Spittoon History

Chad Jones

 

I’m not sure there are many tobacco users out there who don’t know what this is.  This is a MudJug spittoon, the modern accessory for smokeless tobacco users to spit into.  I’ve had this MudJug Spittoon for many years.  As the movie says, “there are many like it, but this one is mine”.  The MudJug comes in a wide variety of designs, types, and colors, but this one has always been my old stand-by.  These items are a modern accessory that many of us have at home, in our office, and in our vehicles. 

 

We look at them every day, we use them constantly, but have we ever stopped to think about where they came from?  Like most convenience items, we use them but don’t often think about their origins.  The spittoon has a rich history going back a few hundred years, and was actually a pretty commonplace item in most public places.

A spittoon is also known by the Portuguese term cuspidor.  The root of that word is cuspir, or, to spit.  To backtrack, chewing tobacco was very popular in the 18th and 19th century.  As chewing tobacco was becoming popular, so was the phenomenon of people spitting on floors and sidewalks.  Enter the spittoon. 

The early spittoons were very similar to today’s MudJug.  They were flat on the bottom so they wouldn’t tip over.  Many would also have an extra lip on the inside, so that if they did tip over they wouldn’t spill the contents all over the floor. 

Fun fact, spitting on the ground was once such a public nuisance, that laws and ordinances had to be enacted to get it under control.  Nowadays, you see signs for not tossing out cigarette butts, or littering.  You see signs to stop you from jaywalking.  But at one point in time, it was such a concern that yes, there were signs in public places to keep people from spitting onto the sidewalk.

 

 

 

Spittoons obviously became quite popular.  For a while, due to these laws and ordinances, you could find spittoons almost anywhere.  We’re talking courtrooms, hotels, bars, and even banks.  Can you imagine walking into your local Bank of America or Wells Fargo and seeing a spittoon on the counter?  My, how times have changed.  While spittoons would go out of style in some parts of the United States, they would stay relatively common in the Southern United States until the 1970’s. 

Nowadays, when you think of spittoons, you think of rough and tough men, you know, cowboy types.  But, they were also a common feature in the United States Congress.  In the House of Representatives, this was near the Speaker’s well through the early 20th century.  These spittoons would actually remain until the 1980’s.  It isn’t simply a relic of the cowboy days!  In fact, across the way in the United States Senate you’ll still find two spittoons on the floor of the Senate.  They were last used when Georgia Senator Herman Talmadge retired in 1981, but you never know - they could come in handy some day!  The House no longer has any spittoons, but they could make a comeback!

I grew up in the Southern United States in the 80’s.  Chewing tobacco and dipping tobacco was, and still is, incredibly popular here.  However, I never encountered spittoons until recently.  In my teenage years, most of my friends who indulged in this sort of tobacco used one of two items:  the Mountain Dew bottle, or the always popular paper cup.  Yes, you could be riding in your best friend’s truck and look off to your side and see a paper cup full to the brim of spit.  Anytime you went over a train track, your nerves would through the roof. 

Things have certainly changed since then.  Here we have some some product sold and produced by MudJug in California.  You have the standard, trusty spittoon.  Always a classic!  You also have the Roadie, which is one of my favorites, because it fits right in your cup holder.  I used to have a 2-3 hour commute daily in my old job, and it really came in handy in the car.  My wife thought it was gross, but I enjoyed having it there.  Then, you have the MudJug Stealth.  This is a neat little flask shaped spittoon that fits right in your coat pocket.  Or, if you’re like me and have a love of Cargo Shorts, it fits right in your shorts pocket.  I can only imagine what our forefathers would say if they saw these inventions in the modern era. 

 

Things have changed a lot, from the early days of beautiful brass spittoons adoring courtrooms, to the modern convenience of a plastic MudJug.  However, they’re becoming more popular these days and I don’t see them going away anytime soon.