The history of Jacksonville and Cigars

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Have a cigar: More than a dozen cigar factories once packed Jacksonville

Tom EmeryContributor
Two men roll cigars, the last step of the cigar-making process.

There was plenty of demand in Jacksonville. In 1905, the city was home to 13 cigar factories, which cranked out 200,000 cigars a week. 

Illinoisans loved to light up as well.

In 1860, Chicago was home to 224 cigar factories, which served the city’s population of 109,260. Bloomington was home to 15 cigar producers in the mid-1870s.

In 1880, Illinois factories produced 132.5 million cigars, compared to only 2 million cigarettes.

In Jacksonville, the first cigar factory was established in 1843 by Benjamin Pyatt, a Pennsylvania native who was 58 years old, far past the life expectancy of the time. Pyatt’s operation became known for its Lady Clare brand, a fixture among smokers in the region.

Other top cigar producers in Jacksonville included the L.S. Kent-McCarthy factory, Knollenberg Cigars and the Cassell Brothers operation. 

Most small towns had at least one cigar store or manufacturer. In 1904, Virden and Carlinville were both home to two cigar stores. There were five in Carrollton that year alone.

One of the most popular cigar outlets in Springfield was the Allen Cigar Store, which was founded in 1908 “to wholesale and retail cigars, tobacco, and smokers’ articles, and to conduct billiard and pool rooms.”  

A soda fountain was also a feature of the store, which was badly damaged in an explosion in 1929.  

Cigars kept rolling into the new century, as over 20,000 factories dotted the nation in 1900. In succeeding years, however, cigars and chewing tobacco were replaced in popularity by cigarettes, which were cheaper. 

As more Americans reached for cigarettes, the number of smokers rose dramatically in the twentieth century. Cigarettes composed 51% of all taxes from tobacco in 1920, up from just 2% 40 years earlier. In 1970, cigarettes made up 97% of all tobacco taxes.

One study showed that American adults, on a per-capita basis, consumed an average of 747 cigarettes each year in 1920. That number continued to jump until 1963, when adults used an eye-popping average of 4,345 cigarettes per capita each year.  

In that era, around 40% of American adults were smokers. By 2005, that number had dropped to 20.9%, and continued sliding to 12.5% in 2020.

That year, only 3.5% of American adults were classified as cigar smokers. 

One of the factories in Jacksonville produced the El Macco cigar. The building was at East North Street, which later became Douglas Avenue, and North Mauvaisterre Street. 

A cigar factory in action.


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