Entrepreneurs of North Carolina History Exhibit

NC Tobacco: One Key Leaf in Agricultural History

1830sLunsford Lane | Tobacco was the Key to Freedom

Lunsford LaneLunsford Lane is a man to truly admire. Born near Raleigh in to slavery in 1803, Mr. Lane’s life full of accomplishments epitomizes the entrepreneurial drive to succeed. While many modern day entrepreneurs strive for riches and notoriety, Mr. Lane used his entrepreneurial spirit to purchase freedom, not only for himself, but for his wife and family, too.

Lunsford Lane began his entrepreneurial enterprise by preparing and manufacturing smoking tobaccos, a process originally suggested by his father. He worked long in to the night, after his responsibilities as a slave had finished for the day. Lane soon realized that the prepared tobacco was not at its full flavor, and he invented a smoking pipe that cooled the tobacco’s smoke as it passed through it. The pipes were sold at ten cents apiece; all the while the selling and manufacturing processes took place during late night hours. His products quickly caught the eye of the State Legislature in Raleigh, who was among his most noted customers, and his popularity soon spread across the state.

Lane opened up his first tobacco shop in Raleigh and amassed a small fortune for a slave in this era, and soon was able to purchase his own freedom for $1,000. Despite continual setbacks and persistent discrimination, Lane was able to eventually purchase freedom for his wife and children, also.  “Lunsford Lane, like most entrepreneurs, was influenced primarily by the prospects of a better tomorrow and the belief that an individual could improve his circumstances. When it would have been understandable to abandon hope, Lane persevered,” as noted on the website NCHistory.org. He was a man to be truly admired for his entrepreneurial drive and perseverance toward freedom.

1839Stephen Slade | Bright Leaf Tobacco

Stephen Slade - Brightleaf TobaccoStephen Slade, an enslaved African American, “laid the foundation for the tobacco industry” when he discovered, in 1839, a method of flue-curing bright-leaf tobacco on the plantation of Abisha Slade in Caswell County,” as noted on the website, North Carolina History Museum: History Highlights.

When the fires used to cure the tobacco in the barns had accidentally gone out, Slade had immediately reached for a charred log to throw on the embers and this new method for drying tobacco was discovered. Using the dry heat from the charcoal made the brightest yellow tobacco that Caswell County had ever seen. “The discovery of  this new method of drying tobacco helped establish the historic Old Belt counties of North Carolina and Virginia as the predominant "bright leaf tobacco" producing region from the 1850s through the post-Reconstruction Civil War period,” according to the Caswell County Historical Association website.

1872James Buchanan Duke

James Buchanan DukeJames Buchanan Duke grew up on the family’s small tobacco farm in Durham and learned the business from his father, Washington Duke, a Civil War veteran who “returned from the war to a farm so ravaged that they had to start anew with fifty cents and two blind mules.” The family discovered “a small load of tobacco that had somehow escaped capture by Union forces triggered their rise to wealth. This supply sold so quickly that the Dukes began tobacco production and distribution on a large scale. By 1872, at the height of the South's impoverishment, Washington Duke founded the tobacco firm, W. Duke, Sons and Company and the family was selling 125,000 pounds of tobacco annually,” according to Encyclopedia of World Biography on James Buchanan Duke.

James Buchanan Duke learned quickly how to  farm, hand manufacture, market and then mass produce and mass market cigarettes. In 1885, James Buchanan Duke expanded the family’s tobacco business north to New York City where he opened a factory and within five years became a titan in the industry “furnishing half of the nation’s total production of cigarettes.” By 1890, Buchanan became the president of the American Tobacco Company, where the five major tobacco companies merged and became a multinational corporation. In 1911, the United States Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of the trust and separated the company into four pieces:  American Tobacco Company, R.J. Reynolds, Liggett & Meyers Tobacco Company, and Lorillard Tobacco.

1875Richard Joshua Reynolds

Richard Joshua ReynoldsAlthough Richard Joshua Reynolds was born and raised on a tobacco farm in Rock Springs Plantation, Virginia, he has become to be known as one of the most famous entrepreneurs in the state of North Carolina. He relocated to Winston, NC in the early 1870s so he could be near a much-needed rail station that could transport his tobacco product. In 1875, he established his own tobacco firm, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and raised 150,000 pounds of the product in that first year, mainly selling it to other firms under the other companies’ name.

Reynolds wanted to distinguish himself in the tobacco industry where there were many competitors in the Winston-Salem area. Being a strong businessman and entrepreneur, he decided to sweeten the chewing tobacco with saccharin, a form of sugar R.J. Reynolds produced his own brand, Schnapps, in 1885 and in 1907 the famed Prince Albert brand was added. By the 1890s, he was producing millions of pounds of tobacco product annually.

As a smart business move, R.J. Reynolds went in to a trust agreement with James Buchanan Duke, another famous North Carolinian tobacconist, business giant and head of the American Tobacco Company, which “lead to very profitable years for both companies,” until in 1911 the Supreme Court found them in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, and divided the American Tobacco Company in to several smaller corporations, as noted in the web article, Richard Joshua Reynolds.

By the time of his death in 1918, R.J. Reynolds was known as much as a business giant as one who wanted to improve his employees’ quality of life. He shortened his employees working hours and began literacy classes and also started a village for his workers which included a post office, schools, a chapel, a blacksmith shop and a greenhouse, where local farmers were given instruction on the latest advances in farming.