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Cigar Making

Cigar making and cigar smoking in Nebraska reached their pinnacle shortly after the turn of the century. Then more than two hundred cigar makers in the state produced nearly thirty million cigars each year. Cigars declined in popularity as World War I, and then the 1920s, saw the rise in cigarette smoking.

As early as 1858, the Nebraska Advertiser of Brownville, reported that "Mr. Philip Dueser, brother of our Tinsmith, and recently from Louisville, Kentucky, has commenced the manufacture of Segars in this city. We speak experimentally when we say Mr. Dueser's Segars are as nice as any we are in the habit of 'puffing'." The previous year the firm of West and Fristscher of Omaha became the first cigar-making firm in Nebraska Territory. An 1884 issue of the magazine Leading Industries of the West, devoted to Omaha, noted that the firm had been established in 1857 and that five million cigars were turned out yearly.

By 1869 there were 28 cigar makers in the state who produced 780,000 cigars. By 1900 there were 233 cigar makers. And in 1918 Nebraska's 116 cigar makers produced more than 29.9 million cigars.

Many of these early cigar "factories" were actually cottage industries located in a home or perhaps an adjoining shed. Two or three people made cigars by hand, using wooden molds. However, not all cigar manufacturing was done on such a small scale, even in Nebraska. In 1916 Hastings had six cigar factories employing two hundred people, who manufactured seven million cigars per year. The Kipp Cigar Company, founded in 1909, by 1925 was making ten million cigars annually. Another Hastings cigar factory, the Evans-Bloom Cigar Company, was established in 1905 and by the 1920s claimed to be the largest cigar factory in Nebraska.

The small cigar firms were eventually outpaced by larger concerns which could produce cigars made by machine more rapidly and at a lower cost. The transportation charges on tobacco from the South and East increased and was partly responsible for making the cost of cigars beyond the reach of the average man. It must also be kept in mind that as the old cigar maker passed from the scene there were few who could take his place. The making of good handmade cigars was an art.

(May 2001)


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