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Dr. Grabow Pipes
The story of Dr. Grabow pipes’ origin lies somewhere in that murky realm between fact and fiction. It is known that Louis B. Linkman formed M. Linkman & Co. in Chicago in 1898 to produce pipes. In 1922, the company built a three-story factory at the corner of Fullerton Ave. and Racine.
Although the business was doing well, Linkman searched for ways that would induce more people to take up pipe smoking. One of the most common complaints he heard about smoking pipes was that they were difficult to enjoy before they were broken in. If the break-in period could be reduced or completely eliminated, Linkman reasoned, then that would overcome some people’s difficulties and M. Linkman & Co. could sell more pipes.
Linkman considered several ideas, including treating the inside of pipe bowls with chemicals, but he eventually concluded that if a pipe’s break-in period was to be made easier, it must be pre-smoked with real tobacco. He chose an automatic machine that emulated the smoking process for the task and produced the first pre-smoked Dr. Grabow pipe in 1933.
Myth and legend take over on the subject of how Linkman chose the name Dr. Grabow for his pipes. Some people claim that Dr. Grabow was a name that Linkman picked out of the ether, a fictional character who existed only in Linkman’s imagination. Others suggest that Dr. Grabow was a real dentist who had invented some pipe improvements, including a pre-smoking method, and sold them to Linkman. And then there’s a letter written by Paul W. Grabow that has circulated in the pipe community. His grandfather, Dr. Paul E. Grabow, was a dentist who lived in Chicago who became Linkman’s friend. M. Linkman & Co. had started production on an innovative new pipe, and for marketing purposes, Linkman wanted to name it after a doctor. According to the letter, Dr. Grabow agreed to lend his name to the new pipes in exchange for a free lifetime supply of them—probably unaware his name would some day become synonymous with pipe smoking.
However Dr. Grabow pre-smoked pipes got their name, they continued to be produced by M. Linkman & Co. until 1955, when the brand’s trademark was sold to Sparta Pipes, a company owned by the Levitas family, which had been making pipes in North Carolina using mountain laurel since the 1940s. Dr. Grabow pipes have been made in Sparta ever since.