Washington has long been known as the “Corn Cob Pipe Capital of the World” and now one of its pipes is hitting the big screen.
Missouri Meerschaum, located at 400 W. Front St., manufactured the pipes for the “Emperor,” a historical drama starring Tommy Lee Jones, which opened Friday at movie theaters across the country.
Taking place during the days after the close of World War II, “Emperor” follows Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his military intelligence head, Gen. Bonner Fellers, played by Matthew Fox, as they prepare for the American occupation of Japan.
Phil Morgan, general manager of Missouri Meerschaum, said movie representatives contacted him more than a year ago asking if the company could supply the pipes for the movie.
“They found us through the Internet,” he said. “There’s so much information out there about us.”
Recreating the pipe was very easy, Morgan said, since it was Missouri Meerschaum that made MacArthur’s pipes to his precise specifications at the Washington plant.
“Over time the pipe we made for him has changed, so we did have to make some adjustments and recreate it,” he said. “They wanted it to look as close as possible to the original, so we added reed stem and bone bits to it.”
The company ended up sending about 10 to 12 pipes to producers, mailing them to New Zealand where part of the movie was being filmed, Morgan said.
“We were thrilled to do it and they were happy with how it turned out,” he said. “We gave the pipes to them at no cost — all we asked for in return were autographed photos of Jones from the movie with the pipe.”
Missouri Meerschaum will have to wait a little longer for the photos because nothing from the movie can be released until it comes out, but when they do the company will proudly display them, Morgan said.
The company currently offers two different versions of the MacArthur pipe, both being unfiltered. The bent stem version has a polished bowl while the straight stem has a totally natural bowl.
The pipes are still offered as a tribute to MacArthur and to all our military men and women, Missouri Meerschaum states on its website.
And now Morgan says a third version of the MacArthur pipe, the one recreated for the movie, may go into production because he expects orders to come in asking for that exact one once “Emperor” hits movie theaters.
The company also is promoting its “movie part” on its Facebook page, posting “Anybody notice something familiar in this movie trailer” and providing a link of the “Emperor” movie trailer.
Nearly 3,500 pipes are shipped each day from Missouri Meerschaum to every U.S. state and several foreign countries.
Missouri Meerschaum is the world’s oldest and largest manufacturer of corn cob smoking pipes. The company has been located in Washington since 1869.
Henry Tibbe, a Dutch immigrant woodworker, first began production of the corn cob pipe that year. Legend has it that a local farmer whittled a pipe out of corn cob and liked it so much he asked Tibbe to try turning some on his lathe.
Because the farmer was well-pleased with the results, Henry made and sold a few more in his woodworking shop. Tibbe’s pipes proved to be such a fast selling item, he soon spent more time making pipes for customers than working with wood, and began full-time production of corn cob pipes.
In 1907 the H. Tibbe & Son Co. became the Missouri Meerschaum Company. The word “meerschaum” is derived from a German word meaning “sea foam.”
Meerschaum is a Turkish clay used in high grade pipes. Tibbe likened his light, porous pipes and their cool smoke to that of the more expensive meerschaum pipes and coined the name “Missouri Meerschaum” for his pipes.
Tibbe and a chemist friend devised an innovative system of applying a plaster-based substance to the outside of the corn cob bowls. In 1878, Tibbe patented this process.
A nationwide distribution system was eventually established for the sale of Tibbe’s pipes. Other pipe firms also developed, so by 1925 there were as many as a dozen corn cob pipe companies in Franklin County — most of them in Washington.
Members of the Otto family owned and operated the company for many years. The Ottos worked with General MacArthur in the design of his pipe.
Today, Missouri Meerschaum stands alone as the first and only surviving piece of this living history. The pipes are smoked and loved all over the world as well as being used as souvenirs, often imprinted with the name of a city, business, or event.
Editor’s Note: Most of the information on Missouri Meerschaum’s history was obtained from the company’s website.