The Missouri Meerschaum pipe has its origins in the town of Washington, Missouri. Originally, this pipe was designed in 1869 by Henry Tibbe, a Dutch immigrant woodworker. The details are not fully known, but the accepted story states that a local farmer had taken a corn cob and whittled it into a pipe. This farmer liked his homemade pipe so much that he approached Henry Tibbe and asked him to turn some cob pipes on his lathe. The farmer was pleased with the result and Henry Tibbe decided to start making them for sale. Tibbe’s corn cob pipes became quick sellers, and eventually took up so much of his time that he went into business full-time making corn cob pipes.
In 1907, Henry changed the name of his company from H. Tibbe & Son Company to the Missouri Meerschaum Company. The Missouri Meerschaum name is a play on the high grade Turkish clay Meerschaum pipes. Tibbe chose the name because he felt that his light porous pipes had a smoking experience that was comparable to the Meerschaum pipe. In 1878, along with a friend who was a chemist, Henry Tibbe patented a process that involved the application of a plaster of Paris-based material on the outer side of the corn cob pipe bowls. This material sealed the corn cobs and, once they dried, allowed the pipes to be sanded smooth.
The Missouri Meerschaum pipes first saw nationwide distribution when Tibbe granted the St. Louis firm of Hirschl & Bendheim exclusive nationwide distribution rights. This eventually ended up coming back to bite him, because Hirschl & Bendheim saw so many requests for orders that they ended up starting their own corn cob pipe company less than 2 years into the contract they made with Tibbe. This resulted in significant reductions in sales for the Missouri Meerschaum Pipe company. Hirschl & Bendheim’s company remained the strongest competitor for Missouri Meerschaum until they went out of business in 1991.
Missouri Meerschaum still remains as the oldest and largest manufacturers of corn cob pipes. Missouri Meerschaum pipes have been the favorite pipe of many well-known people throughout the years. Mark Twain is said to have endorsed his own Missouri Meerschaum pipe during a conversation with the famed author, Rudyard Kipling in 1890. Other famous people who have owned Missouri Meerschaum pipes include Presidents Herbert Hoover and Dwight D Eisenhower, US Army General Douglas MacArthur, radio and TV entertainer Arthur Godfrey, and of course, Popeye the Sailor. They are now smoked all over the world and are often customized to make souvenirs.