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1930s & Earlier / Spittoons
They'd be considered very unhygienic today, but in their day spittoons were actually a step up in public health. Used as a receptacle for spit generated by chewing tobacco, in the late 19th century spittoons became a common sight in pubs, brothels, saloons, hotels, stores, banks, railway carriages, and other places where people--especially adult men--gathered. Although brass was the most common material for spitoons, other materials ranged from basic functional iron to crafted cut glass and fine porcelain. At higher-class hotels, spittoons were often elaborately decorated. Spittoons were flat-bottomed, often weighted to minimize tipping over, and commonly had an interior lip to make spilling less likely even if they did tip over. Occasionally they'd have lids. Some had holes with an accompanying plug, to aid in draining and cleaning. Use of spittoons was considered an advance of public manners and health, intended to replace previously common habit of spitting on floors, streets, and sidewalks. Many jurisdictions passed laws against spitting in public--other than into a spittoon. Boy Scout troops organized campaigns to paint "Do not Spit on the Sidewalk" notices on city sidewalks. In 1909, Cincinnati scout troops allied with members of the Anti-Tuberculosis League painted thousands of such messages in a single night. A punny mass-produced sign common in saloons read: 'If you expect to rate as a gentleman, do not expectorate on the floor.' Spittoons were also useful for people suffering from tuberculosis who would cough up phlegm. Public spittoons would sometimes contain a solution of an antiseptic such as carbolic acid with the aim of limiting transmission of disease. With the start of the 20th century, medical doctors urged tuberculosis sufferers to use personal pocket spittoons instead of public ones; these were jars with tight lids which people could carry. After the deadly 1918 flu epidemic, both hygiene and etiquette advocates began to disparage public use of the spittoon, and use began to decline. Chewing gum replaced tobacco as the favorite chew of the younger generation. Cigarettes were considered more hygienic than spit-inducing chewing tobacco. While it was still not unusual to see spittoons in some public places as late as the 1930s, vast numbers of old brass spittoons met their ends when they were melted down during the scrap metal drives of the Second World War.