Why was pipe smoking associated with the upper/professional classes?

Anytime you see an old movie or read a classic novel set in an upper class or professional setting, it seems someone will smoke a pipe. Yet the portrayals of middle and working class life seem rarely to feature pipe smokers. Why was pipe smoking so closely associated with the elite classes and for how long? Was pipe smoking considerably more expensive than smoking cigarettes?

People of all classes are portrayed as smoking pipes, and the type and quality of the pipe is used as an indicator of class. I think what you are seeing is the portrayal of the upper class as having the leisure of smoking an ornate pipe in their private den or elite club as part of their afternoon repose as compared to the coal miner who at the end of his work day might find a moment to hold a simple stem.

I agree with TriPolar, I don’t get the connection with pipes and the upper classes. When I think of the Upper Classes smoking in, say, an Agatha Christie book or Downton Abbey, I more often think if posh silver cigarette cases containing free cigarettes for guests.

If you should ever walk along the banks of the Thames in London, you would be almost guaranteed to discover dozens of broken clay pipes tossed by the working classes into the river over the course of the last 400 years.

Possibly because pipe smoking involves a considerable amount of fiddling around with the pipe, tobacco, cleaners, etc., and is basically incompatible with the manual labor of the working class. I know the few times I’ve worked with pipe smokers, they devoted far more time to their nicotine fix than cigarette and cigar smokers.

Yeah, this.

Part of the typical iconography of the ‘hillbilly’ is a corncob pipe, for instance.

Perhaps due to the image of the tweedy university professor or better class of teacher. In the early 20th century cigarettes were called ‘gaspers’ and somewhat associated with the lower classes; although I’ve never seen a picture of royalty or aristocrats using a pipe if they smoked back then, only cigarettes.
However, earlier, cigarettes were around from the 1850s and at first associated with the upper classes, mainly officers, at first Russian ones; whereas all classes had been smoking pipes from the 17th century on, from aristos to navvys to German soldiers who attributed their victory in 1870 to abundant tobacco.
Tammas Carlyle’s mother smoked a pipe up at Ecclefechan all her long life.

Pansy Hunks agrees with that.

Does Teufelsdröckh smoke a pipe? I can’t remember.

Popeye the sailor smoked a pipe.

This touches on the OP. The fiddling, careful preparations, discussions of tobacco, and producing voluminous smoke are often the way upperclass smokers are portrayed. I think this is what the OP is noticing, and in recent media it’s exagerrated from the traditional imagery. A simple corncob or clay pipe is all that’s needed to express the more meager means of some characters, for the rich and powerful more highlighting is beneficial. Look at the portrayal of cigar smokers, the lower class individuals have the chewed stub of cigar hanging out of their mouths, the upper class and powerful have a ridiculously large cigar that may not even be lit, and they’ll make a ritual out of the lighting.

This is an interesting subject, I wonder if there other subtle symbols used in this way, as opposed to the obvious ones where a rich man rides in a Rolls Royce while the poor man walks.

In one of his many efforts at stopping smoking, my dad started smoking a pipe instead. Turns out most of that fiddling around isn’t necessary, if all you want is your nicotine fix.

Maybe the image dates from a time when pipes had become rare and the association was: pipes > old-fashioned > conservative > upper-class.

Smoking a pipe, or rolling your own are good choices if you’re a fetishist and love the ritual.

One that immediately comes to mind is the elitist using a cigarette holder vs. the blue collar worker/soldier in the trenches cupping a butt in his hand.

Not really. Pipe smoking was regularly depicted in TV shows of the '50s, but often by middle class dads rather than upper class. It was seen as somewhat sophisticated, like wearing a tie at dinner at home.

I remember watching a film in class about urban planning. It was produced in the 50’s and the cast consisted of the archetype white male professionals. As the head planner reviewed some plans, our professor noted, “I think it was law back then that you had to have a pipe in order to gesture at blueprints.”