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Albert Kirchner wins Cremo contest

Photo Caption: The telegram that told Albert Kirchner he had won the Certified Cremo Cigar contest in October 1931.

Photo Caption: The telegram that told Albert Kirchner he had won the Certified Cremo Cigar contest in October 1931.

By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —

Last week, David Hartmann, the present-day unofficial historian of New Braunfels, brought some old telegrams to the Sophienburg Museum. In case some of you don’t know what that is, a telegram is a written message transmitted by using an electric device called a telegraph. The message was carried from its origin along wires to its destination and then written or printed out for hand delivery to the addressee. Or something like that; I sent and received telegrams from friends in England in the 1970s. The cost of the telegram was based on the number of words in the message. This once important and widely used technology was developed as early as 1836, but became commercially viable in 1839. The Western Union transcontinental telegraph cable was laid by 1867, the transatlantic line was established by 1866 and the completion of the Pacific line was in 1902. Telegrams could then be sent quickly around the world. Basically, a telegram is what we had before a fax or email.

Three old telegrams and a letter, all dated in October 1931, were contained in David’s gift to the Sophienburg. All were addressed to Albert Kirchner at 560 N. Houston Street. Albert was a retired local carpenter.

While telegrams, in-and-of-themselves, are cool to me, what was in these was truly interesting. Albert had entered a contest and won his choice of a brand-new Plymouth, Ford or Chevrolet! Even today that would be a big deal, but in 1931, just two years into what we know of as The Great Depression, it was really something.

Albert had entered the Certified Cremo “Give-a Car-a-Day” competition. “Cremo” was a five-cent cigar manufactured by the American Cigar Company. It was developed, partly, because of Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall’s witty, tongue- in-cheek response to Senator Joseph Bristow’s long-winded speech about the needs of the nation. These were the days of long speeches and grandstanding. Senator Bristow had begun each sentence with “What this country needs —” and then named the thing needed. After sitting and listening for a good while, Marshall is reported to have leaned over to his secretary and said in a stage whisper, “Bristow hasn’t hit it yet. What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.” His comment, borrowed from a popular cartoon character, made headlines. Cigar companies rushed to meet his challenge. It was reported that Marshall received as many as 20,000 five-cent cigars from various manufacturers as a thank you from the cigar industry. The quote became synonymous for a sensibly affordable item.

Albert Kirchner was one of thousands across the United States who entered the contest which was announced on the Cremo Cigar radio program. Back in the day, companies sponsored radio shows to advertise their products. Radio shows were the equivalent of commercials prior to television. The Cremo Cigar program was heard at 7:15 every evening except Sunday on WBAC-CBS in conjunction with Bing Crosby. His recommendation for Cremo Cigars made them a leading seller for many years.

Cremo decided to give away 150 new Plymouths, Fords or Chevrolets, one-a-day, between June and November in 1931. Contestants had to create a 20-word statement that described the quality and merits of Cremo Cigars. Each word had to be written on a Cremo Cigar band — one word to each band — with the bands numbered one to twenty. Alternatively, a contestant could create twenty facsimile bands and do the same thing. All were sent to the New York City main office of the American Cigar Company for judging. An article in the Santa Monica Outlook for January 6, 1932, made a quick study of the winners and discovered that of the 150 winners, twenty-two were salesman, eight were housewives and two were reporters; the article doesn’t reveal what the other 118 folks did for a living.

Pretty terrific investment strategy if you already smoked cigars or knew someone who did.

Albert’s winning twenty-word statement was, “Acquire the habit of thrift and health protection by smoking Certified Cremo, a real innovation in sanitation, quality and economy.” It has a real ring to it, doesn’t it — but, It. Won. A. Car.

Albert Kirchner was the 123rd winner of the Cremo contest. The New Braunfels Herald also received a telegram to post the winner in the newspaper. Kirchner’s name was announced on the radio show and used in Cremo publicity. Most importantly, he got to choose his new car from the Gerlich Auto Co. (Ford), Becker Chevrolet Co. or Lee Francis Motor Co. in San Antonio (Plymouth). He chose to buy local and went with a Chevy from Becker’s.

A new exhibit at the Sophienburg will highlight historical local cigar makers. Tools of cigar making, cigar boxes and artifacts made from recycled cigar box wood will be exhibited beginning in March.

Sources: Sophienburg Museum Archives, New Braunfels Herald and Neu Braunfelser Zeitung collections; Santa Monica Outlook, Jan 6, 1932; https://worldradiohistory.com; http://cigarhistory.info/Cigar_History; http://www.cremocigars.com.