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  • Exploding Pipes March 20, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    Bored, got nothing to do? Here’s a thought. Why not blind a friend for a lark? There are a couple score newspaper stories from 1850-1950 of workmen, companions and complete strangers giving victims pipes that have been doctored with gunpowder. Typically the smoker puts a match to the shag of tobacco, takes a deep breath and then has the pipe blow up in his face. Done in an intelligent fashion the consequences were probably not so bad: after all exploding cigars were a staple of European jokers from 1900-1950 (see the image at the head of this post). But jokers and gunpowder… The temptation to add a couple of grains too many must have been strong, and even a very slight flare could temporarily blind the victim, while a slightly bigger bang could send fragments of pipe into the victim’s eyes or face. Beach here has collected a series of these stories from 1850 to about the time of the First World War: this is certainly not a complete list, but a useful remember of idiocies past.  Another reason to be glad that you were not born in 1864.

    1870: note the strange predominance of Scottish reports in what follows.


    1884: again and again the eyes are damaged.

    exploding pipes

    1885: you always know it is bad in a Victorian publications when ‘miscreants’ are involved.

    1886: ‘a case for the birch rod’ !

    1890, March: only one Irish reference.

    1890, May: note the ‘by no means original idea’: this was presumably a common occurrence without serious injuries.

    1891: note here and in 1890, May, the presence of soldiers. They had easy access to gunpowder but what about all these young lads?

    1893: Back to Scotland.

    1894: more soldiers

    1897: Quarrymen, another profession with access to gunpowder.


    1905: ‘from a fog signal…’

    1922: this report is interesting for its length. Note the magistrate trying to stamp down on gunpowder joke outrages at the end: there must be no more practical jokes with gunpowder.

    Can anyone add to this sorry collection: was the joke big in the States (where presumably gunpowder was more easily attained): drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    Gary V, 30 Mar 2017: The 4th prank of Max and Moritz (a German childrens’ classic, at least when I was a kid —dunno if it’s still in vogue) consists in just that: they put gunpowder into the church organist’s pipe, which he is wont to smoke right after the service. Here with the original illustrations:


    Bruce T. 30 Mar 2017: When I was young and almost everyone smoked, you could buy little paper tubes of powder called “loads” which were expressly made for putting in cigarettes and cigars. You could get them at any small town five and dime store for less than a half dollar for a pack of twenty five. They even came with instructions on how far to insert the load into the victims smoke for the best results. Someone got it every day. Cigarettes and fireworks could be used in the opposite manner, too. You would light your cigarette, insert the fuse of your favorite incendiary/explosive device back about an inch, take a light puff and put it down in a place where it wouldn’t be noticed. The cigarette will continues to burn, it’s been treated to do so. They’re a dandy timed fuse for these type of pranks. You simply walk away and wait the ten minutes or so before it either goes “boom”, spews out smoke, or lets out a cloud full of some God awful stench. That trick was much more common. Loads were more of a younger kids thing. Lots of hearing loss and some serious damage done with the cigarette as a fuse trick, even when no criminal intent was there. When I was young you could get a couple of items known as M-80s and “Cherry Bombs”. The first were the equivalent to a quarter stick of dynamite the second to a half stick. The first was used for out in the open pranks, the second was the master toilet blaster. Light it, hit the flush, drop it in and run! That bathroom would be shut down until the school or store could repair the plumbing.