Founded in 1883 by Fred Leavitt and Waldo Pierce, the Leavitt & Pierce Smoke Shop is located directly across the street from the main gate to Harvard Yard in Cambridge MA. From its’ inception, the store has always catered to the Harvard community. It is said that in the early days, the store with its’ back-room billiards table and wide offering of cigars, tobaccos, and smoking accessories, had a bit of a shady
reputation among the strictly puritanical citizenry of Boston. In response, the owners reportedly enforced a strict “no freshman” policy. The store’s most famous blend which was called Cake Box, got its’ name from an actual metal cake box which sat at the end of the counter and was always filled with an aromatic mixture of tobaccos free for sampling by the mix of Harvard professors and under-graduates who passed through the doors.
Fred Leavitt Waldo Peirce Harvard Crimson 1916
Although never actually sanctioned by the University, the store quickly became a meeting place for students and faculty alike offering sign up sheets for campus events as well as selling tickets and arranging transportation for many of the same events A sampling of ads from the Harvard Crimson over the years gives a sense of the close relationship between the store and it's scholarly neighbor:
“Lost.- A bicycle. A 52in. expert Columbia, black enamel. Please leave notice at Leavitt and Pierce’s” ( Harvard Crimson October 22, 1888)
"The boat is going to go!" said Mr. Frank Knapp of the firm of Leavitt and Pierce last night when questioned in regard to the projected cruise by special boat from Boston to New York on the eve of the Harvard-Princeton football game on November 10. The Harvard boat is no longer a vague project; it has already been definitely arranged for. The required 300 members of the University had signed for passage in the blue book at Leavitt and Pierce's by Monday night; arrangements were immediately completed with officers of the Fall River line; a boat was chartered; and tickets will go on sale at Leavitt and Pierce's tomorrow. These tickets are of all sorts and combinations. They include round trip tickets between Boston and Princeton, one way tickets to New York, one way to Boston, etc, etc. In each case, the saving will be considerable.” (Harvard Crimson October 31,1923)
The shop also sponsored many of the campus “Smokers” which were popular for years:
“Cab Calloway, noted orchestra leader, heads the list of prominent entertainers to perform at the annual. Freshman Smoker in Saunders Theatre, Tuesday night, April 30. Also booked for the evening is the winner of the New England jam session this winter, Tasker Crosson, who is preparing to give a hot half-hour of swing with his 12-piece Negro orchestra. Betty Randall, formerly in the Rainbow Room, who now sings for the National Broadcasting Company, will add feminine charm, singing a few of the latest song hits. Ray Bolger, the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz" and a famed tap dancer, Virginia O'Brien, co-starring with Bolger in "Keep off the Grass," opening in Boston April 29 may possibly appear with other members of the cast, while Ray Guild, winner of first prize in the Freshman Amateur Hour Wednesday night, and the Wessel brothers, who appeared on Major Bowes program and are now in Steubens in Boston, have a series of impersonations to amuse the crowd.”
“As usual all refreshments to the Yardlings will be free, 3000 cigarettes as wll as tobacco, and pipes from Leavitt and Pierce and the Chesterfield Company, ice cream from Hood's and drinks supplied by Coca Cola, and Pepsi-Cola, will be distributed after the show.” Harvard Crimson….. April 20, 1940
Fred Leavitt and Waldo Pierce both died in 1919 within a few months of each other. Employees Frank Knapp and Fred Moore bought the store and ran it for the next three decades. They continued many of the old traditions while instituting some new policies. Cigars were still handed out to all graduates at commencement time, railroad schedules for more than 50 lines were still posted on the back wall and game schedules as well as scores still appeared in the shop windows. The product lines were expanded to include more than 90 cigarette brands.
In 1956, the store was sold to David P Ehrlich & Co. which is another old line and well established Tobacco Shop in Boston. Again, many of the old traditions were retained including the large Leavitt & Pierce sign out front. A walk into the shop today is a treat for all the senses with the aroma of exotic blended tobaccos filling the air and display case full of the finest pipes. It is also a step back in time with a back room full of pictures of Harvard crew, baseball and football teams as well as autographed game balls, baseball bats and other memorabilia. There is a display case in one corner which has some of the special cigarette packs made up for long ago Harvard/Yale games, early Duke packs including Pinhead and Duke of Durham as well as many examples of early Cake Box tins. Let’s hope that the shop known and beloved by generations of Harvard alumni will stand on the same corner for another 150 years.