Tobacco History

Tobacco is related to garden vegetables, flowers, weeds, and poisonous herbs such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, petunias, jimson wood, ground cherries, and nightshade. The family of plants is Solanaceae; the genus Nicotiana contains about 100 species, only two of which have been extensively cultivated. Nicotiana tabacam is used in cigarettes and tobacco and is the predominant type of crop tobacco.

Originally, Native Americans in the eastern United States grew Nicotiana rustica, which was the first form of tobacco introduced in England and Portugal. N. Tabacam, first introduced to the Spanish, was obtained from Mexico and South America. It has been the preferred tobacco since settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, began growing it.

Because planters believed that tobacco had to be grown on virgin soil, tobacco gradually made its way to the eastern part of what is now North Carolina. Consumer preferences for tobacco products changed decidedly from the early 1700’s.

Carl Linnaeus describes tobacco in this 1762 edition of Caroli Linnaei Species plantarum, exhibentes plantas rite cognitas, ad general relatas, cum differentiis specificis, nominibus trivialibus, synonymis selectis, locis natalibus, secundum system a sexuale digestas.

In 1839, bright leaf tobacco was discovered by a slave named Stephen (headman on the farm of Abisha Slade, a successful planter in Caswell County). Stephen fell asleep owing to the heat from the wood fires in the tobacco barn, and when he awoke the fire was almost out. He rushed to a charcoal pit and found some charred logs on the dying embers. He threw these on the fire, which created a sudden drying heat, which resulted in the brightest yellow tobacco ever seen.

The eighteenth century became the “Age of Snuff.” Tobacco from North Carolina was used for snuff and pipe smoking, because the cigarette was not widely known outside of Spain. By the 1840’s cigarettes had become popular with French women. Much to the chagrin of anti-tobacco societies, cigarettes caught on in the United States as well. Dr. Russell Thacher Trall, an anti- tobacco campaigner, said:

Some of the ladies of this refined and fashion-forming metropolis [New York] are aping the silly ways of some pseudo-accomplished foreigners, in smoking Tobacco through a weaker and more feminine article, which has been most delicately denominated cigarette. Despite such opposition to tobacco, the twentieth century saw a rise in its use.

Consumer demand established tobacco farming as an important part of North Carolina farm life. NC State, through its College of Agriculture and the Agricultural Extension program, researched tobacco and aided farmers around the world. Farmers received important information from NC State. Blue mold probably existed in the western United States for many years as a minor disease on wild species of tobacco. It came east in 1921 but disappeared for ten years before resurfacing in 1931. It is caused by a fungus that attacks tobacco.


A valuable book is “Price Policies in the Cigarette Industry: A Study of Concerted Action and its Social Control 1911-50” by William H. Nicholls, 1951, The Vanderbilt University Press, 423 pages. Tobacco industry history based upon court records with much detail, industry quotes, tables and charts. Part 1 is introduction with focus on dissolution of the Tobacco Trust in 1911. Part 2 is on the monopoly elements in the cigarette market. Part 3 is on the monopoly elements in the tobacco leaf markets. The book concludes with Part 4 on the social control of oligopolies.

The invention of the mentholated cigarette by Lloyd F. “Spud” Hughes was a bit of a milestone. Spud created Spud cigarettes (the first menthol cigarette) then Julep (we believe).

Leroy Pletten has put onto the net numerous old works of interest. These old documents are a useful resource for the historian but less so to the contemporary tobacco control activist.

Please see The History and Impact of the Tobacco Plant.

Several wonderful pages of the Dry Drunk: The Culture of Tobacco in 17th- and 18th-century Europe. From the New York Public Library, Center for the Humanities, The Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.

Several pages of tobacco history from the Waguespack Seminars and Workshops.

From Boston University MedicalCenter History of Tobacco

Maybe someone can find good stuff at The USDA History Collection search engine.

From North Carolina State Univ, Tobacco in Business and Industry and farming and more, just look around.

Read CNN’s history of tobacco. There are several good pages.

The Walter Reed Army Medical Center, offers Brief History of Tobacco Use and Abuse as a part patient education.

Start here to read the first of several pages from Bright Leaves Tobacco Materials in the Collection of NCSU Libraries.

A nice timeline from the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Pennsylvania.

Read Florida’s Cultural Legacy: Tobacco, Steam & Stone by L. Glenn Westfall.

From the Center for the Study of the American South, Tobacco Farming.

The Chronology on the History of Slavery and Racism refers to tobacco.

An interesting five-minute history of tobacco for grades 3 to 12.

From Ephidrina comes their version of Tobacco in History.

Read the full story of North Carolina Agriculture History, by J. Paul Lilly, Department of Soil Science, North Carolina State University.

FORCES has A History of Tobacco by James Leavey.

Canada FORCES offers excerpts from “Smoking and health promotion in Nazi Germany”, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health(1994;48:220-223).

Pour les Amateurs de Pipes et de Tabac, includes history.

A history from Fuji, lovers of the leaf, titled, “Tobacco…Working for America,” with editorial materials and economic benefits.

Torn Between Tradition and a Changing World, Amish Farmers in Pennsylvania Cling to the Old Ways of Raising Tobacco. “For generations, tobacco has been the lifeblood-or ‘mortgage lifter.’”

A history from Smoke and Be Cool.

There are two pages of history from The American Smoker, “The history of tobacco and the American Government.”

Original made cigarettes. Buy cigarettes online free shipping, a deals for those who are looking for American cigarettes at discount prices.