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Cigar Anyone?

Updated: May 26

When people think about states that grow tobacco, Pennsylvania is probably not one that comes to mind.

Mule Team With Tobacco Wagon in Field (From LancasterHistory)

The tobacco history in Pennsylvania goes back to the American Revolutionp[- "wseq2 when Virginian tobacco farmers expelled British firms and turned to Philadelphia businesses to handle their tobacco. Historically, farmland in Lancaster County was used for growing wheat, but as trade was disrupted and prices became unfavorable in the early 1800’s, farmers began looking for an alternative crop to grow. Tobacco was a popular choice as demand for the crop was increasing nationwide and the limestone rich soil in the area proved to be ideal for producing the quality necessary for cigar manufacturing. With tobacco fitting perfectly into the existing crop rotations, Lancaster County quickly became one of the leading producers in the entire state. Farmers certainly had the financial incentive to do so, making $200 to $500 per acre of tobacco compared to the $20 per acre of a standard crop. Tobacco became an economic driver for the area, creating jobs and attracting industry from all across the region. Tobacco warehouses were quickly built along the railroad lines to process and distribute the tobacco products. In the 1880’s it was reported that there were 200 tobacco warehouses in Lancaster County, with 100 being within the city. Each warehouse employed up to 80 people at a time during the busier parts of the year, providing stable employment for many Lancaster residents. Eventually, about 90% of the state's production would be coming out of Lancaster County.

In Lancaster City during the late 1800’s, there were manufacturers for cigars, chewing tobacco, cigar boxes, pipe tobacco, and snuff. Snuff is one of the oldest tobacco products made using the crop. It can be produced to be a dry powder inhaled through the nose or a wet, moist, cut tobacco that is used orally. Unlike other tobacco products, snuff had to be made with tobacco strains that were able to withstand the intensive production process, often containing higher levels of nicotine.

Both the early Mennonite and Amish settlers in Lancaster County quickly took to tobacco farming, encouraged by the county's heavy soil and high humidity during the growing season. In 1839, the first year that a census was available on tobacco in Pennsylvania, records show that Lancaster County produced 48,860 pounds, establishing a legacy that still stands today as the state's leading tobacco producing county. The 1995 crop was approximately 17 million pounds.

When Pennsylvanian tobacco was in its heyday, Conestoga, Pennsylvania was as well, but for wagons. From the 1700’s to mid-1800’s this sleepy Pennsylvanian town was rolling out its famous Conestoga Wagons, primarily used for freight and industry. The term "stogie" originated in Lancaster, which was derived from the wagon masters who would often smoke long cigars, resembling the spokes of the wagon wheels. These cigars used coarser leaves that gave off a distinctly strong aroma. The term stogie was further cemented into American culture with the unveiling of the brand Marsh Wheeling in 1840, one of the oldest operating American brands and a self-described stogie.

The most popular type of tobacco grown in Lancaster County was a broad-leaf, filler tobacco, which was used to make cigars. When the tobacco reached the warehouse it would be sorted by length, color, and quality and then packed into large crates which were used to press the leaves. The crates would then be stored away to be “sweated” or cured over extended periods of time to ferment the crop for more desirable qualities. The warehouses typically contained several stories to divide the processing departments, and contained many windows that allowed natural light into the buildings for better visibility. As time progressed, these warehouses became less used for storage and more for the production of cigars.

By 1859 Lancaster produced 65% of the state’s tobacco. The cigar and tobacco establishment of H. C. Demuth, 114 East King Street, Lancaster, is said to be the oldest tobacco shop in the United States. The Demuth business was established in 1770 by Christopher Demuth. According to the records, he was a manufacturer and vendor of both snuff and cigars. After forty-four years of business, starting under the rule of King George III and enduring through the Revolution, Christopher sold the tobacco shop to his son, Jacob Demuth.

By harvest time in August and September, entire families would be seen in the fields, cutting the stalks with shears, one at a time, down a row of plants. The leaves were allowed to lie in the sun to soften, but not for too long because the leaves can burn. The wilted plants were then speared onto a four-foot-long lath. Parents and their barefooted youngsters would stack the laths, which carry about five plants each, onto a horse-drawn cart. The plants were then hauled to the tobacco shed for curing. The laths, weighing about 40 pounds apiece, were taken off the cart and handed to farmers and helpers, who would hang them on long rails in the large shed. Working high up in the shed under a tin roof in the intense heat of late summer made it perhaps the toughest part of all tobacco farming.

Various relatives were involved in the tobacco industry in Pennsylvania. Two of which were the sons of Aaron M. Fasig, were involved in the tobacco business. John Henry Fasig was considered an exceptional tobacco farmer while his older brother, William C. Fasig was recognized for being an outstanding cigar manufacturer and businessman in Reamstown, PA.


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