Wheaties breakfast cereal, Quaker puffed wheat cereal, baseball gloves, Spalding baseballs, Sinclair gasoline, Esso gasoline, Tydol Ethyl gasoline, Mrs. Sherlock’s Bread, Babe Ruth All-American Underwear, Ruth’s Home Run Candy, girl scout cookies, Red Rock Cola, Babe Ruth Gum, Louisville Slugger baseball bats, and other products.

Babe Ruth featured in advertisement for Old Gold cigarettes, probably from the 1920s.
Babe Ruth featured in advertisement for Old Gold cigarettes, probably from the 1920s.
     In addition to Ruth’s earlier cigar business and his ads for White Owl cigars, he also became associated with other tobacco products during his career, including Bambino Tobacco.  He did a few cigarette ads as well, even though he did not regularly smoke cigarettes.  In the undated Old Gold cigarette ad at left, probably from the 1920s, Ruth is shown swinging his bat and giving his endorsement to Old Golds in a “blindfold test.”  In the blindfold test portion of the ad, he is quoted as saying: “Old Gold’s mildness and smoothness marked it ‘right off the bat’ as the best,” signed: “Babe Ruth.” 

     In his prime-time playing years, Ruth also did advertising spots for chewing tobacco, as seen in the ad below for Pinch-Hit Chewing Tobacco.  In 1927, he appeared in the Hollywood film, “Babe Comes Home,” with actress Anna Nilsson, a film in which chewing tobacco is part of the storyline.  Ruth also lent his name and image to advertising spots for Kaywoodie pipe tobacco.

Babe Ruth image and endorsement for Pinch-Hit chewing tobacco, undated.
Babe Ruth image and endorsement for Pinch-Hit chewing tobacco, undated.
     As a young boy, by age seven or so, Ruth was already involved in drinking alcohol and chewing tobacco.  Throughout his adult years, Ruth smoked and chewed tobacco, and he had his share of alcohol, too. 

     In 1946, just before retiring from baseball, Ruth was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a rare form of cancer which tends to infiltrate other organs.  The location of Ruth’s cancer was in the nasopharynx, or the upper part of the throat behind the nose.  Doctors did their best to arrest the cancer, using surgery and radiation treatments, but were not successful and so they eventually released him from the hospital in 1947.

Babe Ruth in 1945 ad for Raleigh cigarettes.
Babe Ruth in 1945 ad for Raleigh cigarettes.
     Even though Ruth’s cancer was thought to be a result of his use of chewing tobacco, cigars, and alcohol, studies have shown in recent years that other risk factors can also be associated with this particular type of cancer, and these may also have been at work in Ruth’s case.  Among those risk factors are geographic location, genetic inheritance, and certain environ- mental carcinogens.  Still, when Ruth died of throat cancer in August of 1948, it was believed that tobacco was a contributing if not a major factor in his death.

     Additional stories on Babe Ruth’s baseball career and his celebrity at this website can be found at, “Babe Ruth Days, 1947-1948,” and, “Ruth At Oriole Park, 1930s-2009.”  For additional stories on sports or advertising, please see those respective category pages. 

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Date Posted:  25 September 2010
Last Update:  14 February 2011
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Babe Ruth & Tobacco, 1920s-1940s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, September 25, 2010.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

About a month after Ruth’s death in Sept 1948, “The Babe Ruth Story,” a film by Allied Artists starring William Bendix, was released to theaters. Bendix is shown above in a 1948 back-page magazine ad attired in his Babe Ruth outfit, singing the praises of Chesterfield cigarettes. It appears he is also holding a Babe Ruth-monogrammed “Louisville Slugger” baseball bat.
About a month after Ruth’s death in Sept 1948, “The Babe Ruth Story,” a film by Allied Artists starring William Bendix, was released to theaters. Bendix is shown above in a 1948 back-page magazine ad attired in his Babe Ruth outfit, singing the praises of Chesterfield cigarettes. It appears he is also holding a Babe Ruth-monogrammed “Louisville Slugger” baseball bat.
“The Babe Ruth Story,” Time, Monday, August 30, 1948.

Larry Schwartz, “Lovable Ruth Was Everyone’s Babe,” Special to ESPN.com.

Leigh Montville, The Big Bam: The Life & Times of Babe Ruth, New York: Doubleday, 2006.

“Famous People Who Have Died from Cigar-Related Disease,” The Wellness Letter, University of California at Berkeley, January 1997, Volume 13, Issue 4.

Babe Ruth: Famous People Who Have Suffered from Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer,” American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery, 2010.

Jack Doyle, “Babe Ruth Days,1947 & 1948,” PopHistoryDig.com, April 17, 2008.

Jack Doyle, “Ruth at Oriole Park, 1930s-2009,” PopHistoryDig.com, March 29, 2009.

The Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.

Kenneth Shouler, “The King of Swings: Babe Ruth Revolutionized Baseball While Indulging a Passion for Wine, Women and Cigars,” CigarAfici- onado.com.

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