Powerful People and Smoking Pipes

Rene Magritte’s 1929 surrealist masterpiece La trahison des images, or The Treachery of Images, invited people to look beyond objects and consider what they signify in the dream world. While Magritte’s painting was more about the contrast between images and words, for pipe smokers the message was clear: it’s not merely a pipe, but what it stands for. Pipes allow people to transcend and connect with realms beyond or our own to acquire knowledge and valuable insight. Smoking pipes often denote intellect and authority, and in this article, we’ll highlight the powerful people who smoked them.

smoking pipes Millicent Fenwick

Millicent Fenwick smoking her pipe. Photo courtesy of DailyRecord.

Politicians Smoking Pipes

For centuries, political men and women alike have been documented smoking in and out of office. Politics and pipes go together like peas and carrots as making important decisions requires time and contemplation. From Douglas McArthur to Helmut Schmidt, some of the more powerful people throughout history were fans of smoking pipes.

Ex-British Prime Minister Harold Wilson was known for slowly packing his pipe, lighting, and puffing on it before answering a difficult question. Across the pond, politicians in 1970s America were also carrying their smoking pipes into work to help them on the job. Millicent Fenwick was regularly photographed smoking her pipe on the New Jersey state assembly floor while working on legislation.

Basil Rathbone with Nigel Bruce smoking pipe

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Photo courtesy of Frame Land Magazine. 

Detectives Smoking Pipes

From mystery books to film noir, it’s hard to escape the image of the pipe-smoking detective. The distinguished English detective, Sherlock Holmes was usually portrayed with a pipe in hand or hanging from his lip. If something was quite mind-boggling, Holmes described it as a “three pipe problem” meaning that he had to smoke three pipes full of tobacco before finding a solution.  

Writer and pipe collector, Georges Simenon wrote the tales of Jules Maigret, who was another well-known pipe-smoking detective. Much like Simenon himself, the French detective became synonymous with smoking pipes as he was always portrayed with one, either on-screen or on the cover of books. Simenon utilized smoking pipes as a way to depict Maigret’s thoughts, reflections, and went so far as to use the pipe as an extension of Maigret’s hand.

Albert Einstein smoking pipe

Albert Einstein with his pipe in his office at Princeton University. Photo courtesy of the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at UC Berkeley.

Scientists Smoking Pipes

Perhaps one of the most famous pipe smokers in history was the accomplished Swiss mathematician and scientist, Albert Einstein. Since making it into the Smithsonian museum, Einstein’s smoking pipe has travelled far and wide as a sought-after symbol of one of the greatest thinkers in history. Even when Einstein gave up smoking, he would place a pipe in his mouth and chew on it to help him think as shown by the tooth marks found on many of his pipes.

Another celebrated Swiss scientist was the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Jung, who is considered the father of analytical psychology and one of the greatest psychologists of all time, was rarely photographed without his smoking pipe. To this day, Carl Jung’s work is still impacting the psychology of our world in music, cinema, and a variety of other creative forms.

smoking pipes Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell smoking his pipe and playing chess with his sonPhoto courtesy of LIFE Magazine.

Philosophers Smoking Pipes

The idea of philosophers and intellectuals often conjures up images of well-dressed, pipe-smoking individuals. With such complex issues to debate as life, death, and the meaning of it all, it only seems natural that philosophers would take up pipe smoking. Jean-Paul Sartre seemed to think that smoking was a way of possessing the world and that the universe existed purely as something to be experienced while smoking.

Many 18th and 19th century philosophers smoked or used smoking pipes to help inspire their intellectual work. In an interview, Bertrand Russell even said that pipe smoking saved his life. At the Michigan Institute of Technology (MIT), you can find photos of a young Noam Chomsky in his office in the 1960s, puffing on a pipe and gazing off into the distance. It’s brilliant minds such as these that have had such a huge effect on society and we have to wonder how different the world would be if they hadn’t used smoking pipes.

Time to Enjoy

Pipe smoking is a time-honoured tradition long enjoyed by movers and shakers across the globe. Using a smoking pipe is choosing to take part in this age-old tradition of thoughtful and powerful people. Should you be looking to take up pipe smoking and join the ranks of these famous names in history, read our tips on how to smoke a pipe properly. We’ve also prepared a guide with our best tips for cleaning a smoking pipe, including notes for different pipe materials.

At Parkdale Brass, we feel that smoking pipes are an ideal way to enjoy time at home and can help make social distancing more bearable. We recommend regularly cleaning your pipe and not sharing it with anyone during this time. Please, stay safe and take care of yourselves!