The Man Who Observes the Universe Smokes Viceroys

By Sean Carroll | November 20, 2008 6:07 pm

Speaking of classic astronomical images, I did a tiny double-take at this great 1959 ad for Viceroy cigarettes — one of an impressive collection of examples where science was appropriated in the cause of attracting more smokers, over at bioephemera.


Anyone who reads a lot of books on astronomy recognizes that guy in the background, or at least the image from which he is derived — that’s Edwin Hubble at the 48″ Schmidt telescope at Mt. Palomar.


Admittedly, some artistic license was taken. The guy in the ad is a bit younger, less rumpled, wearing a tie — perhaps a bit thinner. Most importantly, the inevitable pipe that accompanies pictures of early-20th-century astronomers has disappeared. One wouldn’t want the impression that the man who thinks for himself actually prefers pipe tobacco to Viceroys.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Society
  • Trocisp

    Yeah… Pipe TOBACCO.

    We’ll go with that.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Granted it was the ’40s, the precision was lower, and the tolerances greater, than modern astronomical instruments, but I’m a bit surprised that pipe smoke apparently didn’t cause any problems with the equipment.

  • Jimbo

    Not to mention the fact that all optix jocks know:
    Smoke fouls Optix ! Like farting into an UHV vessel,
    or sneezing into a culture dish: a scientific faux pas.

  • Anchor

    Low Math says, “…but I’m a bit surprised that pipe smoke apparently didn’t cause any problems with the equipment.”

    That is obviously staged for a photograph. I’m sufficiently convinced Hubble had no lit pipe at the finder as he posed for it. (No smoke in evidence anywhere in the photo, and pipes put out a LOT).

  • Sili

    Well, he has his hands full. Where else would he put his pipe?

    My guess’d be he was one of those people who like to point and gesticulate with the thing, so it was likely always in his hand even when unlit.

  • Richard

    I remember those ads. I was a kid who liked science, and figured that a thinking man’s cigarette was the cigarette for me. Spent a few years in adolescence smoking, not thinking, ie., being stupid. Can I sue now?

  • Mr T

    Well, whether or not he smoked around the scope, standing in a large observatory is a very windy business. You’re on top of a mountain and the roof is open. A little smoke will not cause anything that would have interfered with Hubble’s observations. Plus a lot of pipe smokers keep their pipe in their mouths even if the pipe is empty.

  • My-Name-is-Kenneth

    By GOD we were MEN back then! Real men who smoked while contemplating the Universe! Not like today’s wussy geeks who don’t even have the GUTS to look directly through a huge telescope any more.

    That ad is so cool, thank you!

  • Mark B.

    Huh. I thought that was a cannon when I saw it at bioephemera. Probably because of the “Rocket Scientist” headline. It made me think of Jules Verne and “From the Earth to the Moon”.

  • Neil B

    Yeah, when smoking was glamorous (well to some folks it still is, right?) So we know who and what telescope, not what galaxy: anyone care to ID that galaxy (assuming it’s from/inspired by a real photo. It is remarkably open of a spiral)? Also, compare smoking astronomers causing apparent “potassium flares” in stars from when they lit up, from the thread “Kicking it Old School.” BTW I don’t know why it would be potassium and not phosphorus or sulfur – ?
    (OK, sorry, I am again reminded that OT segues are not welcome.)

  • daisyrose

    Good add – beautiful man – beautiful mood – Good Adds Show the good ! who of us doing creative work does not need – small rituals to start work ?

    The universe is chaos and what could be more ordered than a pack of 20 *Viceroys*

  • Tod R. Lauer

    I like the galaxy in front of the telescope best. Ironic, since Hubble established that they were really distance stellar systems, rather than internal to the Milky Way (or perhaps really, really close and about the size of the telescope).

  • My-Name-is-Kenneth

    Note something else about this advert: It was COOL to be a scientist!

    This was when not only were men men, but a SCIENTIST (and an astronomer at that) were considered manly and cool enough to represent the cigarette industry, when smoking was the height of manliness and coolness.

    Now what do we have? A buncha geeks straight out of the Big Bang Theory sitting at computer screens decorated with action figures like some 12-year-old boys. And the science community is doing little to change that image and socialize their minions. They just want results, too bad about those who labor night and day wresting secrets from the Universe.

    See also the 1955 classic SF film This Island Earth for how Hollywood used to portray a scientist. Now that was a MAN!

    About the galaxy being in front of the telescope: The manly scientist is THINKING about the galaxy, hello! It’s called artistic license. Geesh, don’t be even more geeky than you already are, Mr. Literal.

  • Zenny

    Perhaps Mr. Hubble is contemplating the crease in the galaxy in front of the telescope while steadfastly NOT noticing the sexual subconscious images painted into the smoke rising off his Viceroy?

  • Sili

    By the way – the latest “Are We Alone?” podcast from SETI has a segment on the history of tobacco advertising. Focus is on doctors, not astronomers, though.

  • TEW

    Are we really arguing details about the accuracy of a picture taken with the dome lights on?

  • bioephemera

    Nice catch, Sean! It’s hilarious that the pipe’s been cut out. It makes me wonder about all the other images of unnamed scientists/physicians used in this line of ads – I didn’t recognize them either, but perhaps I’m just not in the right field.

  • Don

    As some California politician said, “It’s all tobacco”.

  • Pingback: Wie is dat toch, die Viceroys rookte? en Astroblogs()

  • John R Ramsden

    Talk about the past, even the recent past, being another country (Marlborough Country?). Anti-smoking neurosis has now reached such a feverish state that education authorities in the UK have been known to airbrush out signs of tobacco use from old pictures, for example the cigar from the famous picture of Brunel.

  • Lusepuster

    In my home country, Denmark, 17-year olds can buy booze but not tobacco! Now, that’s what I call lack of proportions. Anyway, beautiful picture, and funny! Somehow I think it’s been healthy for us science people to have had some of the aura of eternal wisdom peeled off. And I think it’s healthy for society in general to not regard scientists as saviors and heroes, although I guess we can all agree we’ve pretty much hit something worse, but with an opposite sign, these days.

  • Scott Kardel

    Wow, I only just now stumbled upon this. Thanks for sharing this fantastic find.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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