Remembering: “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”

Prince Albert, courtesy of Alexisrael
Prince Albert, courtesy of Alexisrael

These days, if you asked the average young person if they “have Prince Albert in a can?” they’d have no idea what you were even talking about; however, just shy of a century ago, generations of American children initiated what may have been the first prank phone call in world history: calling up local store clerks and asking if they had this much sought after brand of tobacco.

In 1913, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company unveiled its premier brand of pipe tobacco, Prince Albert. The tobacco was sold in multiple forms, but mostly popularly a tin can and was named after Edward VII, who was known as Prince Albert before being crowned King of England. Prince Albert had acquired an international reputation for being a habitual smoker, smoking no less than twenty cigarettes and twelve cigars a day.

“I remember waking up with my friend after a sleep over and grabbing the telephone to call the local stores in town and asking the unsuspecting clerk, ‘Do you have Prince Albert in a can?’ only to have them reply, ‘Yes, we do.’

“Covering our mouths to silence our snickering, we’d then in unison yell into the phone, ‘Well you better let him out… he might suffocate in there!’ then we’d hang up the phone and burst into uncontrollable laughter,” recalled one Appalachian Magazine reader.

These innocent and harmless pranks were all the rage for decades until being lost to time. In the generations that followed, a similar prank would arise, directed at homeowners, “Is your refrigerator running? …Well you better go catch it!”

In 1987 Prince Albert brand tobacco was purchased by John Middleton, Inc. and is the second largest manufacturer of large machine-made cigars, and a maker of pipe tobacco.

Unfortunately, the real life Prince Albert did not fare too well. Coronated as Edward VII, King of the United Kingdom in 1901, he died fewer than ten years later after suffering from a rodent ulcer (a type of cancer affecting the skin next to his nose), severe bronchitis and multiple heart attacks.

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