Here is an odd little piece of historical trivia for you. What man holds the title as “The Most Kissed Man In America?”
You might guess Hugh Hefner.
Or George Clooney
Or (this one is for you classic movie buffs) S. Z. Sakall
But the answer is a man of whom you have probably never heard: Richmond P. Hobson. Lt. Hobson was a hero of the Spanish-American war, a Medal Of Honor winner, a congressman and a leader of the Prohibition Movement. He was a handsome young man with a large mustache, appropriate to the time. But why was he the most kissed man in America? And why did “Hobson’s Kisses” become a common phrase?
Hobson served with great distinction in the Spanish-American War. As a naval officer, he had already served with distinction when his bold actions inspired the nation. The Spanish Navy controlled Santiago Harbor in Cuba. This was an important strategic advantage. Hobson came up with a daring plan. If he could sink a large collier (a bulk cargo ship carrying coal to refuel the Navy ships) in the harbor, the Spanish Navy would be penned in. Taking just a small, brave skeleton crew, he attempted to scuttle his ship and blockade the enemy. The Spanish Navy, observing his actions, opened fire and managed to sink his ship, Merrimac, at the entrance of the bay. His mission had failed. Hobson and his men were rescued by the Spanish Navy and subjected to seven months of very genteel prisoner status. They were well cared for and respected.
The press, which had whipped up enthusiasm for a senseless war, turned his seeming suicide mission and prisoner of war status into making Hobson a national hero. After seven months of courteous captivity, Hobson was returned to the United States. Each of his crew members won the Medal of Honor. Lt. Hobson was ineligible under the guidelines of the time because he was an officer. No matter. The jingoistic journalists of the time made him into a superstar.
Hobson’s Kisses – The Most Kissed Man in America
In New York City, huge throngs welcomed Hobson. He delighted in kissing the children who were in awe of the handsome war hero. When an attractive young woman complained that she did not receive any of Hobson’s kisses, he obligingly kissed her. This began a stampede of young women wanting to kiss the handsome naval hero. Newspapers gleefully reported the endless stream of women wanting to kiss him and his efforts to delight all of them.
“Now, what on earth am I to do—run away? Shall a man dodge, when pretty women crowd around him? It may be silly, but any man with any gallantry or decency in him would do just as I have done—kiss ’em all.” – Hobson in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 21, 1898
Like Frank Sinatra creating mass hysteria at the Paramount theater among the bobbysoxers or Beatlemania running rampant in New York City, the phenomenon of Hobson’s Kisses fed upon itself. The more young women rushed forward to kiss him, the more pictures appeared in the newspaper. And the more newspapers ran stories and photographs of Hobson’s Kisses, the more young women wanted to rush forward! Some newspapers kept a running tally of how many kisses he had delivered. One newspaper reported that in Kansas alone he had kissed 1,000 women. The title “The Most Kissed Man in America” was given him and no one disagreed.
After resigning from the Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral, he served as a United States Congressman
representing Alabama. He became a leading spokesman for the Prohibition Movement and is considered one of the first major American politicians to call for a war on drugs. He dined with presidents and was a great friend of the brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla. Tesla actually served as best man at Hobson’s wedding. While the demand for Hobson’s Kisses eventually faded, he lived his life with honor, earning great respect. In 1933, four years before his death, Hobson received his long overdue Medal of Honor.
It says something about American popular culture that “The Most Kissed Man in America,” the man who delivered Hobson’s Kisses, earned his fame for a failed mission in a nonsensical war after seven months of chivalrous treatment by an enemy that respected him.