Upon his landing in the West Indies in 1492 natives greeted Christopher Columbus with fruit, wooden spears and dried leaves with a distinct fragrance. The sailors appreciated the fruit but not knowing what they were for, threw away the dried leaves. A few weeks later, two crewmen from the ship reported seeing natives wrap the same type of dried leaves in maize and light one end, inhaling smoke from the other. One of the sailors tried a few puffs and probably became the first European smoker. Fast forward 420 years when men in tuxedos aboard the Titanic were observed smoking cigarettes as they awaited their fate.
I haven’t smoked since my years in high school and college, but despite that have always had an interest in the paraphernalia of smoking. Look around my house and you would quickly spot an ashtray or two and an old Zippo lighter. One of my strongest memories of watching television as a child was the Old Gold cigarette commercials on the Sunday night Ed Sullivan Show. I can still see the Old Gold Girls dancing in my head—a row of girls, each covered by a giant Old Gold package from the legs up, kicking and strutting across the stage while the musical jingle plays. In my days as a smoker I never once tried an Old Gold, and I don’t believe they are around anymore, but the memory holds strong. Once in a while for a kick I ask a clueless store clerk for a pack of Old Gold Regulars. I’ve never gotten more than blank look.
Cigarettes sales enjoyed a rapid growth in the 1870s but were still considered a novelty, for the most part an urban phenomenon. Americans were attached to their pipes, cigars and chewing tobacco. During this period, William S. Kimball’s Peerless Tobacco Works of Rochester, NY managed to capture an ever increasing share of the US cigarette market with their Vanity Fair, Three Kings and Old Gold brands. By 1917, Lucky Strike, Camels, and Chesterfield were dominating the market. At the beginning of the 1930s, four brands accounted for ninety-two percent of all cigarette sales nationally: Camels, Lucky Strikes, Old Gold and Chesterfield. Reynolds Company decided to raise the wholesale price of Camels from $6.40 per thousand to $6.85. Lucky Strike, Chesterfield and Old Gold soon followed suit and the retail price of cigarettes moved from two packs for 25¢ to 15¢ a pack. By 1940 Old Gold sales had dropped to 5th place while Camel rose to No. 1.
The Lorillard website still lists Old Gold as one of its six brands, but I have to wonder where they are sold since they are not a visible brand in my part of the world and haven’t been for a long time.
For a while, the Old Gold slogan was “Not a Cough in a Carload”, along with the print ad above that appeared in magazines. The television commercial below was used in 1952.