People Once Wanted Their Cars To Spit Lit Cigarettes At Them

It’s easy to forget just how popular and widespread smoking once was. For much of the 20th century, smoking was not just an indulgence some people enjoyed every now and then, but the default vice of pretty much every adult. That’s why cars ended up with cigarette lighters and ashtrays crammed in every door, and why bonkers accessories like the Ronson Robot-Liter exist.

The Ronson Robot-Liter was the perfect accessory for smoker-drivers who were fed up, just absolutely sick of the tedious, inefficient joke of a process required for someone to enjoy a comfortable smoke in the car.

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Sure, cars came with in-dash cigarette lighters and ashtrays, but you still had to manually fish a cigarette out of your pack, place it in your quivering, waiting mouth, push in the cigarette lighter, wait the interminable molasses-glazed seconds until it popped out, glowing spiral ready to ignite your smoke, then apply it to the cigarette to get it going then returning the lighter to its socket.

Whew. Holy shit, that’s exhausting. That’s like five whole steps, and who the hell has time for that? That’s time you could be smoking, or, at least, paying a little more attention to driving.

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Thankfully, the Ronson company, which had been making matches and lighters for cigarettes since the 1890s (also patriotic and maybe a touch Jingoistic hood ornaments for cars) came up with a solution to the problem of simplifying driving and smoking in the 1960s: the Robot Liter.

The Robot Lighter reduced the complex, involved process of lighting up in a car to an incredibly streamlined two-step process: push a “control bar,” take a lit cigarette.

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Yes, this thing wasn’t just some cheap-ass cigarette dispenser: this under-dash smoking assist system placed, directly into your nicotine-stained, shaking fingers a pre-lit cigarette, ready to be lodged in your mouth and experienced.

The Robot Liter plugged into the existing cigarette lighter outlet, and the hopper can hold 20 cigarettes—why that’s good for at least an hour, right?

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Here’s a video of one—sadly, it’s not plugged into anything, and has no smokes in the hopper:

It appears the Robo-Liter could be mounted under the dash, or on the center console. I’m not certain how many of these they sold, but I imagine for the truly committed car-smoker this must have been some pro-level shit, you car just ejecting a lit cigarette right into your hand.

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The only way this could possibly be better is if it could somehow be mounted on the visor to shoot a lit cigarette right into your waiting mouth, and maybe with a photocell to detect when the previous one was gone, so a new one can be fired off automatically.

What would the modern equivalent of something like this be? An in-dash coffee maker that shoves a spring-loaded straw in your mouth, ready to inject coffee at preset temperatures and proper cream/sweetner/whatever mixed in?

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A sandwich injector that unwraps and stabilizes the sandwich? I don’t really think anything analogous to this exists anymore, so let’s just marvel at this artifact of a time and place now long gone.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)