York Town Square

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Part II: Red Lion, Pa., cigar factory goes on the block, Booger Hollow Stogies and all

A worker handles G.W. Van Slyke & Horton cigars in 2004. The cigarmaker auctioned its assets recently, the last cigar factory to close in York County. At its peak, 150 such factories operated in Red Lion alone. According to ‘Red Lion: The First One Hundred Years,” these were some of the cigarmaker’s brands: Pennsylvania Dutchman, Canadian Club, Have a Sweet, Spanish Maid Crooks, Moonshine Crooks. And here’s another one: Booger Hollow Stogies. Also of interest: Cigarmaking Red Lion on top of York County and Kaltreider Library draws name from noted Red Lion cigarmaker and York County cigars: ‘They contained a vast amount of nicotine’ and Part I: Red Lion, Pa., cigar factory goes on the block, Booger Hollow Stogies and all

The 1980 centennial book, “Red Lion: The First One Hundred Years,” offers great insight into cigarmaking in that southeastern York County borough as well as that influential industry throughout the county.
It notes that Red Lion was “virtually built around the cigar industry.” Of course, cigarmaking was huge in virtually every town in York County.
In 1907, 1,200 factories operated in the county producing about 300,000 cigars annually. At its peak between 1880 and 1930, Red Lion housed 150 of those factories.
York County’s last cigarmaker, Van Slyke & Horton, just closed down. So, it’s a good time to introduce this question and answer piece, as summarized from the cigarmaking section of this well-done Red Lion history: … .

The Van Slyke & Horton cigar company began operates at the Jacobs Cigar Company in 1932 and underwent a number of ownership changes over the years. Here, in the photo from ‘Red Lion, The First One Hundred Years,’ the company’s factory sits in the first block of South Pine Street.

Q. Why was cigarmaking so popular in the Red Lion area.
A. The tobacco culture in that section was a major contributor. In other words, tobacco growing was particularly popular in eastern York County in the mid- to late 1800s.
Q. Still, Red Lion was not originally the capital of cigarmaking but became so soon after its incorporation in 1880. What happened?
A. The borough was a major stop in the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad. Rail service allowed for shipment of raw materials into town and finished product out. Cigarmaking involved much allied business, which required easy means of transportation. Cigar box making is a prime example.
Q. How did the factories evolve?
A. Cigarmaking initially took place in the home. A farmer would work his land during the day, while his wife would strip tobacco and roll cigars. Or men would work one trade in the summer and make cigars in the winter. Larger manufacturers would provide tobacco and molds for the home shops, and the home businesses would often work on a bonus rate that financially rewarded production. After World War I, the larger factories cropped up succeeding the smaller, often home-based shops.
Q. Who worked in the factories?
A. Women, who had started rolling cigars on the farm, made up many of the factory workers. The second income, plus the bonus rate that rewarded initiative, resulted in enough family income that many Red Lion residents owned their own homes, automobiles and had money in the bank.
Q. What happened to the cigar factories?
A. After 1930, mechanization and mergers won the day. By 1980, two regular factories remained in operation, two “jumbo novelty factories” and one tobacco dealer remained.
Q. What evidence remains of this cigarmaking past?
A. Many former factories, large and small, stand in Red Lion today. As the book stated in 1980, “The streets of Red Lion, however, have many reminders of the importance to the town of the cigar industry in its homes and buildings paid for by ‘two-fers’ (two cigars for five cents) and good, honest ‘five-cent’ cigars.”

Two comments on all this:
The book points out that the laborers in cigar factories were “all native America.” That theme is also evident elsewhere in local literature about York County industries. Such unfortunate statements suggest a type of exclusiveness, that those born in other countries do not work as hard or as well as those born in America. Such thinking could add up to a mistrust of outsiders or worse, nativism and racism.
Secondly, the moral piece of cigarmaking often isn’t brought sufficiently into discussions about the industry. The health hazards of tobacco smoking has been known for decades. For example, in 1907, George Prowell wrote about local smokes: “They contained a vast amount of nicotine, the stimulating element in tobacco, and were doubtless very injurious to the smoker.” For a fuller discussion on this: Carrie Nation in York, Pa.: ‘I told them that they were maintaining a drunken men’s club’ .
The closing of Van Slyke & Horton’s factory provides an opportunity to pause, to think about this passage of a major York County industry.

Also of interest, again

Cigarmaking Red Lion on top of York County and Kaltreider Library draws name from noted Red Lion cigarmaker and York County cigars: ‘They contained a vast amount of nicotine’
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