The Cigar Store Indian and Its Impact on American Advertisement Business

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Words: 1495 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Feb 9, 2022

Words: 1495|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Feb 9, 2022

Culture defines the evolutional identity of a nation, group, or individual by introducing a fragment of history that shaped the world into its current form. Museums, history books, as well as lectures help to educate society about their past ancestors with evidence composed from moments in history. Often, a cultural artifact will be acquired and displayed to the public to analyze and create hypotheses on life during that specific era. The cigar store Indian, a wooden sculpture used to advertise tobacco products, is an example of a marketing technique surrounding cultural stereotypes. Different outfits, expressions, and objects within the sculpture create speculation on the Indian culture; however, none of the sculptures accurately represented an authentic Indian. Battling against the public opinion, this artifact struggled to maintain relevance within society, ultimately leaving its initial intention of being an advertisement object. Due to the interesting background, controversial advertisement, as well as post protest relevance, the cigar store Indian represents a powerful artifact for the Native Indian culture. 

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Transportation of tobacco from Virginia to Europe, as well as immigrant migration to Virginia was accomplished using vessels. These ships were often recognized by the abstract, multicolored or matte wood carvings, placed unmistakably on the front or bow of the vessel, under the bowsprit. Woodcutting, or wood sculpting, is one of the most seasoned and most far-reaching types of workmanship. Due to the multiple uses trees present, the overall straightforwardness of the era’s technology, and the general solidness of the item, wood cutting has been polished in practically all societies. Proficient carvers frequently paid for a transoceanic voyage via cutting or refurbishing the previously sculpted ship figureheads. From roughly 1760 to 1880, these sculptures began to alter towards life-size human structures, either to represent powerful individuals in history or representations of imaginary characters, cut to walk, point, or look forward with a stern aura. As technology increased, there was less demand for Steam Ships, thus the carvers began to target new marketing enterprises. Many stores had indicators outside their shops to show the consumer what was inside. Popular examples of this involve the red and white striped, spinning cylinder representing a barbershop or three gold spheres represented a pawn shop. The tobacco industry adopted the use of Indians to represent their product, due to Native Indians discovering the crop. These shipyard merchants began creating what is known as cigar store Indians. These life-sized wooden sculptures were cut in the Eastern seaboard or Midwestern urban areas by craftsmen who may never have experienced a Native American; the figures look like white men in native clothing. 

The Cigar-Store Indian crossed the Atlantic Ocean for two reasons: Financial aspects and Sociology. In the American entrepreneurial vision, many tobacco shop owners wanted to make their company different from their competitors, thus the use of the wooden Indians for tobacco shops began. Customers often remembered the wooden statue outside of the shop when comparing them to the products; a nice sculpture represents a high-quality product. Cigar store Indians created a new atmosphere for smoking rooms, sidewalk advertisement, and even hotel decoration. Every Indian differed in design, color, and clothing, creating diversity between tobacco shops. The consumer had a sculpture to admire that gave them an aesthetic pleasure, while discretely advertising tobacco to the viewer. The American-made Cigar-Store Indian was dressed in tribal clothing, hung with covers, finished with feathered hoods and in some cases shown holding tomahawks, bows and arrows, as well as lances. All of the sculptures were depicted holding a bundle of cigars or any other product that resembled tobacco. These representations of Indians rarely referenced any specific tribe or group, however, the speculation of racism were present. The exaggeration of tribal clothing, painting, as well as weapons created arguments against the artifact due to the artists falsely depicting a true Indian. The cigar store Indians were intended to catch the attention of the individuals strolling by, educating them that tobacco was sold inside, however, these sculptures were perceived differently by the consumer, creating controversy surrounding advertisement. Following the colonization of the United States of America, mythology developed, allowing Americans to have a praiseworthy heritage. This mythology included the Native Indians that once claimed the United States as their own. American Indian imagery was used by the federal government, allowing for the United States of America to diversify themselves from other countries while also creating an image for their nation. 

The idea of using cultural stereotypes is not new to America, as the nation used different stereotypes to add character and uniqueness to commercial products. Gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation are all examples of stereotypes America has used for advertising. As the CIA World Factbook and the article Asians as Being Tech-savvy written by Taylor and Stern stated, “White/Caucasian people constitute the majority of all advertising models, but only around 16% of the world’s population. When other groups of people are featured, they are often portrayed in a stereotyped way. For some ethnic groups, such as native populations, research is scarce or non-existent” (Åkestam 12). These tactics are aimed towards an audience that can relate to the stereotypes, also known as an in-group. This method of advertisement allows consumers to relate to the products, ultimately resulting in the purchasing of the item. Targeting the ethnicity of Native Americas to sell tobacco products allows American consumers to relate to their country’s origins. A popular example can be seen within the MLB team, The Cleveland Indians. The logo portrayed a cartoon figure of Chief Wahoo, a war chief who often symbolized the violence of war. This caused uproar throughout the Indian community as it failed to mention the strength and beauty of the culture in times of peace as it only displayed violence. The cigar store Indian created a similar controversy as each sculpture had a different personality. These images of Indians America created had two different portrayals, the good Indian who helped the Europeans, as well as the bad Indian who resisted the Europeans. Tomahawks and knives increased the speculation of violence between different Indian tribes. Hate speech created the idea that Indians are racist and discriminate against other cultures. These small details in Indian depiction, often used in an advertisement, created the controversy surrounding the Cigar Store Indian.

The many different characteristics, used to show differences between various artist’s sculptures, caused an outbreak of protests against the statues. Many tobacco stores began to lose customers, as their advertising methods were deemed racist against the Indian culture, thus leading to the demise of the statues. The US government created laws limiting the use of sculptures in front of businesses, as they often obstructed the sidewalk, ultimately removing the statues from outside tobacco shops. Today, the number of shops that continue to advertise their products using Indians is minuscule, resulting in the relevance of this cultural artifact to decrease. High manufacturing costs, restrictions on advertising, as well as racial sensitivity resulted in a decline of the artifact. Tobacco shops began expanding their products, resulting in some of the carvings being thrown out. Many were donated to scrap drives to help fund metal and wood during World War 1 and World War 2. Finding an original cigar store Indian in good condition is rare to find, as many have been refurbished or dismantled. Like many other cultural artifacts, there is a high demand to obtain a fragment of history. Ancient arrowheads, historic workforce patches, as well as antique dolls are a small percentage of antiques that collectors long to obtain. Auctions, trades, or online listings created a market for these items; due to the Indian statues being handcrafted with original designs, the rarity created a demand to obtain between museums and collectors, keeping the artifact relevant. Multiple websites, designed specifically for these sculptures, allow collectors to sell their artifact to one another. A statue with the original paint, clothing, and carvings has been sold for over $100,000.00 during a live auction. Many of the other carvings sell for around $50,000.00. Although there is controversy surrounding these Indians, the demand for historical items will always be present. 

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Regardless of the relevance, the statue will hold a place within the tobacco shop history within America as an example of a sociological advertisement method. The simple human depiction of a culture had sparked controversy within America and the advertisement business, changing the way advertisements work. The cigar store Indian caused the creation of new advertisement laws, as well as a rework on advertisement methods. Many businesses have used this experiment as a way to create new methods of advertisement, allowing for a relevant topic to study. Holding a long history involving controversy, this artifact taught the general public that you shall not characterize a culture, as there are often repercussions towards those actions. Although the cigar store Indians had the intention of representing the tobacco business, the controversy surrounding the item changed the way America advertises their products; allowing this artifact to have a home in history for tobacco products and marketing techniques. 

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The Cigar Store Indian And Its Impact On American Advertisement Business. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“The Cigar Store Indian And Its Impact On American Advertisement Business.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022,
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