Mansfield in the Age of Cigars: Part 1 How We Rolled Into History

At the turn of the 20th century, Mansfield was not yet a major city in Ohio, but it ranked among the top of the nation in certain industries: one of these was the manufacturing and distribution of cigars.

Fortunately for us, this tremendous facility for rolling and selling cigars happened to correspond with the greatest Age of Cigars in the nation’s history. Picture images of the greatest creative minds and titans of government and industry from 1860 to 1930, and — if they were men — they probably have a cigar in their hand.

There were plenty of places in America that had tobacco rollers busily turning out stogies during those generations, but there was one year in the early 1900s when Mansfield hit its stride in the industry by producing more cigars per capita than anywhere else in the nation.

According to the Cigar Makers International Union of America, the combined efforts of Mansfield’s cigar factories and small shops produced more than 40 million cigars in a town of less than 24,000 people in 1909. In addition, Mansfield warehoused and distributed more than 50 million more cigars that year.

It was a tremendous advantage in a city of our size to have such a terrific labor force in continual demand for a job that required nothing more than patience and focus. Anyone could roll a cigar, and anyone looking to make a few bucks had the opportunity all the time.

There were thousands of women in the Mansfield work place from 1902 to 1929, and countless unreported teenagers. Cigar making was such a simple procedure that folks devised tobacco-rolling tables at home so they could roll in their spare hours.

At one time, there were 41 separate, recognized, cigar-manufacturing facilities in Mansfield: from the slant-top desk where families rolled in the attic; to five-story factories with up to 1,200 full-time tobacco producers.

The Mansfield truant officer always made his first stop at the American Cigar factory on Fifth Street, because the company hired any young woman who could do the job. Whenever he approached the building looking for girls missing from school, tobacco foremen would rush the young women to the basement where there were no outside windows.

He quickly learned which outside steps to monitor in order to snag the girls between floors.

Mansfield’s earliest cigar works.

Rolling Into History

There were small cigar manufacturing operations in Mansfield as early as the 1830s, but the city really made its initial charge into the cigar world through the warehousing and distribution of cigars that came from somewhere else.

In 1882, JA Rigby began buying and selling cigars from the back room of his father’s Third Street shoe store. By 1900, he was buying cigar factories in Cuba, and tobacco crops in Louisiana to process at his factory on Diamond Street.

The Rigby cigar empire got its footing on East Third Street, just west of Diamond on the north side.  As a cigar “jobber,” they imported cigars and distributed them to a 10 state area.  This building burned in 1944 and was replaced by the Community Building.

By 1915 the Rigby cigar conglomerate had grown to the point it required more space for warehousing, and more factory floor space for producing Rigby’s own brands of cigars.  This image of the Rigby building at 55 N. Diamond Street is somewhat deceptive because there were other buildings on either side, and only the front was visible to the street.

In 1924, when JA Rigby retired, this building became a used car dealership; it was torn down in the 60s when the garage facility was built that occupies the lot today.

Rigby’s most widely known and best sellers of all were the Wm. Penn classic 10-cent cigar, and the Little Wm. Penn 5-cent cigar.  This Wm. Penn logo image can still be seen today on a wall in the Don Nash Ltd. clothing store on Third Street: at one time an office space used by the Rigby company.

The American Cigar Co. came to Mansfield in 1902 as part of a wide network of factories across the US; and set up shop in a former laundry facility on Diamond Street. The local plant did so well–outdistancing by far all other associated plants–that a new five-story factory was built at the corner of Fifth and Adams Streets in 1907.  This plant produced 20 million cigars in 1909 and employed 600-1200 rollers at a time through the next two decades.  

The Great Depression effectively destroyed the business, and the building was abandoned in 1930; razed in 1940.

This is only one floor of the American Cigar Co. works, sometime in the 1910s when production skyrocketed.  In 1909, when the factory was only 600 people that rolled only 200,000 cigars a day, it was estimated that one day’s work would make a cigar 14 miles long, weighing 3,124 pounds; that would take 11 years to smoke at 24 hours a day.

Although Congress had considered Child Labor Laws as early as 1904, none were enacted until 1938; so a major obstacle to Mansfield City Schools during the decades of the American Cigar factory was all the kids skipping school to make cigars.

There were three major cigar manufacturers in Mansfield in the early 20th century: one of them was The Hautzenroeder Company.  Founded in 1870, they lasted longer than any other of the city’s cigar works, and occupied a greater variety of sites all around the Flats.  The place they stayed the longest was on N. Diamond just south of Fifth Street, where there were 247 skilled rollers turning out LaRonas and Recruits until 1929.  Hautzenroeder also had a plant in Galion to receive, strip and prepare tobacco on the way to Mansfield.

Mansfield Cigar Labels

Rigby’s had quite a few popular brands of cigars, among them: the Valleda (a mild Havana blend); the Brindle; Rigby’s Value;  Rigby’s Home Run; Rigby’s Sweet Brier; Rigby’s Rough Havanas, Rigby’s Hand Made, and the Little Rigby.  None of them compared in sale to Wm. Penn.

The American Cigar Co. manufactured a half dozen different five-cent cigars in the Mansfield plant on Fifth Street; including Benefactor, Captain Marriott, and Moos Special; but by far the best known and popular brand was Cremo.

Hautzenroeder’s premium perfecto was the Admiral Hopkins.

Every cigar box started with a small, hinged wooden container that was almost entirely illustrated covered with paper wrappings.  These are a few of the paper pieces that went into every LaRona box: providing employment for dozens of cigar box assemblers.

One of the more popular cigars in Mansfield was the Bill William cigar manufactured by the HL Bowers Co. at the corner of Fourth & Main where the Carrousel is today.  The Bill Williams goat became a familiar icon of the city due to an annual summer promotional party that the Bowers Co. threw, including parades, contests, music and dance.

Among the employees at the Gimbel cigar manufacturing plant was young Russ Gimbel, who grew up to found the Friendly House

The Tracy & Avery Co. imported cigars and sold them under their own label, including the popular Taco brand.  In 1904 T&A bought a million high-grade Havana cigars in one sale, that they distributed through 5 states, and once the room was empty, they bought a million more.

Among the many smaller cigar manufacturers in Mansfield was Erdenberger Brothers Cigar Mfg.  The founding brother came to America from Germany in 1846 and started rolling cigars in 1884 on North Main Street north of Sixth, where they all lived upstairs.  They had a strong local clientele into the 1930s for their justly celebrated 10-cent panatella: Iron Horse.

Daugherty was the cigar genius; Krumm was the draw: as a baseball star he brought in many customers and admirers, and apparently it didn’t make a lot of difference to them whether or not he could field the ball because he could drive in runs. His baseball career ended in 1893; the cigar factory on North Main sold in 1894.

Having an endless capacity to produce cigars doesn’t mean much in a city like Mansfield if there isn’t some place to sell them.  This is Saprano’s Cigar Store on North Main Street in 1941: today it is City News where Suzy Saprano continues the city’s grand old tradition.

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