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Cigars in the White House: A Short History

Cigars in the White House: A Short History

Just as the story of America couldn’t easily be told without mention of tobacco, neither could that of its highest office. From 1600 Pennsylvania’s first resident, Andrew Jackson (a chewer of such ardency that he had spittoons placed throughout the White House), to its most recent departure, Barack Obama (who finally kicked a stubborn cigarette habit in his second term), there’s no debating tobacco’s prominent role in some of our most storied administrations. Here are a few of the most cigar-loving leaders of the free world.

Ulysses S. Grant

Grant wasn’t the first sitting president to enjoy a good smoke—James Madison, Zachary Taylor, and Andrew Johnson were all known to partake—but he was the first for which it became an indelible part of his image. As Lincoln’s Commanding General of the Army during the latter part of the Civil War, Grant entered service as a light smoker. By the time it ended, he was a war hero reportedly smoking up to 20 cigars a day, a habit he’d ultimately parlay into his 1868 presidential run in the form of a campaign song, “A-Smoking His Cigar.” Spoiler alert: he won.

William McKinley

History hasn’t been quite as kind to him, but McKinley was one of the most respected presidents to ever serve when he was assassinated in 1901 shortly into his second term. He’d ultimately grace the rarely seen $500 bill (discontinued in 1969), but his storied love of stogies is what lives on. He’d smoke incessantly in the White House, but not around his wife, and pretty much anywhere else he was sure he wouldn’t be spotted lighting up. Once, while vacationing at his Ohio home early in his second term, a photographer approached to take his picture. McKinley quickly threw the cigar aside, remarking “We must not let the young men of this country see their president smoking!” Ah, simpler times.

Calvin Coolidge

Our thirtieth and perhaps most enigmatic president, Coolidge is remembered as much for his love of stogies as any single defining achievement in office. Dubbed “Silent Cal” for his laconic demeanor, he was, by most accounts, more effective when keeping his words to a minimum and instead letting one of the several super coronas he consumed daily do the talking. A notably discerning smoker, Cal would rarely accept a cigar offered to him, opting instead for one of the premium Havana’s he carried in a vest pocket. Coolidge was also known to affix a cheap paper holder to his cigars before smoking, a curious habit given his taste, but one that presaged the market crash of ’29, which some believe may have been exacerbated by the ineffectual administration that preceded it.

John F. Kennedy

It’s fun to imagine JFK sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office cradling an H. Upmann Petit Corona in his left hand, and a fountain pen aloft over the Cuban trade embargo in his right. A lifelong smoker and unabashed enthusiast for petit Cubans (mainly cigars), he knew his signature would effectively end the flow of Coronas into the U.S. Like all great leaders, though, he was thinking ahead. Anticipating what was to come, Kennedy dispatched his Press Secretary, Pierre Salinger, to track down as many H. Upmann Petit Corona’s as he could find before he signed. All told, Salinger turned up about 1,200, ensuring the president would be set for quite a while. After a half-century trading freeze, President Obama lifted the ban, once again giving Americans the chance to bring in a limited number of Cubans. With uncertainty the new norm, though, probably best to stock up while you can.

Bill Clinton

While Clinton’s cigar legacy will always be remembered as, uh, complicated, there’s no denying his love of a good smoke during his early years in office. He’s rumored to’ve had a taste for Gurkha Grand Reserves, in particular, until Hillary had all the ashtrays permanently removed from the White House, bringing an end to a storied history of smoking at our country’s most famous address once and for all.


About The Author

Kevin Kampwirth


3 Responses To “Cigars in the White House: A Short History”

  1. Profile Picture

    maxcraw2004 said...

    How so you get the ashtray

  2. Profile Picture

    vladyka said...

    Seems like just a few short years ago when I watched JFK’s funeral on TV. So long ago, but soon the most popular export of Cuba will grace the shelves in our country again.

  3. Profile Picture

    dpshope66 said...

    Interesting story will be glad when cubans are available in the Midwest


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