Tobacco Works Of Rochester
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During the post-Civil War period, William S. Kimball’s Peerless Tobacco Works of Rochester, N.Y. managed to capture an ever increasing share of the U.S. cigarette market with their Vanity Fair, Fragrant Vanity Fair, Cloth of Gold, Three Kings, Old Gold and Orientals brands. Meanwhile, yet another tobacco manufacturer, Allen & Ginter of Richmond, VA trademarked the brand names Bon Ton, Napoleons, Dubec, The Pet, Opera Puffs for the national market and an sold a brand called Richmond Straight Cut No. 1 both at home and internationally.

Along with New York City, Richmond, VA, and Rochester, NY, the city of Baltimore, MD became a center for cigarette manufacture in the early years with the entry of The Marburg Tobacco Company and Felgner into the race. Marburg aimed at the so-called “carriage trade” with their Estrella, High Life, Melrose and Golden Age brands while Felgner offered their own line of urban-sophisticated smokes with Sublime, Principal, Perfect and Herbe de la Reine.

Combined, the Kinney, Allen & Ginter, Kimball, Goodwin, Marburg and Felgner firms became known as the “big six” of the cigarette industry by the 1870s as they gained control of 75% of national sales. There were, of course, hundreds of smaller cigarette firms operating out of back-room shops in most larger Northern cities during this era but their distribution capabilities were usually very limited. These operations typically employed fewer than a dozen Greek, Turkish or Bulgar rollers and turned out specialty “oriental” brands such as Khedive, Sultana, or Monopole. Their beautifully packaged cigarettes often featured silver and gold foil inner wrappings and a variety of sizes, shapes and mouthpieces.

The prices charged for these specialty brands reflected the upper-class urban market that they were aimed at. Turkish Elegantes from Bedrossian Brothers sold at $1.00 for 20 and Huppmann Imperiales cost $1.20 for 20 at time when most national brands were priced at .05 cents for a box of 10.

Despite this rapid growth in sales of cigarettes in the 1870’s, it should be remembered that they were still considered a novelty and were for the most part an urban phenomenon. Americans were still very much attached to their pipes, cigars and chew. Historically, northerners had preferred cigars while “the chew” prevailed in the South. Pipe smoking was popular throughout the country although the choice of pipe was largely regional. As early as the 1820’s, John Quincy Adams had made “Havanas” respectable in New England society and “brown rolls” eventually became so popular that the Boston city fathers set aside a special area known as the “Smoking Circle” on Boston Common just for the cigar smokers.

Meanwhile, throughout the South in the West, “the chew” prevailed. Of the 348 tobacco factories listed by the 1860 census of Virginia and North Carolina, only six were making smoking tobacco. The rest were making plug and twist tobacco exclusively. 1860 production figures for those two states alone amounted to 83,000,000 pounds.

By 1880, a young man in Durham, NC with a long family background in the tobacco business had come to the conclusion that cigarettes represented the future of his industry. James Buchannan Duke had grown up working with his father and brothers at the W.Duke & Sons Tobacco Company in Durham turning out Duke of Durham and Pro Bono Publico smoking tobaccos which were competitors of W.T. Blackwell’s world-famous Bull Durham Tobacco. Young “Buck” Duke saw the battle with Blackwell as a lost cause and in 1881 set his sights on the emerging cigarette business importing 125 experienced hand-rollers and a factory manager from New York to manufacture Duke of Durham Cigarettes.

That same year, another young man named James Bonsack approached Duke with a cigarette-making machine he had invented. The young inventor had previously gone to the now “big four” companies but had been turned down because his machine was prone to break-down, plus there was a belief that consumers would never accept a machine made cigarette.

Duke put his top mechanics to work ironing out the bugs in the Bonsack machine, then signed a deal with the inventor. During his first year of production, using his team of imported hand-rollers, Duke had turned out 9,800,000 cigarettes. In contrast, using the Bonsack machines enabled him to produce 744,000,000 cigarettes in 1888. Duke soon added Cyclone, Duke’s Best, Cameo, Pedro, Town Talk , Crosscut and Pin Head to his stable of brands, the latter emblazoned with the words “These Cigarettes are Manufactured on the Bonsack Machine.”

By lowering his production costs, Buck Duke was able to lower his price to 5¢ for a pack of 10. This was half the price of other major brands and the W.B. Duke Company soon had garnered a full 40% of the market. Gathering momentum, Duke stepped up the pace spending an unheard of $800,000 on print and billboard advertising in 1889 and sent salesmen across the country and around the world. In 1890, the “big four” companies, W.S. Kimball, Allen & Ginter, Kinney Bros. and Goodwin gave up the battle and joined W.B. Duke in forming The American Tobacco Company with a capitalization of $25,000,000 and James “Buck” Duke as President.


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