Oh, that Peter Stuyvesant. He was all about luxury, high class athletic sport and international travel. The Concorde! Monte Carlo! Caviar!
Just kidding. Stuyvesant — the industrious Dutch director-general of New Amsterdam — embodied the very opposite of those things.
And yet, less than three centuries after he died at his palatial farm in today’s East Village, his name was employed to sell a brand of stylish, premium cigarette, still smoked today in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries, most being places Peter Stuyvesant had no idea existed.
[Want to know what he got up to in his lifetime? Listen to our podcast on Peter Stuyvesant and the fall of New Amsterdam.]
The cigarette was developed by a German company in the 1950s and soon became associated with an international sensibility due to its ‘American blend’ of various tobaccos from different countries. “The smell of the large far world: Peter Stuyvesant!” went the slogan in 1958.
It was test marketed in New York in 1957. Stuyvesant was not the only Dutch historical figure to make his cigarette debut that year; Rembrandt cigarettes also hit the streets of New York.
“Stuyvesant people having fun!” went the jingle, accompanied by rigorous activity that might prove challenging for those enjoying one too many of their advertised product:
By the 1980s, the Peter Stuyvesant cigarette was advertised as a high adventure symbol of extravagance and wealth, trying to closely align with upper class leisure. In London, during the 1980s, the cigarette company even sponsored the Peter Stuyvesant Pops in London.
In 2003, the cigarette was bought by a British company, which would have disturbed the actual Peter Stuyvesant to no end.
The company even experimented with Peter Stuyvesant travel agencies in some places, clever ways to advertise their cigarettes in places with strict advertising laws. The real Stuyvesant, of course, did travel to the Caribbean before commanding the settlement in New Amsterdam, but after the English took over New Amsterdam in 1664, he essentially became a gentleman farmer.
The cigarette named for him embodied the American ideal, a distillation of glamour, capitalism and excess, ‘further testimony to the adoption by European of American dreams’, according to author Alexander Stephan. “Feel the Big Apple beat!” went this promotion in 1985. “It’s fun! It’s fabulous! It’s fast!”
Meanwhile in the 1980s, over in Brooklyn, the neighborhood which bore the Stuyvesant name (Bedford-Stuyvesant) was hardly tasting the fruits of prosperity advertised in Stuyvesant commercials half a world away. Neither was it diamonds and champagne in the East Village, the neighborhood which developed from Stuyvesant’s old farm to become the gritty backdrop for 1980s art and punk music.
Stuyvesant cigarette executives even tailored promotional opportunities to the fight for freedom and human rights (hardly concepts the real Stuyvesant would have advocated). In 1989, employees in ‘Come Together’ shirts distributed Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes to East Berliners on their way to the vote in the election that would unite the former Soviet sector with West Berlin.
Here’s an older ad for you German speakers!
I feel we must add here that Peter Stuyvesant probably wouldn’t want you to smoke cigarettes; he certainly frowned against drinking alcohol.
Image at top courtesy Museum Victoria
A version of this article was originally published on this website in 2007.