The protesters were angry and vocal in the fall of 1909. Their target was one heartless Chicago capitalist named Clarence Knight. He was trying to end smoking on the 'L' trains.
Knight was president of the Chicago & Oak Park Elevated Railroad (today's Lake Street Green Line). His trains always ran at least one smoking car. So did Chicago's other privately-owned 'L' companies. Since about 80% of adult males smoked at least one cigar a day, this was understandable.
But few women smoked in 1909. In the middle of the day, when most of the passengers were female, the smoking cars were running empty and losing money. Knight knew that other cities banned smoking on transit vehicles. He announced that all his trains would go smokeless on November 1.
There was no trouble at first. The smokers simply went on smoking. A few conductors tried to enforce the new rule, but gave up in the face of the mass civil disobedience.
On November 5 the excrement hit the fan. That day "L" security guards removed two smokers from a train at the 44th Avenue (Kostner) station. Other passengers tried to stop the guards, and a near-riot ensued.
Three days later a grass-roots gathering of smokers held a protest rally in Oak Park. A crowd of over 500 people jammed a local hall and spilled into the street. A citizens' committee was organized to carry on the fight. They declared their purpose in populist rhetoric--"Neither Knight nor any other monopoly can deny the workingman his morning smoke."
The "Smoking War" became front-page news. All through November, newspapers detailed the actions of the pro-tobacco-choice forces, and the options they were weighing.
Some people wanted to stage a boycott. Others wanted to invite arrest, so a test case might be brought to court. One man suggested hiring "Halsted Street strong-arm boys" to counter the "L" security guards. Since Knight's company had failed to elevate its tracks in Oak Park, maybe his franchise should be revoked--unless, of course, he brought back the smoking cars.
George Plummer of the smokers finally challenged Knight to face him in the boxing ring, and settle things man-to-man. This development awakened the Chicago City Council. One of the aldermen proposed that the council sponsor the fight, and sell the movie rights. You like to think he was joking.
Clarence Knight would not be swayed. His "L" trains remained smokeless. Passengers eventually adjusted to the system, and the protests died out. But smoking continued on other "L" lines until the 1918 influenza epidemic.