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The Missouri Meerschaum Company

In 1869 a Dutch immigrant woodworker called Henry Tibbe began the production of a corn cob pipe, little did he know that he would change the city of Washington in the state of Missouri forever. Legend has it that a local farmer whittled a pipe out of a corn cob and liked it so much he asked Henry to try turning some on his lathe. The farmer was pleased with the result so Henry made and sold a few more in his woodworking shop. The pipes sold extremely well, so well infact Henry spent more time making pipes for his customers than working with wood so he decided to begin full time production of corn cob pipes.

In 1907 the Missouri Meerschaum Company was born. Meerschaum is a Turkish clay used in high grade pipes, Henry compared the Meerschaum to his pipes as they were both light, porous pipes and provided a cool smoke and decided “Missouri Meerschaum” was the perfect name.

Henry and his friend who was a chemist created an innovative system of applying a plaster based substance to the outside of the corn cob bowls. Henry later patented this process.

Washington, Missouri soon became the “Corn cob pipe capital of the world”

As time went by more pipe firms were created and by 1925 there were as many as twelve corn cob pipe companies in Missouri with most of them being in Washington. However today Missouri Meerschaum stands alone as the first and only corn cob pipe company outliving their competitors. Their pipes are loved all over the world, some are smoked and some are used as souvenirs.

To create a corn cob pipe first you must grow and then harvest corn. In the early days cobs from any field were gathered to make corn cob pipes. However, years of hybridization modified corn to produce smaller cobs. So Missouri Meerschaum commissioned the University of Missouri to develop a corn seed that produces bigger cobs.

Today, Missouri Meerschaum owns approximately 150 acres of farmland where they grow their own corn and occasionally contact other local farmers to use their land. That's a lot of corn!

After the corn is harvested, it is stored in outdoor bins until it can be shelled. To shell the corn they must use a vintage sheller as today’s equipment is designed to break up cobs. The cobs are then stored in the third floor of the factory for 2 years. This aging process is designed to make the cobs dry and hard.

When the cobs have been aged they are sawed into pipe lengths and sorted by size. After the cob is turned on a lathe, the tobacco hole is cut into the bowl.

Next the cobs have plaster of Paris applied to the surface of the bowl, they are left to dry for a day and then sanded to make the bowl smooth. Less expensive pipes are varnished in a concrete mixer and spread out on wire racks to dry. More expensive pipes are placed on spindles that rotate through a spray booth where they are coated with lacquer.

After the bowls are dry they begin the assembly process. Wood stems are printed with ink so they look like a cob. A metal band is hammered onto the stem and the stem is glued into the bowl. The bowls are patched around the stem and any small irregularities are addressed. The pipes are then ready to be shipped around the world!

Click here to view our range of Missouri Meerschaum pipes

Written by Oliver Partington

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