Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder

Like his brothers, my Pop was an Army Air Force man, eager to serve his country from the skies. Even before the Japanese infamously attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, Americans patriotically supported their flying men of arms.

2017-04-06 001 001 (502x800)Brown & Williamson’s (B&W) “Wings” label – the sample here is copyrighted 1940 but was probably sold in 1941 – features the same “flying wings” my grandfather was proud to earn. He sent those wings back home to his family and kept them all his life. In a nod to the boys training on base and to their families on the home front, B&W emblazoned the pack with the patriotic slogan, “Let’s Go! U.S.A. Keep ‘Em Flying!”

Easily the coolest part of this pack is the aircraft card on the back: a U.S. Army Primary Trainer (it looks like a Fairchild PT-19). The cards were probably meant to be traded among boys much in the way cigarette pack baseball cards were traded earlier in the century.

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Unlike airplane “spotter cards,” which would show three separate angles of each plane and were designed to teach people to identify the planes quickly, this card only shows a profile and it’s in color, indicating that it was designed to show off the beautiful aircraft and help sell the cigarettes.

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A pair of 1943 airplane spotter cards (facsimiles)

The reverse gives technical information about the plane. The Fairchild PT-19 wasn’t a large or elaborate plane, just right for training a pilot or navigator. Two seats fit the trainer and trainee, and with an open cockpit neither were shielded from the elements or the pressure. Great for learning maneuvers, practicing navigation, and getting used to how an airplane reacts to the controls.

One of my favorite photographs of Pop shows him posing in front of his airplane, which also appears to be a Fairchild PT-19, probably while he was still a baby-faced recruit training as bombardier and gunner in the southern U.S. He’s so handsome in this picture. No wonder my grandmother fell in love with him!


If you’ve got any pictures of yourself or family members posing with these planes, I’d love to post them here!

“I Like Ike!”

Happy Presidents Day 2017! This gem of a cigarette pack was used in Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 presidential campaign. In a revolution in our political system, Ike beat Adlai Stevenson, returning a Republican to the White House for the first time in two decades.

Among Ike’s great achievements was guiding the country through both open war and Cold War. When leaving office, he left the country a warning about the danger of combining influence under the military-industrial complex:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

His words ring true to this day, under all governmental administrations.

NPR – “Ike’s Warning Of Military Expansion, 50 Years Later”

Bear Shit – A Cigarette for the Stout of Heart


“Made from Genuine and Unadulterated Bear Shit” – So reads the side of this cigarette pack label. I sincerely hope this is not a case of truth in advertising. The other side of the label reads “The cigarette that you always wanted to smoke but were afraid to try.” Even after 5 seasons working at a nature center, and having handled quite a bit of excrement – we called it “scat” or, more politely, fertilizer – I would not want the remnants of a bear’s digestive track anywhere near my mouth.

If the idea of flaming poo near your mouth isn’t enticing, the design on the pack is cute as a button (much like the “Cookie Jar” brand, which features a teddy bear). A panda bear is sitting in a patch of bamboo shoots and smoking his favorite brand. From the smile on his face and the sparkle in his eyes, the taste must be wonderful. Then again, he could just be taking a shit.

Chapultepec Zoo Panda

This is part of a series of packs my father picked up in the late 1970s in Tijuana, Mexico. (Check out the “Bull Shit” Cigarette label!) Why, you ask, is there a panda bear on a Mexican cigarette pack? Great question! In 1975, the Chapultepec Zoo received its first pair of pandas – Pepe and Ying Ying – as a gift from the People’s Republic of China, and they proceeded to have Latino panda cubs. That’s a lot of manure for producing Bear Shit cigarettes.

(Read: April 29, 2013 – “Famous Giant Panda Dies in Mexico City Zoo”)

Image Credit – By Hmaglione10 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

bear-shit03Like the other packs in this series, the Bear Shit label features a friendly description on the reverse. The text praises the pleasant flavor and declares, in English that would make my 4th-grade teacher Mrs. Zisow cringe, “You can’t find this kind of cigarettes in eny other part of the world. If you smock this cigarettes you are going to feel like an other man.” This is a clear example of a Mexican company catering to the American tourist crowd vacationing in Tijuana and elsewhere around the country.

Do you love the image of a cuddly bear smoking? Check out my fan-fiction story, “In Which Winnie the Pooh Picks up a Smoking Habit and his Friends Plan an Intervention.”Winnie the Pooh and Piglet Take a Cigarette Break

Bull Shit! Good Till the Last Puff

In my summer camp, one of our favorite break activities was a card game called “Bull Shit!” It was all about calling your opponents’ bluffs, and screaming “Bull Shit!” as often as possible. Hmm, I wonder why the counselors didn’t like us…

“Bull Shit!” is one of those inventions of American slang that makes our language so endearing. Allegedly, Leonid Tarassuk, former curator at the Hermitage in Leningrad and noted jokester, fell in love with this phrase when he was fighting against Soviet anti-Semitism and applying to leave the country. It became his favorite slogan, according to Soviet Jewry activist Fabian Kolker, and he stamped it on every visa request the government denied. At some point, he even wore a belt with “Bullshit” engraved on the buckle.

But this pack of cigarettes takes the cake for Bull Shit ingenuity. The label features a bull, you guessed it, fertilizing the field with a patty of his excrement. And he looks so happy, with a smile that reminds me of that look my friend’s baby makes while making a “deposit” in his diaper. This is genius advertising, because the first thing a cigarette smoker wants to be reminded of is that his tobacco was fertilized with poop.

My grandfather got a kick out of these cigarettes and used to show them off. He had a whole series of cigarette packs – including horse shit, rabbit shit, cangaroo [sic] shit, chicken shit, donky [sic] shit, and bear shit – all produced by a tobacco manufacturer in Tijuana. They were gifts from my father and a friend of the family. Yeah, they were real shitty gift-givers.

For fun, check out the text on the back of this pack in the picture below. Apparently, these were real tobacco cigarettes (as indicated by the Mexican tobacco stamp. But the manufacturer had a blast, writing “We ar[sic] happy with Our Cigarettes Shit” and “Bull Shit Cigarettes… You really taste good!…” on the side of the label. These are great gag cigarettes to show your friends, but as the pack warns, you probably wouldn’t want to give them to a young cow in love.