Throughout pipe making's many centuries of history, myriad mediums have been employed for carving the familiar smokers. From stone and clay to briar and morta, the list is extensive. One of these materials stands out among the others, not just thanks to its charming and humble physical substance, but its distinctly American origins: the corn cob. Corn cob pipes were first smoked by rural American farmers who crudely carved the pipes by hand using raw corn cobs, possibly inspired by the practices of Native Americans. Though no one can pinpoint the exact date of the first corn cob pipe's construction, their emergence into the broader consciousness of pipe smokers was around 1869.
Henry Tibbe was a Dutch woodturner who immigrated to America in 1867 after a fire destroyed his home and factory in Enschede, Holland, relocating his family to Washington, Missouri in search of a new start in the land of opportunity. There he established a small woodworking business where he crafted various household items, and, according to widely accepted legend, was approached by a farmer in 1869 who had been carving his own corn cob pipes. The farmer had enjoyed the pipes he'd made for himself and was inspired to ask Tibbe to turn one for him on one of the Dutchman's lathes, thinking that a more precisely carved pipe would smoke better. After Tibbe obliged him, he was proven right, and Henry carved several more pipes to showcase in the windows of his store. These pipes were purchased extremely quickly, Tibbe carved more, and the cycle continued until, in the early 1870s, he was carving more pipes than anything else.
Sensing that this newfound product was in demand, Henry and his son Anton established the H. Tibbe & Son company, devoting their focus entirely to the carving of corn cob pipes. While their innovative lathe-carving process had already pushed corn cob pipes into relative success, the next innovation the family developed would see corn cob pipes finding a place in the rotations of pipe smokers around the world. In 1878, Henry and Anton applied for a patent describing a process which effectively fireproofed the corn cob bowl by coating the cob with a plaster-like substance, solving a problem which these pipes had faced for years: frequent burnout. This solution was inexpensive and provided durability for the stummels when in a lathe, endowing the pipes with practicality and longevity, and propelling the humble corn cob pipe into immense popularity.
In just a few short years, the H. Tibbe & Son company had grown to become a supplier of these novel pipes on a global scale, and the increased production brought with it a move to a larger factory and increased fervor from the public. Not only was demand ramping up, but competition began to appear in the form of rival cob carvers, with around four opening in Washington, MO alone after Tibbe's original patent expired in 1895. The next year, Henry Tibbe passed away, and management of the company fell to his son, Anton. Anton was forward-thinking, and began modernizing the production facilities, bringing in electric lathes to replace their old foot-pedaled models. The only problem was that Washington didn't have electricity at the time, so Anton took it upon himself to establish electrical infrastructure in the small town, followed by a telephone system and a distributed water system. In 1907, Anton redubbed the company Missouri Meerschaum, stemming from a comment made by Henry's brother Fritz about the pipes themselves, comparing them to more expensive meerschaum pipes thanks to their cool, dry smoking properties.
The corn cob pipe has become an American icon, not only representative of the ideals of hardiness and self-sufficiency, but of the American dream as a whole. Its status is proven only by its prolific presence within American consciousness, being the preferred smoke of cultural figures like Mark Twain, or pop culture characters like Popeye or Frosty the Snowman. One of the more standout smokers of these pipes was U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, who smoked a uniquely stylized imagining of the classic corn cob that he was seldom seen without.
MacArthur's Early History
Douglas MacArthur was born on 26 January, 1880 in Little Rock, Arkansas during the time of the American Old West, the youngest of three sons. He was born to then U.S. Army captain Arthur MacArthur Jr. and Mary Pinkney Hardy MacArthur, spending much of his early life traveling to various Army posts around the American Frontier with his family, where conditions were poor enough to lead to the death of his middle brother Malcolm.
In 1889, the family moved to Washington D.C. and, later, to San Antonio, Texas, where Douglas attended West Texas Military Academy, paving the way for his entrance into West Point. He graduated first in his class from the prestigious institution with the third-highest score ever recorded by West Point's officials, setting a trajectory that would see him becoming one of the United States' most recognizable military officials and a full-blown American hero.
In 1878, Henry and Anton applied for a patent describing a process which effectively fireproofed the corn cob bowl
After matriculation, MacArthur went on furlough with his parents in Fort Mason, California, before being appointed to Iloilo in the Philippines as a second lieutenant with the 3rd Engineer Battalion, overseeing various construction projects. MacArthur was promoted to chief engineer of the Division of the Pacific in 1905 and served as an aide for his father in Japan the same year, his return in 1906 marked by frequent transfers around the U.S. in the coming years and his promotion to captain in 1911, until, in September of 1912, Arthur MacArthur Jr. died. Douglas returned home to his ailing mother after his father's death and requested an appointment that would allow her to be near Johns Hopkins hospital in Washington D.C., which was obliged, and he was appointed to the Office of the Chief of Staff the same year.
After the political faux pas of the Tampico affair, the United States military invaded the Mexican state of Veracruz, where Douglas would arrive on April 21, 1914 and, in an unauthorized reconnaissance mission, take his squad into Alvarado. There, looking for a locomotive to more efficiently transport supplies, Douglas fended off three ambushes singlehandedly and earned his first recommendation for the Medal of Honor. This recommendation was denied due to MacArthur's acts not being sanctioned by his superiors, and he consequently received nothing.
Military Service During WWI
Following his return to the States, he was promoted to Major in 1915, and was deployed again in 1917 as the United States entered World War I. During the Great War, MacArthur's exploits were numerous, founding the Rainbow Division in late 1917, performing raids on German trenches in 1918 that earned him a Crois de Guerre and two Distinguished Service Crosses, and even participating in the Meuse–Argonne offensive as a scout, being the only surviving member of his squad and earning another Medal of Honor recommendation.
MacArthur's high-ranking status as a member of the military was unquestionable, and his time in World War I was punctuated by his promotion to Brigadier General. After the war he served as superintendent of West Point, where he applied forward-thinking concepts of education to the curriculum, many of which were widely dismissed, though were later applauded and restored. In 1925, following time in the Philippines overseeing the military district of Manila, he quelled a prospective rebellion and was promoted to the rank of Major General at age 44, the youngest ever to hold that rank in United States history.
Retirement and Return to Service for WWII
His service in the Philippines saw him residing there for years with few interruptions, and he was appreciated so much by the Philippine people that he was invited back after the nation achieved semi-independence in 1935 to oversee the formation of the Philippine army. The appointment came with the title of Field Marshall of the Philippines, and, in 1937, MacArthur retired.
Four years later, World War II began, and MacArthur was called back into service, prepping the Philippines to withstand a Japanese attack and commanding forces all across the Pacific after becoming the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific. For his actions in readying the Philippines against assault, MacArthur was finally awarded with a Medal of Honor in 1942.
He graduated first in his class from the prestigious institution with the third-highest score ever recorded by West Point's officials
The conclusion of World War II saw MacArthur presiding over the surrender of Japan and later the nation's occupation, overseeing the reconstruction and reorganization of the country. His actions were responsible for abolishing the feudal class system present within their governance at the time, breaking up the monopolies which had once dominated Japanese industry, and introducing social reform that gave women the right to vote and codified fundamental human rights.
MacArthur stayed in Japan even after he handed power back to the government, leaving in 1951, by which time he was involved with the Korean War. His performance in this conflict was marked by early victories, notably the battle of Incheon, though a variety of factors resulted in a string of losses which soiled his relationship with President Harry S. Truman and led to him being relieved from duty in April, 1951.
Given his growing popularity as a figure in the military, MacArthur found himself more and more often in the public eye, and he became a celebrity of sorts thanks not only to his accomplishments, but his brusque and direct manner of speaking and imposing public persona. Part of the charm many felt for MacArthur came thanks to his oftentimes disheveled appearance compared to the far more formal style of dress seen on many other military officials, with such a look typified by his jaunty style of "scrambled eggs" cap, named after the gold braid which sat atop its bill.
After the war he served as superintendent of West Point
MacArthur became keenly aware of his growing role within the media, and would often utilize media outlets to rally support for both war efforts and his own causes, with specific attention paid to his appearance. Despite a look that could be considered bedraggled, this unkempt facade worked extremely well to endear him to the American public, but it was his pipe that completed his ensemble, elevating the appearance of the general to iconic.
MacArthur's Public Persona and Pipes
A long-time cigarette smoker, it's unclear when exactly Douglas MacArthur contacted the Missouri Meerschaum company, though the reasons why were more readily apparent: MacArthur wished for them to custom-make him his own style of pipe. After some collaboration, MacArthur and the company settled on a silhouette incorporating elements of Douglas' intended design alongside features from an old corn cob pipe model that had since fallen out of production.
What resulted was nothing short of eye-catching: a pipe that boasted a lengthy reed shank and mouthpiece paired to nearly an entire corn cob for the bowl. The profile of this pipe was absolutely domineering, and it's no surprise that he brought it out at nearly every opportunity facing the media, and the majority of pictures taken of him during wartime in his later years depict him smoking this pipe.
Each of MacArthur's pipes boasted a singed ring around the shank, a trait that the general would add himself with every new pipe he acquired, burning a ring around the shank with a heated wire to make each pipe personal, distinguishing them from other pipes, and further setting both them and himself apart from their peers. Of the pipes he designed for his own use, and which would later become known by his name, there existed a few variations, most notably with regard to the chamber. In the standard iteration of these pipes, the shank would meet the bowl near the bottom, creating a chamber of truly cavernous depth which MacArthur found he couldn't reliably finish, so a second style of pipe was fashioned, moving the transition further up the bowl and maintaining the style of the other pipe while reducing the scale of the chamber. Both pipes are still sold to this day by Missouri Meerschaum, and there exist several pipe making homages to the profile, most notably within Erik Nording's Compass series.
The conclusion of World War II saw MacArthur presiding over the surrender of Japan and later the nation's occupation
An Enduring Military Figure
In his time, MacArthur was a controversial figure, a man who butted heads with superiors on nearly all fronts and was divisive in his approach toward the media and toward fighting wars in general. In fact, one of his most bravely insubordinate moments involved his standing up to then President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After the latter proposed a 51% cut to the U.S. military budget, MacArthur responding with: "when we lost the next war, and an American boy, lying in the mud with an enemy bayonet through his belly and an enemy foot on his dying throat, spat out his last curse, I wanted the name not to be MacArthur, but Roosevelt." The impassioned MacArthur offered to resign after being dressed down by Roosevelt, but was refused and left, vomiting on the front steps of the White House and being offered another year at his post.
The profile of this pipe was absolutely domineering, and it's no surprise that he brought it out at nearly every opportunity facing the media
One of the most decorated and longest-serving military officials in United States history, Douglas MacArthur has become one of the country's most enduring symbols of might and tenacity, both militarily and spiritually. An American hero whose military career knows no parallel, MacArthur died on April 5, 1964 in Washington D.C., leaving behind a complex and storied history that reflected his lifelong achievements. An avid pipe smoker who embodied many American values and ideals while simultaneously proving his humanity through the missteps of his career, Douglas MacArthur rightfully belongs to the United States' pantheon of national heroes.