Knowledge changes how we perceive habits. Today, the act of smoking a cigarette is generally regarded as a harmful, expensive habit, accompanied by surgeon general warnings.
However, 60 years ago cigarettes had a different meaning. This glass ashtray from the 125th anniversary of the State Medical Society of Wisconsin from 1966 is representative of that time.
This ashtray was donated to La Crosse County Historical Society by Nancy Wolf in 1996.
Her father, Herman Wolf, and brother, Frederick Wolf, were both doctors in the La Crosse area and were a part of various medical associations throughout their careers.
This ashtray likely belonged to Frederick Wolf since he served for 16 years on the Commission on Medical Care Plans of the Wisconsin State Medical Society.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, cigarettes were advertised and viewed as glamorous and sophisticated. These perceptions persevered because a health threat from smoking was not widely identified. While this ashtray may seem a bit ironic today, in the 1960s it was a normal practice.
It was not out of the ordinary to see a doctor smoking in a hospital. A mid-20th century Camel advertisement boasted “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” Advertising often made it seem as if smoking was a healthy habit.
In 1964, Luther L. Terry, M.D., Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service, issued the first report to address the direct link between cigarettes and lung cancer, as well as identifying smoking as the most important cause of chronic bronchitis.
A few years later, warnings became mandatory on cigarette packages and an annual report was required to share the health consequences of smoking.
This ashtray and other artifacts from the 1960s can be seen in the historical society’s online database.
The La Crosse County Historical Society will hold its annual mid-winter fundraising gala, “Remember When,” on Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Court Above Main.
Those attending are encouraged to wear 1960s attire — but please, no smoking.
This year’s fundraiser will feature live music by Dr. Rock/Rick Pervisky, dinner, and live and silent auctions. For information and to purchase tickets, call 608-782-1980 or visit the society’s website www.lchshistory.org.