Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » American Idol, 1873

American Idol, 1873

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 17, 2009

That’s what George Q. Cannon called it – “A Popular American Idol” – and he even provided a portrait to the readers of the Juvenile Instructor:

He described its body: “A tobacco hogshead, and its sides are casks of tobacco, on which are boxes of various kinds of cigars. On these boxes of cigars rest its arms, which are composed of clay tobacco pipes, and its outstretched fingers are formed of meerschaum pipes. Cigar holders are its neck, while its mouth is a box of cigars, its eyes are formed of tobacco pipe bowls, and the halo around its head looks like tobacco pipes.” The whole was shrouded by the incense of tobacco smoke offered up by its “hideous, wretched, miserable” devotees.

After a brief history of tobacco, Cannon enumerates his reasons for avoiding it, among which were:


Leeches, which are sometimes applied to suck the blood from bruised or inflamed parts of the human system, have been killed by the blood of tobacco smokers, so suddenly that they dropped off dead immediately after they were applied. If used freely, tobacco enfeebles the mind and weakens the powers of intelligence and of moral energy, and that vigor of intellect, one of the elements of which is memory. …

Walk through the cities where Tobacco is constantly used, and where the whole breathing atmosphere is saturdated with the malaria of Tobacco, and you will notice the slender form and sharp features of the young men. They are an inferior race. The flush of health is not on the cheek. …

It is only the other day that we heard of the death of an old acquaintance in the States. While eating, he accidently cut the side of his mouth with a fork. it was a trifling wound; but he was a smoker, and in smoking he poisoned the wound with nicotina, the poisonous alkaloid that is in Tobacco. From that slight wound he, though a very strong, healthy man, died.


What young man would want a Tobacco chewer or smoker for a wife? Many of the men think, however, it is very nice for them to chew and smoke, as though man’s breath was sweeter under such circumstances than woman’s would be! A young man would be ashamed to marry a woman who used Tobacco. Every young lady among the latter-day Saints should feel equally disgusted at the thought of marrying a man who chews or smokes.

National Duty

Excessive smoking has had no small share in producing the degeneration of Spain. A Spaniard is scarcely ever seen without a cigar or cigarette in his mouth. … Spain was the first of all the European nations to adopt the use of Tobacco. She was then the foremost nation of Europe. …But now how changed! her people have lost their physical and intellectual vigor. …

Like the Spaniards, the Turks constantly indulge in the vicious habit of smoking Tobacco. And year by year they become more degraded physically and mentally. During the Crimean war the Turkish officers were found to be ignorant, lazy and indolent, constantly stupefied with Tobacco.


Ladies are not protected from the disgusting smell of Tobacco. There was a time when gentlemen thought it very bad manners to smoke in the presence of a lady. Now persons who claim to be well-bred smoke while riding with ladies, or while walking with them on their arms!


We need not go out of this city of Salt Lake to see such sights. We have silly boys and young men here who ape the strangers who come from the States, and who seem to think it is a manly accomplishment to smoke and chew filthy Tobacco. They act as if they did not believe the word of the Lord respecting Tobacco; but if they were less ignorant, they would know that the Word of Wisdom is literally true and given for their benefit. …

Every mother should teach her sons the Word of Wisdom, and the evil results of using Tobacco. Let it be banished from society, except for bruises and sick cattle as directed by the revelation. The foul odor of the breath of the Tobacco smoker and chewer, which is so offensive, should never ben known in our midst. The Idol Tobacco should never be worshiped by Saints. Let it, like every other idol, be thrown down and cast aside, and the Latter-day Saints become a pure, clean, healthy race of people, in whom the Lord will take delight.

The message was as clear as George Q. Cannon could make it! No worshiping at this shrine, brothers!



  1. Cool picture. Any indication if it was produced for and/or by the JI staff or if they “borrowed” it from elsewhere? Sometimes we forget that cigarette prohibition was a progressive era reform that resulted in at least 14 states going smoke free. If memory serves, Washington was first in 1896. Utah came later, 1921, and only lasted two years. This 1873 manifestation seems early, but likely a part of the broader movement and a part of W of W reform aimed at the rising generation?

    Comment by Paul Reeve — June 17, 2009 @ 10:45 am

  2. And year by year they become more degraded physically and mentally. During the Crimean war the Turkish officers were found to be ignorant, lazy and indolent, constantly stupefied with Tobacco

    Let it, like every other idol, be thrown down and cast aside, and the Latter-day Saints become a pure, clean, healthy race of people, in whom the Lord will take delight.

    This sounds to me like other of Cannon’s “body” rhetoric, but this time attempting to claim whiteness for Mormons vis a vis the W of W, while racializing the Spaniards and Turks using the same language often employed against Mormons. Good stuff, Ardis.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — June 17, 2009 @ 10:52 am

  3. Paul, this early I don’t think there was any in-house production. The Mormon portraits and engravings of Salt Lake scenes had all been published elsewhere before it showed up in JI, and there’s a letters in the Brigham Young papers about GCQ having purchased a large collection of what must have amounted clip art, and the difficulty of writing JI articles to fit the art rather then the other way around.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 17, 2009 @ 11:00 am

  4. I always wondered why doctors quit using leeches.

    GQC minced no words in this. I think it is obvious how he felt.

    As to “excessive smoking” leading to the degeneration of Spain, I think it all started from the smoke of the fire ships that Sir Francis Drake sent against the Spanish Armada in 1588.

    Comment by kevinf — June 17, 2009 @ 11:36 am

  5. I don’t know Cannon’s source(s), but I came across an 1860s anti-tobacco book entitled Tobacco: What It Is, and What It Does featuring several of these same points: the leeches (pp. 34-35); the “malaria of tobacco,” “slender form and sharp features,” missing “flush of health” from the cheek (pp. 166-67); the degeneration of Spain (pp. 155-57); and the lazy and indolent Turks (p. 28).

    Comment by Justin — June 17, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  6. The smoking Turks — or as William Saroyan didn’t say, the poor and burning Turks.

    That idol looks like an illustration from the Oz books. The patchwork girl, perhaps.

    Comment by Researcher — June 17, 2009 @ 3:00 pm

  7. Oh, gotta love that use of “malaria”–not the mosquito-borne disease that had been thought the result of breathing bad air, but truly “bad air” made so by the smoke of the evil weed tobacco!

    (And I can’t help but think of the lovely duet from The Marriage of Figaro, “Sull aria” which is as sweet an air as there is in all opera. For you movie-going non-opera fans, this duet had its moment in the sun in The Shawshank Redemption. [Warning: video contains opera singers in typical costume–and they’re not Dick Motta style sopranos.])

    Comment by Mark B. — June 17, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

  8. Oh good grief. Where’d that “their” come from??

    Makes the failure to close the parenthetical completely anticlimactic.

    [Fixed, Mark. Now everybody’ll just think you’re mumbling to yourself here. :) ]

    Comment by Mark B. — June 17, 2009 @ 3:20 pm

  9. Gee, thanks Ardis. Hope you enjoyed the duet as much. :-)

    Comment by Mark B. — June 17, 2009 @ 4:26 pm

  10. That picture would probably have given me nightmares if I’d seen it when I was a child. (Maybe that was the point.)

    Comment by Tamary — June 19, 2009 @ 8:44 am

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