Lorillard Tobacco Company
Photo: C. Karnoutsos, 2001
Lorillard Tobacco Company
Photo: A. Selvaggio, 2002
At the end of the nineteenth century, P. Lorillard and Company stood as one of the leading recognized brand-name manufacturers in America, one of the oldest manufacturers of tobacco products, and was the nation's largest manufacturer of tobacco. It became synonymous with the production of all manner of tobacco including snuff, plug, chewing, and smoking tobacco, numbering over 160 brands. In 1883, the company reported sales of over $10 million a year in domestic and foreign trade from the production of over 25 million pounds of tobacco products.
Lorillard developed mastery in the category of advertising: they paid farmers to allow painted signs on the sides of barns, included trade cards in their packaging, and offered premiums for other products. Lorillard may also be responsible for use of the "cigar store Indian" in association with the sale of tobacco as early as 1789 (James 16). Kent cigarettes were named for Herbert A. Kent, a board chairman and former president, who promoted the "Old Gold" brand of cigarettes. The "Old Gold" name in colored brick still appears on the circular chimney within the courtyard of the former Lorillard facility.
This Jersey City-based national corporation began with Pierre Lorillard, a French Huguenot, who started making snuff in the Bronx, New York City, in 1760. The snuff factory site today is part of the New York Botanical Garden. Lorillard's sons Peter and George took over the business, setting the pattern for a long-term family involvement in the company. It was incorporated in 1891.
In the early 1870s, the Lorillard Company moved to 111 First Street, Jersey City, and manufactured tobacco products as well as snuff. It took over a Greek Revival brick building that was constructed in 1866 by an unknown artist for one of the nation's first conglomerates, the American Screw Company, which fronted on Washington Street. It soon became part of the growing industrial complex in Jersey City. In 1868 Charles Siedler (Jersey City mayor, 1876-1878) became a partner with the company.
Rick James, in his nominating report for the "warehouse district" of Jersey City for historic preservation, remarks that Siedler most likely led his partners to develop their company in Jersey City. Here the company could take avail itself of several advantages offered by the city: the Pennsylvania Railroad and Harsimus Yards for product distribution; a newly arrived immigrant labor supply; nearby port location for the importing of spices for the flavoring of its various tobacco brands; and a municipal water supply system for safety measures. Fire prevention was of the utmost importance to Lorillard in safeguarding the firm's highly combustible products. Lorillard was noted for the installation of the latest automatic sprinkler system of the time in its manufacturing plant as well as for maintaining a detail of firefighters (15-17).
In 1883, Industries of New Jersey, Hudson, Passaic, and Bergen Counties published the following description of the company:
Among the workers who numbered four thousand in 1884 were school-aged boys and girls. Since Jersey City lacked a free night school program, Lorillard accommodated New Jersey's compulsory school law for those younger than sixteen by forming its own evening school for its workers in 1884. The school was in the library of Booraem Hall on Newark Avenue, not far from the factory. It also offered a free library for the adult employees managed by Dr. Leonard S. Gordon, Lorillard's chief chemist and physician; he was later director of the Jersey City Free Public Library (James 17). Lorillard also offered sewing classes and a dispensary for its employees.
In 1887 Lorillard constructed an annex between First and Second streets. Besides the manufacturing plant in Jersey City, it maintained corporate offices at 114 Water Street in New York City.
By 1910, Lorillard became part of the American Tobacco Company. The following year, Lorillard, which retained its name, began construction of a new factory on the Thompson estate in the Marion section of Jersey City on 170 city lots for the employment of 4000 to 5000 workers. The six-story building was a fireproof structure of steel and brick and was located in the proximity of the Pennsylvania, the Lackawanna, the Susquehanna and the Erie railroads for shipment of its products nationwide.
After the US Supreme Court found the American Tobacco Company "in restraint of trade," Lorillard became an independent company again, operating its "plug" factory at 111 First Street to about 1919 and its cigar factory at 104 First Street to about 1928; the latter building was destroyed by fire, circa 1990. In 1905 the warehouse was taken over by the Butler Corporation, a distributor to independent variety stores, and in 1928 the main Lorillard facility was taken over by J.R. Reynolds, the manufacturers of "Camel" cigarettes.
Today the block-long warehouse at 111 First Street is part of a district designated for arts development in Jersey City. The former tobacco building offers artists interior space with rental studios, a commercial gallery and the Chamot Gallery. It may be viewed from new Hudson-Bergen Light Rail traveling through Exchange Place and the signage reading "P. Lorillard Company" is visible on First Street.
| By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub