The utter pervasiveness of smoking in the past is something I think we have trouble really understanding today. Smoking was the one expected vice, so much so that cars came standard with equipment to make smoking easier. I mean, sure, we have more cupholders now, but it’s worth noting that while nobody offers a coffee or grape Fanta dispenser in a car, there was a time when you could get a car that actually gave you cigarettes.
My friend T.Mike, a noted hoarder of trash, happened to find this scrap of a 1942 DeSoto brochure, probably in some hatbox your grandma once owned:
Look at that amazing option, the Special Plastic Steering Wheel! It’s special, plastic, works for “Ladies, as well as men,” steers, and has
“...a built-in cigarette case which “hands” you a cigarette at the [unintelligible] of a convenient lever.”
I’m guessing the word I can’t quite make out is either “tug” or “pull” or maybe “yank” or something that makes me giggle and think about masturbation.
I did some research on DeSoto’s Special Plastic Steering Wheel, and, based on this March, 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics, the cigarette dispenser was a new option for 1942, and held a reserve of 14 cigarettes, which popped vertically out of the top right of the oblong center hub of the steering wheel at the tug of the little knob.
The dispenser seems to have been part of DeSoto’s Fifth Avenue Ensemble option package, which essentially was every option DeSoto offered, along with some sort of liquified class which was sprayed all over the car.
You can see the cigarette-dispenser in context of the whole package here:
Since I wasn’t so much alive in 1942, I have to admit I’m a little baffled by why this option seemed to be so targeted at women. The copy there reads
“Ladies, please note: a cigarette case built into the hub of the chic new Fifth Avenue Steering Wheel “hands” a cigarette to you at the flip of a convenient lever.”
Men did plenty of smoking then, too—I’m not clear on why getting a cigarette from your steering wheel would be considered something more feminine. Wouldn’t a hard-smoking, hairy-chested man be happy to grab a cancer stick right from his steering wheel, too? Perhaps a cigarillo, even?
I guess a Real Man would only want a vacuum-powered cigarette dispenser that just punches a cigarette right into his fucking mouth.
The 1942 DeSotos had a shortened run due to the war, but they were interesting cars. They had what I believe were the first mass-produced covered headlights since the 1937 Cord 812.
Even if it was just the second car to have hidden headlights, it’s the first to have an option for a cigarette dispenser—hell, I think it’s the first to have a dispenser of anything on a dashboard, other than information about speed and fuel level.
Sure, there’s been aftermarket 12V coffee makers for cars for decades, but until some bold automaker decides to add a dash-mounted chicken nugget dispenser, I think the DeSoto will remain in a class by itself.