Heydey of Cigars, When York County Was King
We didn’t know how bad smoking was for our health 90 years ago, when cigar factories were springing up everywhere. In York County, we knew cigars were very good for our economy. For well over 150 years, processing tobacco into cigars kept many York Countians gainfully employed.
Lewis Miller illustrated a group of youths, himself among them, making cigars in 1811 at the shop of “William Spangler, Tobacconist.” They were Henry Sheffer, John Lehman, Jacob Weiser, Lewis Miller, Daniel Masse, Daniel Wolf, Emanuel Sheffer, John Jones, and Henry Wagner. Miller would have been around 15 at the time. Some of the boys look quite a bit younger.
According to the Red Lion Area Historical Society webpage, in the month of October 1929, 15 million cigars were shipped out of the Red Lion train station on the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad. This wouldn’t have included the millions more made each month in factories large and small in York and just about every community in the county.
My grandfather, Edwin Shelley, converted a three-story house into a cigar factory in Lucky, Chanceford Township. Grandpa wasn’t alone as shown in the following Gazette article from the fall of 1917:
“FOURTEEN NEW CIGAR FACTORIES IN COUNTY
The monthly records at the York office of the internal revenue district show a decided increase in the number of new cigar factories over last month. Ending on Saturday there were no less than fourteen of these factories opened. This is twice as many as the preceding month and six more than the corresponding month last year.”
The owners of the new factories are then listed, along with the number of employees of each. Note that some were headed by women:
“Daniel Spangler, Red Lion RD 3, five hands; William E. Arnold, Red Lion RD 2, three hands; Horace J. Throne, York RD 3, five hands; Annie Graham, Wrightsville RD 1, two hands; Bert Portner, Red Lion RD 1, five hands; Roseman Tobacco company, Red Lion RD 1 [no number listed]; James F. Strayer, Glen Rock RD 2, five hands; W. J. Neff & Co., Red Lion, tobacco manufacturers [no number listed]; Emma Raver, Yoe, three hands; Ida C. Neff, Yoe, three hands; C. N. & C. Foreman, York, 20 hands; Curvin M. Dellinger, East Prospect, two hands; J. S. Winter & Company, Red Lion, 10 hands; Glen Cigar company, Red Lion, 40 hands.”