Memphis Cigar Trade

May 31, 2012

Few Memphians know that Memphis was once a center of the cigar-making trade.

At one time, at least eleven cigar-making establishments operated here and dozens of brands of cigars were produced. Three hundred Memphians were members of The Cigar Makers International Union of America, including at least one woman. The cigar-makers union was a powerful force in the Memphis Trades and Labor Council.

The Memphis Cigar Factory on Main Street was one of the most successful. In 1892, with the opening of the first Memphis Bridge, they brought out the “Memphis Bridge” cigar. After World War I, a new Memphis cigar called “Hambone” was introduced. It was named for cartoonist J. P. Alley's philosophical black character, Hambone. This 5-cent cigar, “one of the finest quality,” was advertised with a drawing of a cigar-puffing Hambone flying an airplane.

The popularity of the cigarette, the time-consuming labor of cigar-rolling, and other factors hurt the cigar trade in Memphis. In 1943, they saw the last meeting of the Memphis union, with only seven members remaining.


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