Veteran’s Day—The 1917 “Smokes for Soldiers Game”

11 Nov

In August of 1917, a benefit game was played in New York to raise money to send cigarettes to US soldiers fighting in Europe.  The New York Sun said:

“The crowd that turned out at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon to see the Ziegfeld Follies high diving ball tossers play the Friars Club for the benefit of The Sun’s Tobacco Fund for our soldiers in France that even Fatty Arbuckle was inconspicuous.”

The Follies (top) and the Friars

The Follies (top) and the Friars

New York Giants’ outfielder turned actor, Mike Donlin and boxer Jim Jeffries served as umpires and drawing cards:

“Donlin, mightiest ball slugger…batted for someone or other and knocked a pop fly and was promptly knocked by 7,000 fans, and Jim Corbett oiled up the old biceps machinery by rapping fungoes before the game.”


The Sun said the game drew nearly 7,000 fans and raised $937.60—other new York paper put the attendance closer to 5,000—but told readers that many of them were “(S)mall boys or Harlem youths at the voice cracking age whose contributions amounted to dimes and even pennies—gifts that measured the extent of their bankroll and therefore doubly welcome and all going far toward swelling the total for smokes and makin’s for our soldiers.”

Tobacco, said the paper, was critical to the war effort:

“Do you realize what a notable and beneficial part tobacco has played in the wars of the last century, from the Battle of Waterloo; say to the great conflict now raging?  Probably its solacing and inspiring qualities were never more strongly manifested that in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.  It might be said, indeed, that the defeat inflicted on the French was due largely to the soldiers’ lack of tobacco, added, as it was, to the breakdown of the commissariat, whereas on the other side the Germans did all they could to ensure a plentiful supply to their troops. “

As for the game:

“(O)ne might say that a baseball game was but incidental to the baseball game…what with wild applause the minute Jim Corbett stalked onto the field., bat in hand, to oil the upper cutting wings before settling down to umping, and then the three deafening cheers  when Mike Donlin strode out toward the spot where he used to stamp down the right field grass in the old days, and the ‘Aaaahs’ and  ‘Oooohs’ from ecstatically admiring thousands as (actresses and donation collectors) Miss (Ann) Pennington, Miss Frances White…and all their friends piled on the field.”



The Follies defeated the Friars 7 to 5.

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