Lounging in the 60s

Table Top Ashtray

Object Name

Table-Top Ashtray


Few objects in this collection simultaneously embody sixties smoking culture and Mission 66's emphasis on movement like this wood and brass ashtray. Although free-standing ashtrays encouraged visitors to walk around while they smoked, these small units exemplified a different aspect of mobility by being portable. Originally one of seven units ordered by Charles Gordon Lee to furnish the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, this circular tray displays a slightly more ornate design than most of the furniture it accompanies, although its diminutive size prevents it from causing much of a distraction. This piece typically sat on tables throughout the visitor center, granting easier access to seated guests and staff than one of the bulkier upright units. Its relatively lightweight and small size allowed people to effortlessly move it to wherever they desired and also enabled quicker ash disposal than the free-standing trays. In the end, the ashtray itself proved more durable than the smoking culture it was built to cater to, at least in Rocky Mountain National Park.


The condition of this specific ashtray reveals a lifetime of movement and use throughout the visitor center. Though it is not heavily damaged, its wooden exterior shows innumerable minute signs of wear. The uppermost edge of the ashtray has a few nicks and dings; rust and scratches mar the brass interior. Wood is an odd material choice for an ashtray, but this particular unit shows no obvious signs of burn damage. However, its dark brown stain and finish are clearly worn away from years of handling. The protective felt padding on the underside is also matted and frayed, suggesting a long history of sliding across tables. Despite the ashtray's somewhat worn appearance, its disposal mechanism still works quite well. Pressing the orange button on the top of the unit opens up a small chamber in its center for ash collection. The apparent popularity of this ashtray reflects how fashionable smoking culture was in Rocky Mountain National Park during the sixties. Such notions do not only seem absolutely antithetical to popular ideas of the park as a place for clean air and healthy activities, but can also fuel concerns regarding forest fires. In the end, the ashtray itself proved more durable than the smoking culture it was built to cater to, at least in Rocky Mountain National Park.

1960s Smoking Culture

Cigarette smoking became a widespread habit during the first half of the twentieth century and was deeply ingrained in American culture by the 1960s. Today the habit is immortalized in many popular films from the decade, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Breathless (1960), The Graduate (1967) and La Dolca Vita (1960). James Bond’s smoking peaked in the 1960s; according to a study published in Tobacco Control, he lit up 83% of films produced during the decade. Beyond popular culture, tobacco production proved vital to our burgeoning nation’s economy.


In his 1960 monograph Tobacco and Americans, Robert Heimann dissects the nation’s evolving relationship with the plant from indigenous use to initial large-scale cultivation to tobacco’s permeating presence in all aspects of mid-twentieth century society. He argues that the rise of tobacco is linked inextricably to that of the country, as tobacco provided an economic foundation upon which young America could flourish. He equates smoking with “freedom”, and considers the pervasive nature of the habit without mention of health effects. In considering the concurrent sentiment towards cigarettes, he writes:

If any proof of the universality of smoking were needed, it was given in 1954 when ashtrays were set around the tables of the Security Council in the United Nations building. ‘Apparently,’ interpreted the New York Times, ‘United Nations officialdom could no longer hold out against delegated who felt that ambassadorial rank should at least carry with it the right to put match to cigarette.’ More significant than this concession to the herbe de l’ambassadeur was the recognition that a common man’s right to a good cigarette transcends ideological differences (Heimann, 1960).


Collection Number

ROMO #27101

Date of Requisition



Brass; Wood; Felt; Plastic


3” H. x 8” D. | 7.6 cm x 20.3 cm


MacDonald Building Products Corp.

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