Washington, Missouri has long been known as the “Corn Cob Pipe Capital of the World.” And, in fact, The Missouri Meerschaum Company – the world’s oldest and largest manufacturer of cool, sweet-smoking corn cob pipes – began the tradition for which Washington became famous.
In 1869, a Dutch immigrant woodworker named Henry Tibbe first began production of the corn cob pipe. Legend has it that a local farmer whittled a pipe out of corn cob and liked it so much he asked Henry Tibbe to try turning some on his lathe. Because the farmer was well-pleased with the results, Henry made and sold a few more in his woodworking shop. Tibbe’s pipes proved to be such a fast selling item, he soon spent more time making pipes for customers than working with wood, and began full time production of corn cob pipes.
In 1907 the H. Tibbe & Son Co. became the Missouri Meerschaum Company. The word “meerschaum” is derived from a German word meaning “sea foam.” Meerschaum is a Turkish clay used in high grade pipes. Tibbe likened his light, porous pipes and their cool smoke to that of the more expensive meerschaum pipes and coined the name “Missouri Meerschaum” for his pipes. Tibbe and a chemist friend devised an innovative system of applying a plaster-based substance to the outside of the corn cob bowls. In 1878, Tibbe patented this process.
A nationwide distribution system was eventually established for the sale of Tibbe’s pipes. Other pipe firms also developed, so by 1925 there were as many as a dozen corn cob pipe companies in Franklin County, Missouri – most of them in Washington. Today, Missouri Meerschaum stands alone as the first and only surviving piece of this living history. These gentle pipes are smoked and loved all over the world as well as being used as souvenirs, often imprinted with the name of a city, business, or event.