Monday, July 9, 2018

A brief history of the corncob pipe by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #AmericanHistory

On July 9, 1878, Henry Tibbe, a Dutch immigrant woodworker, received a patent for an improved corncob pipe (also spelled 'corn cob')..

According to legend, the corncob pipe was invented in 1869 when a farmer-neighbor where Tibbe lived near Washington, Missouri...

...whittled a pipe out of corn cob and liked it so much he asked Henry Tibbe to try turning some on his lathe. Because the farmer was well-pleased with the results, Henry made and sold a few more in his woodworking shop. Tibbe's pipes proved to be such a fast selling item, he soon spent more time making pipes for customers than working with wood, and began full time production of corn cob pipes1...

Collection of corn cob tobacco pipes (not Tibbe's) 
from Science Museum Group (credit below)
Hence, Washington, Missouri eventually became known as the "Corn Cob Pipe Capital of the World". The Missouri Meerschaum Company - the world's oldest and largest manufacturer of cool, sweet-smoking corn cob pipes - began the tradition for which Washington became famous2. Tibbe became so successful that in 1907, his company became the Missouri Meerschaum Company. explains meerschaum as: a mineral, hydrous magnesium silicate, occurring in white, claylike masses, used for ornamental carvings, for pipe bowls, etc. The original of the word is German c. 1775-1785 and it literally translates to 'sea foam' (frothy appearance).

You're wondering how we went from corncobs to meerschaum. Well, Henry Tibbe's corncob pipes were light-weight and porous and the cool smoke that emanated from them reminded him of the more expensive meerschaum pipes, so he came up with the name "Missouri Meerschaum".

Tibbe and a friend who was a chemist created a plaster-based substance (similar to plaster of paris) to coat the outside of the corncob bowls, and in 1878 Tibbe patented the process3. The reason he invented this process was out of necessity as corncob pipes burned out easily, and this plaster coating fireproofed the bowl and also made sanding the bowl smooth once it dried, which made the lathe work possible4.

Henry Tibbe's patent for improved corncob pipe
(credit below)

To read more about the Missouri Meerschaum Company and to view images, click HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Corn-cob pipe - public domain image (credit below)
Corn Cob Smoking Pipe photo by TJSweden (credit below)
From the 1920s through the 1940s "...when corncob pipes were very popular, Missouri Meerschaum shipped about 25 million pipes each year. Pipe smoking decreased in popularity during the latter part of the 1950s, but today the company still produces well more than a half-million pipes per year5."

General Douglas MacArthur and his
custom-made Missouri Meerschaum corncob pipe
(credit below)

Popeye and his signature corncob pipe
(credit below)

My maternal grandfather (b. 1899) smoked a pipe, but I don't remember much about his pipe(s). It seems to me they were a dark, rusty-red-brown with slightly curved black stems and quite polished and shiny from being handled. I doubt they were meerschaum corncob pipes.

I'd enjoy reading your corncob pipe stories and anecdotes. I hope you'll share them.

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer - Lasterday Stories

YouTube Channel

References and Resources:
1. “The Meerschaum Company.” Missouri Meerschaum Company, 2017, Accessed 07 July 2018.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. arno665. “Another Dutch Invention: the Modern Corncob Pipe.” Dutch Pipe Smoker, 13 May 2013, Accessed 07 July 2018.

5. “Missouri is the Home of the Famous Corn Cob Pipe.” Buffalo, Home of the Buffalo Reflex, 27 June 2018, Accessed 07 July 2018.

**Science Museum Group. Collection of six corn cob tobacco pipe, pipe bowls and stems. A12213. Science Museum Group Collection Online. Accessed July 7, 2018.
**Frotz at English Wikipedia, Corncob-pipe, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons.
**"Henry Tibbe's Improved Corncob Pipe Patent." Patent Images. 09  July 1878. Accessed 07 July 2018. 11 July 2015. Accessed 07 July 2018.
**Corn Cob Smoking pipe photograph by TJSweden, Corn Cob Smoking Pipe, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Wikimedia, 19 April 2007. Accessed 07 July 2018.
**Author Unknown. Douglas MacArthur smoking his corncob pipe, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons, 15 September 2017. Accessed 07 July 2018.
**Author Unknown. Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves, distributed under a CC BY 2.5 license. More details on Wikimedia Commons, 1 September 2013. Accessed 07 July 2018


  1. Gen. McArthur and Popeye are two of the most unforgettable images when it comes to the corn cob pipe. Thanks for the history lesson on Henry Tibbe.

    1. General MacArthur and Popeye are the two that come to my mind, too. Thanks for stopping by. ;-)

  2. Now that was fun. Believe it or not, I have a corncob pipe. Bought it for a prop in a show I did. Just didn't have the heart to get rid of it. (It was a big hit for the character. *Grin)

    Such a fun post. Thanks Doris

    1. Doris,

      When I was a kid, I had a corncob pipe to go with my candy cigarettes, those little wax pop bottles, and drawstring bags of chewing gum nuggets. lolol

  3. I saw on youtube some journo interviewing George Linkoln Rockwell back in 1960s where Commander Rockwell smoked a pipe and was handling it stylishly like a real boss, so I searched for a pipe in hope to find some resembling that exact pipe from the interview. However the image results were showing only regular, curvy, wooden pipes so since I knew nothing about pipes and all the different branches of them I searched for a list of pipe types where at the bottom I found "corncob" pipe made of the exact material as Commander Rockwell's one. I was stunned that that's even a thing to make a pipe out of corn, but hey I've learned something new, and soon after I've searched for some historical lesson telling the story of how the corncob pipe came to be. My goal now is to make one on my own.

  4. If you desire to get much from this post then you have to apply these methods to your won weblog.