Thursday, August 29, 2013

Atomic Cigarettes

Image courtesy the Cleveland Press Collection at Cleveland Memory
This particular trail of history started with a postcard given me by a friend. The front showed Cleveland's Public Auditorium; the back bore a postmark of December 15th 1955. The sender, a man who signed himself "John," spoke of his having attended the "Nuclear Engineering and Science Congress." But what, exactly, was this Congress? My friend wondered if perhaps my late father, who had a scholarship from the Atomic Energy Commission in graduate school, and went to Cleveland to work for General Electric in 1952, might have attended -- and he might! Searching the web for any evidence, though, of what this "Congress" consisted, I found this astonishing photo at the Cleveland Memory Project pages. Apparently, tobacco giant Philip Morris sent one of its cigarette-making machines, along with its famous company spokesman Johnny Roventini (the bellboy who hollered "Call for Philip Morris!" in its ads) to this event, billed as "the first demonstration of the use of an atomic energy device in the manufacture of cigarettes." How exactly this cigarette machine was powered by "atomic" energy is unclear -- there was no nuclear plant in Ohio prior to 1970 --  and I suspect that my father, a lifelong non-smoker who hated cigarettes, would not have been amused!

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