Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Cigar factories in Junction City

The museum is currently working on a big project to digitize the documents in our archives. We are currently going through the documents to see what we have and where we should start. While searching through files in the business section I found a file labeled Tobacco/ Cigars.

I was surprised to learn that at the turn of the century, Junction City had a booming cigar business. Our 1908 Junction City phone directory shows at least 20 listings for merchants of cigars and tobacco. A quick look through the January 1899 issues of the Junction City Tribune yields ads for three cigar factories in Junction City.

The Union Cigar Factory was owned by Jake Schoenhoven. Before settling in Junction City, he worked throughout Europe as a cigar maker. As of 1899, he had been working in Junction City for 17 years and employed four cigar makers at his factory. 

The Thompsons Cigar Factory was located on Seventh Street. In the 1899 newspaper, it is described as a small establishment started 9 or 10 years ago. They employed five cigar makers whose specialties’ include “Thompson’s Cubana” and the “Little Joker” just to name a few.
The Williams & Zellner Cigar Factory was a fairly young business in 1899 but had enough trade to keep three men busy. They produced cigars such as the “Victor Dewey” and the “Junction City Band”.    

Also, among the papers in the Tobacco/ Cigar file is a short history written by John R. Williams of his father, Charles Otto Williams, an early pioneer in the Junction City hand rolled cigar business.
In 1892, Charles entered the cigar trade as an apprentice under Jake Schoenhoven. By 1898, Charles had started his own cigar business, working out of his home. His son John writes, “Over the next 50 years he worked his trade at several locations in Junction City, selling both wholesale and retail. During the early days he would load up his Model T once each month and go on a selling trip to the surrounding small towns.”

In 1906, Charles sold his factory and moved his family to California due to health reasons. The January 26, 1906 Junction City Sentinel notes that, “This week Geo. A. Fitzgibbons and M. Stokes purchased C.O. Williams cigar factory at 810 Washington St and will continue the business at the old stand.”

A year later the Williams family returned to Junction City.  Charles formed a partnership with John McCormick as the Williams & McCormick Cigar Store. They ran a concession stand in the basement of the Liberty Theater at Camp Funston. This partnership lasted until 1918.
Sometime after 1917, Charles constructed a building “next to his home at 320 W. 10th street which he used as his cigar factory” until 1929.

John writes of working with Charles, “With the advent of beer in Kansas in 1932, my father and I, opened a bar and cigar store at 821 N. Washington. It was here that the last cigar was made in this city. It was during Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal Days. Appropriately he named his new cigar “The New Deal”. It was sold only at his place of business.”

John also writes of the iconic “Indian Head, outlined with Neon” that hangs at 912 N Washington.  John writes  “This sign has passed through many hands since the following article appeared on May 17, 1934: The Williams Cigar Store this week put up a big Indian head, an attractive sign for their business that will be seen at a long distance, and is so unusual that the sign will be remembered.”
At the time John wrote his recollections the sign hung over the JC Bar owned by Gerda Smith. “A few years ago she had this sign refurbished and now it hangs as it once did…To me it stands as a memorial to all the cigar makers who plied their trade in this city.”

Between the advent of cigar making machines that could produce uniform cigars quickly and the increased popularity of cigarettes during WWI the art of hand rolled cigars slowly became a thing of the past. John writes that, “When C.O. Williams retired in 1943 he was the last to ply his trade in this city.”

I really enjoyed researching this topic but I still have questions.  Where did they get the tobacco? Was it imported, possibly from Missouri? Did we have local suppliers? If you have the answer to these questions or more information about cigar factories in Geary County, stop by the museum, Tuesday-Sunday 1-4pm and let us know. We love hearing from you!   

Charles O. and Louise Williams with daughters Grace and Hazel. Photo dated 1906.