The President didn’t really have a use for them. They were just sitting on a table in his office, and had been there for a while. He thought about offering some to visitors, but the truth is that he was afraid people would take that as the official OK to use one. And he didn’t want that.
Now I’m sure you know that many of our traditions come from all over the world. After all, we are a nation of immigrants, so it’s not at all unusual that many of our customs are some version of customs from Europe or Asia. But there are a few things that are completely American, of course. And that’s what I’m talking about here.
What was sitting in President Grover Cleveland’s office was a box of cigars. They were a gift from visitor, but this president didn’t smoke cigars. Fact was, Cleveland chewed tobacco. From the reports, there were spittoons all over the White House at the time, but no cigar smoke.
And as you know, tobacco is purely American. None existed in Europe before Columbus and his crew landed. And it was Sir Walter Raleigh who really brought the custom to the Europeans.
But this box of cigars was not getting much use at all. There they sat, day after day. Several members of the White House staff were cigar smokers, but they didn’t have the guts to light up one of these cigars. After a while, the box took on a persona of its own. Staffers started talking about the sacred box of cigars and who would ever be considered by the president to be good enough to be offered the first one.
After all, heads of state, dignitaries, Congressmen, Senators, governors and high ranking corporate officials made a trail through that office every day, and not one person had ever been offered a cigar from that box, even though many of those men were very well known cigar smokers. But not one cigar ever moved out of that box into the hands of guest. It started to be a combination of a joke and a contest between local Washington officials to see who would ever be the first person to be offered a cigar from the forbidden box.
There’s one more thing that you might know about Grover Cleveland, and that’s that a very famous candy bar is named for his daughter Ruth. She was the first baby born in the White House, and in honor of that occasion, the candy maker named his candy bar, “The Baby Ruth.” Some people think the candy is named after the baseball legend Babe Ruth, but it’s not!
But that little event starting one more tradition too. It’s a Little Known Fact, that it was the birth of Baby Ruth, that made a very proud papa break into that sacred box of cigars for the first time and offer them to staff and guests in honor of the birth of his daughter. That event almost overshadowed the birth itself, and did start a very big tradition indeed.
For years to come, proud new fathers offered cigars to their friends and coworkers whenever a new child was born into the family. So now you know how it started. Oh, I’m not saying that a proud papa or two didn’t do it before President Cleveland, they probably did. But it was the opening of the sacred box that got the attention of the rest of the world.