The pack was expensive at 20 cents, but you got the first menthol-infused cigarette, ancestor to “Kool,” “Salem” and others. Why was it called “Spuds?”
Lloyd “Spud” Hughes of Mingo Junction, OH gets the credit for introducing Americans to menthol cool smoking. Hughes wasn’t long out of high school and working as a cashier in a restaurant run by his father, when he came up with the idea of treating tobacco with menthol. The possibly apocryphal story is his mother insisted he inhale menthol crystals for his asthma. He soon noticed that when he stored his menthol and cigarettes in a tin container, the cigarette was pleasantly flavored. Mentholation furthermore acts as a mild anesthetic, numbs the throat to the harsh elements of tobacco smoke and thus allows a deeper and longer inhalation.
At first he just smoked the cigarettes himself. Later, he offered them to the railroad and mill workers who frequented his father’s restaurant. He patented his process, which treated tobacco by spraying it with a solution of menthol, alcohol, and the oil of cassia, and in September 1925 helped form the Spud Cigarette Corporation, Wheeling, WV.
Walter B. Hilton, a prominent Wheeling real estate and insurance man was president, and Lloyd was secretary/treasurer. Spud Cigarettes were made for this small company in Wheeling at Factory 12, WV by the Bloch brothers, manufacturers of popular Mail Pouch Tobacco. Spud Hughes sold his premium priced cigarettes (20 for 20 cents) from his car, door-to-door, in the Ohio Valley.
It wasn’t long before Woodford Fitch Axton, a Kentucky colonel and part owner and president of The Axton-Fisher Tobacco Company of Louisville, Kentucky, took notice. The Axton-Fisher Tobacco Co. made Clown Cigarettes, a modestly successful regional brand first sold in 1920. Axton saw the potential of Spud Hughes’ invention, and in May 1926 offered him $90,000 for the name and patent. Hughes accepted. Axton Fisher hired a New York advertising firm to promote Spuds nationally—less irritating and suitable for sore throats due to colds!— and sold stock in the company for the first time to finance expansion. By 1932 Axton-Fisher had promoted Spud Cigarettes into the fifth best selling brand in the United States.
With competition from Brown and Williamson’s menthols Penquin in 1931 and Kool in 1933 the price of SPUD was reduced to 15 cents a pack in 1933. In 1944 Philip Morris bought Axton Fisher Tobacco Company; they continued to manufacture Spud cigarettes for domestic sales until 1963.
And what became of Hughes? He went on a two year spending spree, blew the $90,000 on cars and airplanes, and spent much of the rest of his life trying to invent another unique cigarette.
Come Up to the Kool Taste: African American Upward Mobility and the Semiotics of Smoking Menthols
by Sarah S. Lochlann Jain, published in ‘Public Culture’ Spring 2003, 15