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.
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.