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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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American Tobacco Company

by Robert W. Carter Jr., 2006

The American Tobacco Company, one of the first giant holding companies in American industry, was incorporated in North Carolina on 31 Jan. 1890 by James B. Duke. Duke's father, Washington, had become a successful small manufacturer of tobacco after the Civil War. His son Brodie, seeing little opportunity in a small rural tobacco factory, moved to Durham in 1869. There he began to produce smoking tobacco; five years later, Washington and his two other sons, James B. and Benjamin N., moved to Durham and combined forces with Brodie to build a factory for their joint use. The Dukes formed the firm of W. Duke, Sons and Company in 1878 to raise needed capital for the growth of their business. Soon substantial profits were pouring in, and the Dukes reinvested the money in the business for continued expansion. During this period, the youngest son, James, emerged as the true leader of the enterprise.

The leading manufacturer of smoking tobacco in Durham at the time was the William T. Blackwell Company, with its famous Bull Durham label. The sales of W. Duke, Sons and Company's brand Duke of Durham lagged behind that of Bull Durham. James B. Duke, always the visionary, realized the cigarette had great potential for the future if a machine for mass production could be perfected. In the early 1880s, James Bonsack of Virginia invented such a machine. Before the end of the decade, James B. Duke had gained exclusive control of the Bonsack machine and soon had a monopoly on the American cigarette industry. He took over the nation's five major cigarette manufacturers, which were centered in Richmond, Va., and New York City. Duke's newly formed American Tobacco Company (or Trust) encompassed practically all of the small smoking tobacco firms and most of the chewing tobacco producers in the nation. Major firms absorbed in North Carolina included R. J. Reynolds of Winston-Salem, W. T. Blackwell of Durham, and F. R. Penn of Reidsville. In 1904 Duke reorganized his many tobacco firms into a single corporation. By 1906 American Tobacco controlled four-fifths of the entire domestic tobacco industry other than cigars.

In 1907 a federal court ruled that American Tobacco had a monopoly on licorice, a flavoring, and that the company was guilty of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. After a long trial, the court prohibited the company from enjoying interstate trade until conditions were corrected. The ruling was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided on 29 May 1911 that the company had to be dissolved. On 16 Nov. 1911 the Supreme Court issued a decree that the company had to be divided into three major parts: American Tobacco, Liggett and Myers, and P. Lorillard. The control of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company of Winston-Salem was also relinquished. James B. Duke, a multimillionaire by then, retired from active management of the American companies and turned his attention to other interests, including the generation of hydroelectric power and the creation of Duke University in Durham.

After the breakup of American Tobacco in 1911, the restructured company concentrated its tobacco manufacturing in Durham and Reidsville, N.C.; Louisville, Ky.; and Richmond, Va. The Durham facility had been built by the Duke family and included the former William T. Blackwell plant. The Reidsville plant was the former F. R. Penn Tobacco Company, which the American Tobacco Company had purchased shortly before the dissolution of the American Tobacco Trust in 1911.

American Tobacco purchased the Penn plant in 1911, and Penn's sons, Charles and T. Jeff, continued to work for the corporation. Charles A. Penn became a director of American Tobacco in 1911 and the vice president of manufacturing in 1916. He perfected the blend for a new cigarette known as Lucky Strike, which was later to become one of the leading brands in the history of the industry. Mainly through Charles Penn's efforts, the former Penn plant was enlarged for the production of Lucky Strike, and Reidsville soon became one of American Tobacco's four major production centers.

American Tobacco Company began to diversify in the 1960s and moved into other fields, including distilled spirits, life insurance, office supplies, cosmetics, and hardware. In 1968 the various components of the company were reorganized into a new corporation, American Brands, Inc. As its older tobacco manufacturing plants became outmoded, the company began to concentrate its cigarette production in Reidsville. It closed its Louisville plants in 1971, its Richmond plants in 1981, and its Durham plants in 1987. The manufacturing complex in Reidsville was expanded to accommodate the increased production. In 1986 the American Tobacco Company became a subsidiary of American Brands, making it one of the largest cigarette producers in the United States. As Gallaher, Ltd., it also became the leading cigarette producer in the United Kingdom.

Through the work of the Historic Preservation Society of Durham and various developers in the 1980s, the tobacco district of downtown Durham began to be restored and transformed into a thriving urban center featuring apartment complexes, restaurants, and unique retail stores. The 14 acres of the American Tobacco Historic District was at the heart of Durham's renewal. By 2004 its massive red-brick buildings had undergone a $200 million renovation financed by Capital Broadcasting Company and was serving as attractive office space for a variety of tenants.


American Tobacco Company, The American Tobacco Story (1962).

Robert F. Durden, The Dukes of Durham, 1865-1929 (1975).

Durden, Bold Entrepreneur: A Life of James B. Duke (2003).

Michael Orey, Assuming the Risk: The Mavericks, the Lawyers, and the Whistleblowers Who Beat Big Tobacco (1999).

Image Credit:

American Tobacco Company factory, circa 1926. Image courtesy of Preservation Durham, UNC Libraries. Available from (accessed June 27, 2012).


Origin - location: 



What is the story with the plant in Reidsville, NC 27320?
Is it closing, or is it true the rumors that they are tripling the work force.


Hi Ron,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your question.

According to an article in the Triad Business Journal (online), the merger was completed in the first half of 2015.  Here is a link to the article --

NCpedia does not have any current information on the Reynolds-Lorillard Company.  I see that there are a number of articles on the internet in addition to these and you may be able to find some additional information there.  The Reidsville, NC Chamber of Commerce may also be able to provide information --

I hope this helps!

Best wishes, 

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


I have an advertisement from August 1915 on one of my popular mechanics magazine it offers an free illustrated booklet showing the correct way to "Roll Your Own" Cigarettes. and a package of cigarette papers will both be mailed free to address in The United Stated on request. Address "Bull" Durham, Durham , n c. Room 1124. The add features members of the military using the product


can you tell me when the American tobacco company start making the brand SOLDIER BOY, also do you if i can find somewhere pictures of paper or metal tobacco advertacing related to this brand. thanks


Hi John,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your question.

I have a couple of suggestions for places to consider for this question.  

1.  First, you may be interested in a number of published books on the history of the American Tobacco Company.  I'm including a link to the book in WorldCat which searches the catalogs of many libraries around the world so you'll be able to see if a library near you has the book:

American Tobacco Company. 1954. "Sold American!" The first fifty years [1904-1954].

COX, H. (2000). The global cigarette: origins and evolution of British American Tobacco, 1880-1945. New York, Oxford University Press.

The American tobacco story. New York, American Tobacco Co.

2.  Duke University Library has an extensive collection of historical materials relating the American Tobacco.  Here is a link to the collection guide --   You'll also find links to the library's contact information through that page.

3.  You may want to research a publication titled the United States Tobacco Journal which has been published since the 1870s.  You will find references to specific products.  Here is a link to the publication in WorldCat --  If you look for the e-journal version that will give you access to limited view searchable versions.  

Finally, you may also wish to consult an antiques dealer who is knowledgeable about tobacco product history.

I hope this helps!  Good luck and best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library



Can you please tell me who the maker was of "Luxello cigars" and where they were made? Thank you.


Hi Paul,

You might be interested in this volume of the publication The Tobacco World from 1911.  There is an advertisement for "Luxello" cigars indicating the firm of Luckett, Lucks & Lipscomb of Philadelphia as the manufacturers.

Here is the link:

I hope this helps.  Please let us know if you need additional help finding information.

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


great website


Hello from Oklahoma. My father used to enjoy smoking Pinkussohn's Potpourri pipe tobacco produced by American Tobacco Company. Is it still available, and if so, where? If it is no longer produced, are there any tins left for purchase? Thank you, Howard Stein


Hello Howard,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and taking time to comment and ask your question.

Unfortunately, NCpedia can't make product or purchase recommendations. However, I would like to share this image of a Pinkhussohn's pouch with you.  The image comes from NC Historic Sites at the NC Department of Cultural Resources.  The image may have been made some time in the late 1970s.  Click on this link --

Please visit NCpedia again!

Kelly Agan, Digital Media Librarian at NCpedia

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